Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sister Cicilline Loses Primary: Reflections

Susan Cicilline Buonanno
Following the resignation of House Rep David Lally, one of the longest serving in Rhode Island, Gladstone Elementary School principal Susan Buonanno announced her intentions of running for the seat.

Within hours, she released the following press statement:

Public service has always been very important to me, that’s why I have always found a way to be involved in my community, and with the endorsement of the voters from our District I hope to continue the progress made by Representative Lally. I am excited to share my vision for our district and our state with my neighbors and to be a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.

What was significant about this race? Susan is the sister of Congressman David Cicilline.

Politics runs in the family, among other things, and Buonanno's own record bears out her extended influence and interest in local government, including stints on the local school board as well as town council.

Would her family legacy and political connections set her up for statehouse success this time?

In spite of her ornate press release, the voters did not release any major enthusiasm on her part, and rejected Sister Cicilline.

A few reflections on this political outcome.

No matter how cynical the voting public may become, money and namesake alone do not guarantee an election win. For evidence, consider the following statistics following the primary:

Even with the backing of some of the most powerful Democrats in the state, including R.I. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, Susan Cicilline Buonanno, sister of U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, lost her primary bid for the Democratic House District 33 seat to South Kingstown councilwoman Carol Hagan McEntee -- who she out out-fundraised by a margin of over 30 to 1.

Imagine facing political opposition with funding which exceeds thirty times what you have. Most contestants would throw up their hands and endorsed the well-monied machine. Speaker Nick Mattiello supported Sister Cici, as did her supposedly influential brother David, with moral as well as financial support, and yet she still lost.

What could have contributed to her primary loss? IndependentRi reports:

On April 23, former Narragansett Town Council President Glenna Hagopian filed the complaint with the Ethics Commission, alleging Cicilline Buonanno improperly used her Cranston School District email account for campaign business and her school district phone as the "primary contact" on her campaign finance reports. Hagopian alleges that is in apparent violation of General Law 36-14-5(d):

So, the Gladstone Elementary principal used her office space and message delivery systems for private and political purposes. A former local leader stepped up and challenged this conduct. IndependentRI registered Buonanno's discontent from other critics, who contend that this "politics as usual" behavior has become insufferable in the Ocean State. The principal acknowledged the contact information snafu as an "honest mistake".

This explanation does not pan out. She twice held local office, so she would have a reasonable awareness of propriety in keeping her professional, private, and political career separate.

What is further unique about the complaint, somewhat superficially, is that it occurred in the first place, and an otherwise sure winner not only had to apologize and correct the mistake, but ultimately lost the nomination for a house seat.

To review: a well-connected Democrat in a suburb of a progressive urban core, with an established political name, strong endorsements from influential power brokers, plus a massive fundraising advantage, lost the nomination for elected office to a meagerly funded councilwoman in another city.

Anyone who charges that Rhode Island's heavily Democratic political dynamics resist change should recognize this primary defeat as an initial step towards bringing back accountability to assembly races. Money alone cannot buy a seat, and the best of endorsements will not sway voters who know a candidate personally. Sister Cici's glaring ethical lapse certainly hurt her image in the race, too, as public corruption scandals, from 38 Studios to former Speaker Fox's indictment, conviction, and sentencing have worn on Rhode Island's expected over-longsuffering tolerance to abuse of power.

Republicans and concerned independents looking for balance and accountability in local government and Smith Hill should keep these lessons in mind for future elections.

GoLocalProv went a step further, suggesting that Congressman David Cicilline could be in trouble next year, too. If his resources and relationships could not shore up Sister Chi-Chi's political fortunes, could "Grand Theft Auto" Cicilline find himself out of a job next year, too?

1 comment:

  1. The main reason she lost was her opponent utilized a better ground game. Period. Game Over. - Mark