PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Jim Vincent has lost his longtime position as president of the Providence branch of the NAACP, according to preliminary results of an online election.
Vincent received 14 fewer votes in the leadership election than Gerard Catala, a former political candidate who is currently under criminal investigation by the attorney general’s office.
Catala, who ran for the Providence City Council seat in Ward 9 this fall, came in fourth place in the Democratic primary in September with just 53 votes, or 4%. (Juan Pichardo ultimately won the seat.)
Catala did not respond to a request for comment Friday on the NAACP election.
This was the first time the local NAACP held its election for president fully online instead of in person or hybrid, using a platform called ElectionBuddy.
According to the preliminary results, 167 out of 290 eligible members voted in the election for president, with Catala receiving 89 votes and Vincent receiving 75. (Three members who submitted ballots abstained from the presidential race.)
“I’m disappointed, I’m surprised, and I accept the decision,” Vincent said, adding that the results still need to be certified by the national NAACP office.
The national office ran the all-virtual election and there were some technical issues, Vincent explained, including a late start to the scheduled voting time on Thursday.
The result page also says 20 emails were returned undeliverable; it’s unclear whether that means any NAACP members did not get a chance to vote, or if they were able to access their ballots through other means.
“If I have lost, I’ll treasure my 12 years as president of the branch,” Vincent said. “I loved every single second of it.”
Vincent said he was proud of his efforts to diversify the Rhode Island Judiciary and the State Police during his tenure leading the racial justice organization. The first Black R.I. Supreme Court justice, Melissa Long, was sworn in last year, and Col. Darnell Weaver became the first person of color to lead the R.I. State Police earlier this year.
He also noted efforts by the NAACP to expand voting access in Rhode Island, including making it easier to vote by mail.
Vincent said he will remain an active member of the Providence branch and has not spoken to Catala, the apparent winner.
He declined to comment specifically on Catala’s legal troubles, but said it was “unfortunate.”
“I’m always concerned when anything takes away from the image of the NAACP,” Vincent said.
The R.I. Board of Elections voted in June to refer Catala to the attorney general for possible prosecution after finding a series of campaign finance violations during an audit. The investigation is still ongoing, according to a spokesperson for Attorney General Peter Neronha.
The elections board subpoenaed three years of Catala’s bank statements, finding 132 transactions totaling $7,176 funded from his campaign account but not included on Catala’s campaign finance reports. (Candidates must disclose all campaign donations and expenditures to the Board of Elections.)
The transactions included $1,400 taken out in cash, according to the audit.
“Unable to validate the debits as campaign related,” the audit states.
The audit was conducted because Catala had failed to file several campaign finance reports from his previous run for City Council in 2018, according to the elections board. Catala filed the reports belatedly this past August after the criminal referral, but they are still incomplete, according to Ric Thornton, the campaign finance director at the Board of Elections.
“He did not provide the detail of receipts or disbursements,” Thornton said in an email Friday. “In addition, he failed to file the 3 campaign finance reports required pre- and post-primary for 2022. He owes over $15,000 in late filing penalties and fees.”
Catala told 12 News back in July that he never misappropriated funds, and claimed he had submitted receipts to the Board of Elections.
“Admittedly, the campaign finance reports weren’t done in a traditional sense,” Catala said at the time. “But I was audited and within that audit I itemized everything that was spent throughout my campaign.”
“I have every single receipt from every item I ever purchased,” Catala added. He told 12 News at the time he would provide further documentation once he retrieved it from an external hard drive, but never did so.
Catala also acknowledged the he deposited a $50 campaign donation from Councilman Pedro Espinal into his personal account in 2018, rather than his campaign account, which is not allowed. (Espinal was not in office at the time.)
“It was put into my personal account because at the time my campaign account was negative,” Catala said.
The next Providence NAACP election is in 2024.