Providence’s Ward Brings Clarity About the Game

The saga of Patrick Ward in Providence is proving to be very clarifying and therefore worthy of brief consideration.  Ward was, until he resigned last week, the chairman of the Providence Democratic City Committee.

I actually met Ward years ago in the early days of Anchor Rising, and my recollection is that he was relatively conservative.  He brought his then-girlfriend Sabina Matos to an Anchor Rising gathering of conservatives, and we joked about her progressivism.  Matos is now his wife, as well as a member and former president of the Providence City Council.

Ward’s recent travails basically break into three categories:

  1. Under his chairmanship, the Providence Democrats entered a secret and (by most accounts) unusual agreement with Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo, involving her fundraising prowess and their ability to take lots of extra money from donors for “party building.”
  2. Both Matos and Ward work for Raimondo’s administration, with Ward having been hired for a $71,608 job last June, sparking an ethics complaint by the state Republican Party.
  3. The reason Ward stepped down was that he came under fire for a Facebook post that he put up and took down in December applying ethnic stereotypes to two Italian council members.

Of the three, the first may be the most notable as clarification.  Governor Raimondo has proven to be much more successful at raising money from across the United States than convincing Rhode Islanders that she is a competent executive.  Given that she barely won in a three-way race last time, she’s going to need to rely heavily on her money.  The problem is that Rhode Island is a small market, so candidates with less money can still get their messages out, and pouring all of her cash money onto a limited area like Rhode Island has the risk of turning people off.  So how can the candidate maximize the advantage of all that dough?

John DePetro has been pointing to something that he and I discussed back in August, related to the special election in RI Senate District 13:  Close followers of campaign finances noticed that progressive Democrat Dawn Euer had paid somebody to become a notary public and go out collecting mail ballots, the importance of which is expanding.  According to Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, they increased from 6,000 statewide in 2012 to 15,000 in 2016.  Money from Raimondo’s national contacts could be used to register thousands of voters and walk tens of thousands through the process of voting for Raimondo… and any other candidates favored by the Providence committee… from the comfort of their own homes.

That Gorbea is trying to move the primaries up a few weeks and expand early voting puts an explanation point on this observation.  Former gubernatorial candidate Ken Block has been adding even more emphasis with his discovery that the special election currently in process in Pawtucket featured a single day of campaign time between the settling of the candidates and the opportunity to start voting.

This all starts to give one an idea of why a city political committee is valuable to cultivate with friendly faces, which gives some explanation for why number 2, above, is curious.  If Raimondo can have “her guy” running a city committee tasked with directly producing votes, her national donors could conceivably buy the election for her.

The kicker comes with number 3, wherein we see the progressives’ investment in identity politics blowing up on Raimondo.  Somebody held on to Ward’s offending Facebook post for a couple of months and then deployed it at a politically opportune time.  Consider that Ward called the vote on the agreement with Raimondo when several members of his committee were absent, notably Secretary Vincent Igliozzi… the father of one of the two city council members whom Ward mocked, John Igliozzi.

The fate of the Raimondo agreement has not been publicly disclosed, but if it remains in effect, other players in Rhode Island politics may now have a stronger hand in determining who benefits.

And so we start to see all the lines:  family and employment relationships, the mechanism for turning national money into votes, the impetus for moving elections away from a single day and an in-person vote, and the usefulness of identity politics for creating fodder for political hits.  The remaining question is whether Rhode Islanders are paying enough attention to notice.

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