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Genius or Exploitation? Cranston mayoral candidate giving away branded face masks



It’s like passing out a pen or a calendar with the logo on them, but people can get more use from a mask right now,” said Cranston Mayoral Candidate Michael Farina.

Some are calling the idea “appalling” and in “bad taste.” Others call the idea “outstanding” and “genius.” Are branded face masks destined to become the campaign button of 2020, or will voters recoil at the idea of a candidate exploiting the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic?

Cranston City Council President Michael Farina is running for Mayor of his city as a Republican. On Saturday, he released a Facebook post with a picture of himself wearing a cloth, surgical style face mask emblazoned with the words “FARINA MAYOR.”

“A new world we’re in and we need to be prepared. If [you’re] in need of a few washable masks please DM me or email us at,” wrote Farina. “[B]y the way, these are free.”

A new world we are in and we need to be prepared. If you are in need of a few washable masks please DM me or email us at…

Posted by Michael Farina on Saturday, April 4, 2020

The response from Farina’s followers on Facebook was enthusiastic.

  • “I would like one! That is outstanding.”
  • “Great Idea! Best of Luck!”
  • “Genius!!”

Others on Facebook were less impressed.

  • “This is gross… A pandemic isn’t a branding opportunity.”
  • “So tacky!! Make them and give them away that’s fine… but as campaign material?”

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UpriseRI contacted Farina on Facebook and asked him about the masks, which Farina said were made by a friend who “has a FDA approved factory in Guatemala.”

UpriseRI: One Cranston resident messaged me that they finds the mask and the messaging “extremely distasteful.” Do you have a comment?

Farina: We’re giving out free masks for people who need them. Not sure how that is distasteful, but people are welcome to their opinion.

UpriseRI: Are these masks hospital grade, or just cloth face coverings?

Farina: [They are] cloth face coverings for those of us that are not on the front lines of the pandemic – washable, also sanitized.

UpriseRI: The person who alerted me to this said that it gives the appearance that you are profiting from a pandemic. Your thoughts?

Farina: Well since they are free for people, not sure how we’re profiting. We’re giving them away and delivering them to people. If we can help the pandemic from spreading we’re doing our job.

UpriseRI: At the very least, you’ll get some media attention for your campaign, which is a kind of profit.

Farina: I would consider that awareness, since the campaign paid for them. It’s like passing out a pen or a calendar with the logo on them but people can get more use from a mask right now.

UpriseRI: Isn’t it like putting a bumper sticker on somebody’s face?

Farina: No, it’s more like a hat, reusable bag or a t-shirt. Like I said, masks are needed more right now and the more we help, the more we can flatten the curve.

Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.