PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - Joseph DeLorenzo quit the Rhode Island Democratic Party altogether on Thursday, vacating his post as 2nd vice-chair before activists could oust him over controversial comments he made about sexual harassment.
DeLorenzo, 75, confirmed the decision in a statement to Eyewitness News. "It has been an honor to serve as the committee's 2nd vice-chair for the past 27 years," he said. "However, as a lifelong Democrat, this is no longer the party that I have known, loved and labored so hard for."
"No longer does the Democratic Party welcome all Democrats," DeLorenzo continued. "Instead, it has become a party where members of its far-left wing actively work to exclude anyone who does not, without question or dissent, follow and further their agenda. The fact that more Rhode Island citizens now list themselves as independent or unaffiliated rather than as Democrat is a reflection of these changes."
In a note attached to his statement, DeLorenzo pointed out he had received an award in 1993 for being a "Special Friend of the Rhode Island Commission on Women."
DeLorenzo's decision to disaffiliate was confirmed by Rep. Joseph McNamara, the party's chairman, who along with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello had been increasingly isolated for refusing to call for DeLorenzo's resignation.
"This has been a difficult time in state party politics, when one of our leaders made unacceptably insensitive statements about sexual harassment, dismissing a state representative's experience and that of many women in our society; this is an issue Democratic leaders have fought to combat," McNamara, D-Warwick, said in a statement.
McNamra also announced he is appointing Central Falls Mayor James Diossa to succeed DeLorenzo as 2nd vice-chair, and former state Rep. Agostinho "Gus" Silva of Central Falls to fill Diossa's current seat on the state party committee.
"Mayor Diossa exemplifies the future of this great party," McNamara said. "Elected at the age of 27, he was one of the youngest mayors in our state's history. He took his city of Central Falls - which was on the edge of bankruptcy - back to a strong, vibrant and growing urban center."
DeLorenzo's move came less than 24 hours after members of the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women's Caucus said they had collected the 60 necessary signatures to call an emergency party meeting, where they hoped to remove him from his post.
While the controversy surrounding DeLorenzo was initially sparked by his criticism of progressive activists as "left-wing whack jobs," the furor increased exponentially after he gave an interview to WADK's John DePetro where he suggested state Rep. Teresa Tanzi should reveal who sexually harassed her at the State House and questioned her account.
DeLorenzo apologized for his remarks earlier this week, but leaders of the women's caucus argued it was too little, too late.Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi's Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook