All elections are important, of course. But Rhode Island voters have a rare opportunity this fall to remake the state’s political hierarchy in sweeping fashion.
Governor Carcieri is terming out of office, Congressman Patrick Kennedy is stepping down, and the Providence mayor’s office is vacant, too.
The electorate will also put fresh faces in the attorney general’s and treasurer’s offices — electing officials who could go on to become Rhode Island’s next US Senator or governor.
And these are just the open seats. Amid a sputtering economy and sour national mood, incumbents running for re-election — Congressman James Langevin, Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts, and Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, among them — have to be more concerned about a revolt than usual.
But despite the widespread discontent and early predictions of a voter stampede on the polls, most observers are expecting rather modest turnout for the Democratic and Republican primaries this Tuesday, September 14.
That’s a shame, because the election is not only a chance to put new leaders in key positions, but an opportunity to confront some major problems — not all new, perhaps, but certainly leant new urgency by the present crisis.
Our economy is stagnant, our school systems are underperforming, and our public pension systems are creaking and will soon present a huge fiscal problem. We need leaders who can break with the incompetence and parochial thinking that has plagued our politics in the past and look at our challenges anew.
Our gubernatorial endorsement is yet to come — there are no primaries next week, just a general election in November. But our picks for several other key races follow:
→ Replacing Patrick Kennedy will be difficult. Whatever his failings, his name, fundraising prowess, and work ethic were major assets for the state. And the loss of his seniority is a tan-gible setback. But Rhode Island voters have some good options.
Critics of former Rhode Island Democratic Party chairman Bill Lynch tend to paint him as little more than a partisan attack dog. He is, in fact, more broadminded and expansive in his think-ing than that caricature suggests. But he is still a product of his experience and does not shine as brightly as his competitors.
State Representative David Segal is a principled progressive. And with voters clamoring for change, he is without a doubt the most change-oriented candidate: calling for a direct assault on corporate influence over our politics. But while we share his zeal for systemic change — and admire what he has been able to accomplish on Smith Hill — we have doubts about how much he could get done in Washington.
As chief executive of the state’s largest city and frontrunner in the Congressional race, Providence Mayor David Cicilline has faced sharp criticism in this campaign. Some of it is deserved.
But whatever his shortcomings, Cicilline’s pluses outweigh his minuses. He is right on the issues. He is a skilled politician. And he has a national network of contacts that is not to be under-estimated.
Cicilline knows what he wants to do in Washington. He understands the art of the possible. And he has the experience to hit the ground running in a particularly difficult period for Rhode Island.