2016-07-14 / Election News

Finn Snubbed by State Democratic Party

By Olga Enger

Before candidates even turned in their required voter signatures to be placed on the ballot, a political newcomer has found himself in the middle of a political melee.

Going against the endorsements of the Middletown and Portsmouth Democratic committees to back former Rep. Linda Finn, D-Middletown, in the race for House District 72, the Rhode Island Democratic Party endorsed the unknown candidate, James Cawley of Portsmouth.

“I was a little taken aback,” said Finn. “I didn’t vote for Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello. He’s the one who is ultimately making the decision.”

Assuming that the candidates qualify for the ballot, Cawley and Finn will compete in September’s Democratic primary, with the winner facing Republican Kenneth Mendonca in November’s general election. Republican Daniel Reilly of Portsmouth currently holds the District 72 seat, which includes portions of Middletown and Portsmouth.

While an endorsement from the local committees doesn’t have direct implications for candidates, the state party may bring campaign money, access to voter databases, and preferential listing on the ballot.

“I’m not worried about funding, I’ve already raised $25,000,” said Finn.

Middle- town Council president and Democratic Town Chair Robert Sylvia said when he heard the news he was so furious his fingers “almost popped the buttons off my Blackberry.”

“This is nothing against Mr. Cawley; I wouldn’t know him if he passed me on the street,” said Sylvia. “But he never contacted us. Both the Middletown and the Portsmouth committees unanimously voted to endorse Linda Finn. This is because she didn’t support Mattiello. They are an embarrassment to this state. He didn’t even bother to pick up the phone to let us know. It’s classless and unprofessional.”

Finn, who has been a vocal advocate of gun control, said she believes her strong stance was “absolutely a factor” in the snub.

“We had three bills that never made it out of committee. They were all held. The leadership sets the agenda. The thing is, we had the support on the full floor,” Finn said.

She argued the state party should defer to the local committees.

“Why should the state party have the final say? That’s the bigger issue. They aren’t working with us on local issues; the Middletown and Portsmouth committees are,” said Finn.

Cawley, who is a principal of Newport’s construction company R.J. Cawley Contracting, decided to put his hat in the ring because he is fed up with the business environment in Rhode Island.

“As a smaller business owner, I am frustrated in the dealings with the state,” said Cawley. “It’s an unfriendly working environment. Instead of the state working for us, we feel we are working for the state.”

When Cawley declared his intention to run, he received a how-to handbook on running a campaign. Although the political newcomer didn’t contact the local committees, he contacted the state party to request an endorsement.

“I’m just as confused as anyone,” said the father of six. “I think it’s politics as usual in Rhode Island. It’s kind of shocking that I became a part of that. I just made a simple phone call. I think I made the right phone call at the right time.”

State Democratic Chair Joseph McNamara, D-Warwick, did not respond to a request for comment.

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