As our nation struggles to make sense of what a Donald Trump presidency might bring, especially accompanied as it is by a Republican majority in both the House and Senate, here’s a recap of what happened in our little corner of the world on election night. In terms of the presidential vote count, Hillary Clinton captured Rhode Island by a 54% to 40% vote, although Donald Trump, reflecting the national trend, did win 15 of our 38 cities and towns.
What was unusual this year in a state that prides itself on describing its politics as a “blood sport,” things were remarkably tame. All the mayors up for re-election won quite easily: Avedisian in Warwick (with 65% of the vote), Fung in Cranston (68%), Grebien in Pawtucket (70%), Lombardi in North Providence (73%) and Baldelli-Hunt (67%). There was only one race that received statewide attention, but it was a wild one. Speaker of the House Nick Matiello and Republican National Committeeman Steven Frias had a slugfest with combined expenditures being north of $200,000, a record for a local Rep race. The outcome will come down to absentee ballots.
Here on the East Side, which has had its share of rough and tumble local throw downs in past election years, there was only one race that generated any sort of heat. For State Representative District 1, longtime incumbent Edie Ajello held off a well-run and spirited campaign by retired businessman Ray Mathieu by capturing 67% of almost 4,000 votes cast. Mathieu ran a spirited race, his signs seeming to be everywhere including outside the polling stations held aloft by a cadre of enthusiastic volunteers, most of them new to the process. But in the end, Ajello’s well earned reputation for championing social issues and her committed walking of the district earned her a 12th term.
Meanwhile in House District 2, Chris Blazejewski cruised to victory with 84% of the vote over Mark Teoli. Blazejewski is potentially in an interesting position within the House power structure since he is both one of the leaders of his party’s progressive wing and considered one of the front-runners to succeed John DiSimone as majority leader in the House.
David Cicilline also cruised to his fourth term with a solid 64% of the vote. One other interesting election result was that the Providence-only bond vote to raise $40 million for infrastructure improvements was approved by over 80% of the voters. Labeled “the zombie bond,” the bond was dead on arrival and cannot be implemented since the mayor and the city council were never able to agree on what projects the bond would finance, an essential part required for its implementation.
But perhaps the most interesting East Side election day activities took place outside the polling booths as the effort to launch a full blown recall effort against Kevin Jackson, the councilman representing Ward 3, finally shifted into high gear. The Friday before the election, the election board approved the validity of the required 300 signatures (367 actually) over the legal objections of Jackson’s attorney Artin Coloian, which meant recall organizers were allowed to gather signatures outside all the Mt. Hope polling sites. And collect them they did. According to Karina Wood, one of the organizers of the campaign, volunteers collected over 1,800 of the 2,100 signatures needed for the recall effort in just one day. The group actually has 120 days to gather the signatures so it’s safe to say there will be an election sometime in 2017.
Kevin Jackson was first elected councilman from Ward 3 (Hope and Mt. Hope) in 1995. Over this period he was easily re-elected until the boundaries of the ward changed in 2012 and a larger portion of the ward encompassed the east side of Hope Street. A combination of his flaunting election reporting rules and his leadership support of former mayor Buddy Cianci’s 2014 mayoral run alienated voters enough that he just barely survived a well-organized write-in effort, winning by just 48 votes out of over 3,900 cast. Then in July of this year, Jackson was charged with embezzling $127,000 from the Providence Cobras, the track and field club he co-founded. He has pleaded not guilty, but chief organizer Tricia Kammerer and other critics have argued Jackson, occupied as he is with this case, cannot represent the residents of the ward effectively. For more information on the campaign to recall Kevin Jackson visit RecallKevinJackson.org.
Despite the wonderful weather for voting, unfortunately there were several major problems with long lines and “machine malfunctions.” At Vartan Gregorian, hundreds of people were lined up well before 7am and voting was excruciatingly slow. At Temple Beth-El, early voters waited nearly two hours and there were problems all day, including a breakdown of the lone scanner. Another machine broke down at Summit Commons. Even Mayor Elorza’s onsite offer and promise to put the ballots in a bag and have them taken to be counted later left most people unsatisfied.
Given that this was Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s first presidential election, the breakdowns are particularly disappointing given the new machines were described as “state of art” on her website. One certainly would have expected better.
But at least there was some good news too. Despite Putin’s supposed preference for Trump, there were no reports of Russian hacking.