Everything you need to know about Providence politics heading into primary day

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – With a Democratic primary for mayor, 10 competitive City Council battles and several significant General Assembly races, Wednesday is going to be a busy day in Providence politics.

So what do you need to know heading into primary day? Here’s an overview.

1. Providence has had four Democratic mayoral primaries over the last 16 years, with turnout peaking at 27,000 in 2002 when David Cicilline beat Joe Paolino, David Igliozzi and Keven McKenna. Cicilline’s easy re-election win four years later over Chris Young saw only 16,000 people cast votes. The races for open mayoral seats in 2010 and 2014 saw turnout hit 24,000 and 22,000 voters, respectively. It’s tough to gauge where turnout will be this year, but city races don’t appear to have the same level of organization they’ve had in other recent elections.

2. If you’re looking for an over/under on turnout in Providence, think 21,000.

3. Depending on what you think of Gov. Gina Raimondo, there are two ways to look at her performance in Providence four years ago. On the one hand, she beat the sitting mayor – Angel Taveras – in his own backyard. On the other, 59% of the city’s voters supported someone other than Raimondo in that primary (remember Clay Pell?). Neither Matt Brown nor Spencer Dickinson have made Providence a focal point of their campaigns this time around, but they might be able to point to Bernie Sanders’ narrow victory over Hillary Clinton in Providence in 2016 to suggest city voters are looking for a more liberal option.

4. Here’s how Providence’s 124,775 registered voters break down by party affiliation: 72,431 Democrats; 6,462 Republicans; 567 Moderates; and 45,315 independents.

5. A whopping 40% of Mayor Jorge Elorza’s 11,000 primary votes in 2014 came from Wards 1, 2 and 3 on the East Side. He also won Wards 9, 12 and 13, but dropped nine other wards to Michael Solomon. Can challengers Robert DeRobbio and Kobi Dennis put a dent in that East Side support this time around?

6. Nearly 8% of Providence primary voters in 2014 picked Chris Young or Brett Smiley (who had dropped out of the race) over Elorza and Solomon.

7. Mayoral campaign spending as of Sept. 4: Elorza: $247,000; DeRobbio: $83,000; Dennis: $44,000.

8. If you want to attend primary night parties, Elorza will be at Troop on Valley Street; DeRobbio will be at Skyline; and Dennis will be at the Masonic Temple on Eddy Street.

9. Not one of Providence’s public employee unions made an endorsement in the Democratic primary for mayor. Are they willing to consider independent Dianne “Dee Dee” Witman in the general election? Remember, the unions representing police officers, firefighters, teachers, clerical workers and other municipal employees all backed Buddy Cianci over Elorza in 2014.

10. While several city unions did pick sides in council races, the police union chose to stay on the sidelines this primary season. Mike Imondi, the president of the union, said “we find it hard to endorse a council where most its members have shown a lack of support for police.” Imondi did say the union has made campaign donations to several candidates, including Councilors Jo-Ann Ryan, Michael Correia, John Igliozzi, Wilbur Jennings, David Salvatore and Sabina Matos. The union also donated to Ward 8 candidate Jame Taylor and Cyd McKenna’s campaign in Ward 13.

11. Providence may see twice as many mail ballots or emergency ballots in this primary compared to 2014. As of Monday, 2,787 voters had either requested mail ballots or voted with an emergency ballot, up from 1,428 four years ago. A third of the potential mail ballot votes are coming from three wards: 5, 8 and 13.

12. If a race does come down to mail ballots on Wednesday, the outcome may remain a mystery for several days. The city’s Board of Canvassers says all mail ballots will be counted by Sept. 18.

13. It doesn’t look like any of the competitive City Council races this year are going to surpass the all-time council campaign spending record set by the Ward 5 race in 2006. That was the year Solomon and incumbent Patrick Butler combined to spend $95,000 just to get through a primary (Solomon won). In Ward 2, Ryan Holt, Helen Anthony and Mark Feinstein had combined to spend $41,000 through Sept. 4. In Ward 13, McKenna, Rachel Miller, Raymond Berarducci and Les Papp had reported spending about $37,000 as of Sept. 4. 

14. The Ward 2 race to replace outgoing Councilman Sam Zurier got negative in a hurry, with Holt sending multiple mailers questioning Anthony’s record during her brief tenure on the City Council in Columbia, Missouri. Anthony pushed back by accusing Holt of being “supported by a small group of well-connected special interests.” The two campaigns also traded letters defending themselves in recent days (Anthony here and Holt here). For more on the Ward 2 race, here’s where the candidates stand on the key issues.

15. Councilman Zurier isn’t backing a candidate in Ward 2, but he has made an endorsement in another high-profile race on the East Side. He’s supporting Mark Tracy over Rebecca Kislak in House District 4. Kislak has the support of outgoing Rep. Aaron Regunberg, Sen. Gayle Goldin and Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune.

16. No council races saw more high-profile endorsements than Ward 13, where Councilman Bryan Principe is stepping away. McKenna has the support of Providence’s teachers and firefighters, as well as the hotel workers’ union and the R.I. Latino PAC. Principe has also endorsed her. Miller has earned the support of the SEIU, the building and construction trades, the Teamsters, the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Women, the Young Democrats of Rhode Island, the state’s progressive Democrats. Berarducci made a splash last week by earning former Providence Mayor Joe Paolino’s support. Former state Rep. Frank Ferri is also backing him. Les Papp hasn’t announced any major endorsements, but he’s the only candidate who has actually run for council in Ward 13 before. For more on the Ward 13 race, here’s where the candidates stand on the key issues.

17. The Ward 13 race got ugly in the days leading up to the primary, with an anonymous mailer sent to voters accusing McKenna of illegally receiving an owner-occupied tax rate for her home even when she lived out of state. The tax assessor’s office told Eyewitness News earlier this summer she was eligible for the lower tax rate because she always considered the home she owns on Bainbridge Avenue her primary residence and doesn’t appear to have owned property elsewhere. Separately, both Miller and Berarducci have publicly raised questions about McKenna working for embattled former Council President Luis Aponte and running the comeback campaign for former Mayor Buddy Cianci four years ago.

18. Primary day falls on Papp from Ward 13’s birthday.

19. A third of the 15-member City Council won’t break a sweat on primary day. Ward 3’s LaFortune, Ward 6’s Correia, Ward 11’s Mary Kay Harris and Ward 14’s Salvatore do not have an opponent. In Ward 12, newcomer Kat Kerwin also faces no opponent because incumbent Councilman Terry Hassett did not qualify to appear on the ballot.

20. Even though he is already guaranteed to serve a third-and-final term on the council, Correia has been busy. He spent the summer supporting Steven Cianci over incumbent Ryan in Ward 5. Don’t be surprised if he makes a play at a council leadership position in the next term.

21. Mayor Elorza mostly stayed out of the council races this summer, but he has knocked doors for incumbents Nick Narducci in Ward 4 and Ryan in Ward 5. Why did he pick sides in those races? His aides say it’s pretty simple. They asked for his help.

22. The Democratic primary in Ward 5 between Ryan, Cianci and progressive Aaron Jaehnig has been one of the most competitive races all summer. Ryan won a similar four-way race in 2014 but Cianci has made strong inroads in the area between Academy Avenue and Triggs Gold Course. Ryan tends to be strong in the Elmhurst section of the ward. One thing to keep an eye on: there were 303 mail ballots requested or emergency ballots submitted as of Sept. 10. That’s nearly 100 more than 2014. For more on the Ward 5 race, here’s where the candidates stand on the key issues.

23. A late-breaking endorsement in that Ward 5 race came from popular state Rep. Ray Hull, who is supporting Ryan for re-election.

24. Speaking of mail/emergency ballots, no race has more than Ward 8, where as many as 349 residents may vote early in the matchup between incumbent Jennings and challengers James Taylor and Deya Garcia. Jennings has won two terms on the council by a total of 74 votes, and this year’s race appears to be just as close. Jennings is believed to have the strongest mail ballot operation of the bunch, but the large number of early voters there are more likely to be coming from the get-out-the-vote efforts Lt. Gov. Dan McKee and mayoral candidate DeRobbio made in that area. For more on the Ward 8 race, here’s where the candidates stand on the key issues.

25. Ward 9 Councilwoman, Carmen Castillo, who is believed to be the first housekeeper elected to political office in the country, is facing a spirited challenge from Hector Jose, who is the endorsed Democrat in the race. Castillo has beat Jose twice in the past, but this is the first time they are squaring off one-on-one and Jose appears to have a jump on the 288 mail and emergency ballots in the race. For more on the Ward 9 race, here’s where the candidates stand on the key issues.

26. Two years after she upset Sen. Juan Pichardo in a Democratic primary, Sen. Ana Quezada is running unopposed this time around. But that doesn’t mean she’s not staying active. She has endorsed Jose for the Ward 9 council seat. On the other hand, state Rep. Grace Diaz is with Councilwoman Castillo.

27. In Ward 10, Councilman Aponte faces a 2006 Democratic primary rematch against Pedro Espinal. He won by 15 votes 12 years ago, but now he’s facing criminal charges for allegedly embezzling from his campaign account (he has pleaded not guilty.) Espinal unsuccessfully attempted to have Aponte kicked off the ballot earlier this year, so the race appears to be tight heading into primary day. For more on the Ward 10 race, here’s where the candidates stand on the key issues.

28. 2018 will not be the year for Providence Republicans to break their long-running drought of City Council victories. No one from the GOP has won a council seat since Malcolm Farmer III in 1986, and there are zero Republicans running this year.

29. In Ward 14, Oscar Vargas received a lot of free media attention when incumbent Matos accused him of living in Warwick, but the race has flown under the radar ever since. Matos turned out more than 75 supporters for an event last week, a large showing for a council race. For more on the Ward 15 race, here’s where the candidates stand on the key issues.

30. Matos has also endorsed House District 13 candidate Mario Mendez over incumbent Democrat Ramon Perez. Meanwhile, Perez is supporting Vargas for council.

31. In Ward 1, Councilman Seth Yurdin has faced a strong Democratic primary challenge from Justice Gaines, who has earned a lot of praise from observers for her substantive policy views. Gaines has carved out a niche as the progressive candidate in the race, but Yurdin has made the case to anyone who will listen that he is just as liberal as she is. East Side Monthly published an excellent preview of that race. For more on the Ward 1 race, here’s where the candidates stand on the key issues.

32. The Ward 4 council race between incumbent Democrat Narducci and challenger Jason Roias is interesting because it overlaps with the controversial House District 3 race, where incumbent Rep. Moira Walsh is facing a Democratic primary versus Michael Earnheart, a President Trump supporter who is also backed by House Speaker Nick Mattiello. As of Sept. 10, there were 232 mail ballot requests or emergency ballots in the council race. For more on the Ward 4 race, here’s where the candidates stand on the key issues.

33. If Councilman Igliozzi holds on for one final term in Ward 7, he’ll take over for Councilman Hassett as the longest-serving member of the city’s legislative body. That seniority comes with a key perk: if the council can’t reach an agreement on a new president, the longest-serving member gets to hold the gavel until a new leader is selected. Igliozzi is facing a primary challenge from David Marshall. The winner will face independent Gaspar Espinoza in the general election. For more on the Ward 7 race, here’s where the candidates stand on the key issues.

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Dan McGowan (dmcgowan@wpri.com) covers politics and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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