Sam Zurier wins special Senate District 3 primary

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Sam Zurier has won the hotly competitive special Democratic primary election in Providence’s Senate District 3, according to unofficial results.

Zurier received 1,282 votes, 300 more than the second-place finisher in the unofficial totals, Geena Pham, who received 982, according to the R.I. Board of Elections.

Bret Jacob came in third with 908 votes, followed by Hilary Levey Friedman with 613 and Ray Rickman with 269.

“It was a very well-run campaign by all the candidates,” Zurier said when reached by phone Tuesday night. “I learned a lot from the constituents I met. I learned a lot from the other candidates.”

“It looks like my total share of the vote is somewhere between 30% and 35% of the vote,” Zurier noted. “So it’s not exactly a mandate. I plan on doing my best to serve everybody and justify their trust in me.”

Zurier, an attorney and former city councilman, will go on to face Republican Alex Cannon in the general election on Nov. 2.

Pham, a newcomer to both Providence and politics, was boosted to second place by the R.I. Political Cooperative, a progressive group that has pledged to take on the establishment at the State House.

In a statement sent out from the Co-op, Pham said she was “honored” by the support of voters in the district.

“I want to thank the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, which provided everything I needed to
run a winning campaign,” Pham said, also thanking a long list of groups that endorsed her including the Black Lives Matter RI PAC, Climate Action RI and the RI Democratic Women’s Caucus among others.

“I ran because we need to oust the corrupt political machine in this state that serves corporations and the richest few,” Pham, a public school teacher, said in part. “After tonight, that has not changed.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” she added. Pham did not congratulate or mention Zurier by name in her statement.

Zurier noted that he applied for a number of endorsements from interest groups that ultimately selected other candidates, but said he was unwilling to make “categorical” promises to win their endorsements.

“In many of them, there was a question along the lines of, will you put our interests above every other interest,” he said. “I couldn’t answer those questions the way that the interest groups wanted me to. … I don’t like to make categorical statements on things until I understand all the facts and circumstances.”

Bret Jacob, another first-time candidate and a staffer in Mayor Jorge Elorza’s office who was endorsed by the Working Families Party, said he called Zurier to concede Tuesday night. He finished close behind Pham in the unofficial results.

“I am so deeply thankful for all of the people that knocked on the door, that called their friends, that talked to their neighbors,” Jacob said.

“I think what tonight proves is that there were two progressive candidates that did an incredible job,” Jacob continued, referring to himself and Pham. “District 3 is ready to take on bold progressive legislation and really fight for the causes that we care about like making sure that the wealthy pay their fair share, making sure we’re making bold investments in climate change and that we’re ensuring all of our kids have a high quality education and every person in Rhode Island is housed.”

Georgia Hollister Isman, executive director of the Working Families Party, said the race showed strong support for progressive values in the district. “I’m just incredibly proud of Bret,” she said.

“If you look at his tally and also Geena’s, I think you can see the appetite for bold change on the East Side is high,” she said. “I hope that Sam Zurier will be as bold as he can.”

Levey Friedman, who raised the most money in the race, also conceded Tuesday night.

“Though we didn’t achieve the result that we hoped for, I want to thank the voters of the East Side who believed in our campaign,” she said. “I congratulate Sam Zurier for his victory this evening.”

The results are expected to be certified next week. There are still some ballots to be counted in drop boxes from Tuesday, but not enough to overcome Zurier’s lead.

The five Democrats competed for the nomination following the August resignation of Sen. Gayle Goldin, who left to join the Biden administration.

Turnout soared past 4,000 votes Tuesday night, an impressive total for a special election, which typically sees much lower turnout than a regular election. The number of voters even exceeded the 2012 primary total of 3,882, the last time the seat was open without an incumbent. (The 2014 primary garnered a higher number — 5,483 voters — but had other big races on the ballot such as mayor and governor.)

Steph Machado ( covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook

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