Like professional athletes employing a well-worn phrase — the familiar expression about focusing on the task at hand and not looking too far ahead — brothers Frank T. Caprio and David A. Caprio strike the same muted tone in separately discussing their respective futures in public life. Yet unlike jocks who might not know any better, the Caprios are savvy political players whose profiles are on the ascent, perhaps ultimately to two of the most powerful jobs in state government.
With a formidable war chest and a deliberate early focus, state Senator Frank Caprio (D-Providence) remains the lone candidate this year for general treasurer, a position that could be an effective launching pad for a gubernatorial run in 2010 or beyond. And after a premature bid for the speaker’s job a few years ago, state Representative David Caprio (D-Narragansett), a forceful member of the dissident Democrats aligned with Republican Governor Donald L. Carcieri, can reasonably be expected to again try to climb the legislative ladder.
Although the judicial role of the family patriarch, Providence Municipal Court Judge Frank Caprio, could spark thoughts for some of the ultimate familial hat trick, the star of WLNE-TV’s cult favorite Caught in Providence says he is “absolutely not” interested in moving to a higher court. After losing bids for attorney general in 1970 and Providence mayor in 1978, the elder Caprio (who, with his wife Joyce, has three other adult children) says he didn’t harbor hopes that his kids would enter politics. “I never had any grand design or plan for them to pursue public office,” he says. “It was something that just evolved.”
Still, politics seems to have been imbued in the family’s DNA since the Caprios arrived in Federal Hill from Teano, a small village south of Rome, and Judge Caprio best exemplifies the family’s realization of the American dream. As one of 10 children born to immigrants, the judge is long since ensconced as a member of the Rhode Island establishment. Caprio, who co-owns the Coast Guard House in Narragansett and Casey’s Grill and Bar in South Kingstown, offered campaign advice for J. Joseph Garrahy’s gubernatorial run, he got roasted during the University Club’s 35th anniversary in 2004, and he serves as chairman of the state Board of Governors for Higher Education.
In a state with no small history of political families — including the Chafees, the Lichts, the Bevilacquas, and the Robertses — the Caprios now seem positioned to challenge the primacy of the Lynches, who are led by Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch and Bill Lynch, chairman of the Rhode Island Democratic Party. Yet although the Lynches and the Caprios share similar backgrounds as members of the Irish-Italian nexus that has long fueled Democratic politics, the friendly relations between the Caprios and the Caricieri camp are troubling to some Democrats. In particular, these critics question whether Frank T. Caprio, who worked with Carcieri when the future governor directed Cookson America in the ’90s, would prove a stealth ally for the Republican if Caprio wins election as treasurer.