Although Providence city councilor David Segal — the only Green Party member to win election in Rhode Island — became a Democrat to pursue a seat in the House of Representatives, Jeff Toste is maintaining his Green identification while making his third bid for the state Senate.
Toste’s alternative politics offer a sharp contrast from the other main candidate, Democrat Paul Jabour, a social conservative who served as a state rep in the late ’80s and who is a close ally of Providence City Council president John J. Lombardi. Republican Bob Berrillo, 58, a retired physician and self-styled “Chafee Republican” who spent much of the last 30 years in Europe, is also in the race.
Toste stakes his claim as a political outsider with substantial grassroots support in District 5, while Jabour counters with his experience and accomplishments as an elected Democrat, including his current membership on the I-195 Commission.
District 5 comprises much of Providence’s West Side, as well as parts of Federal Hill, Olneyville, Mount Pleasant, and downtown. The seat is open since incumbent Frank Caprio (against whom Toste won 30 percent of the vote in 2004) is running for general treasurer.
During an October 3 forum held by the West Broadway Neighborhood Association, the liveliest exchange followed an audience member’s question about gay marriage. Toste and Berrillo both said they were in favor of it, while Jabour, who sidestepped a yes or no response, said he supports civil unions. The Democrat contended that a gay marriage bill won’t get out of committee and that there are other ways to achieve the desired effects of such a law.
The back-and-forth reflected the differences between the two main rivals. Jabour did not want to definitively reject gay marriage, but was wary, perhaps, of alienating socially conservative voters, while Toste was unapologetically liberal.
Toste, 41, a US Census Bureau worker and freelance illustrator, also spoke of the dangers of one-party rule. Jabour, 49, a tax lawyer, cited his accomplishments and pointed out that he is financing his own campaign. Berrillo, meanwhile, focused his attacks on the Democrat-dominated General Assembly. “They have no checks,” he said, “and they have no balances.”
In making his third run, Toste — whose support has grown with each campaign — is clearly in it to win, not just to snipe at his opponent. His campaign is counting on a sufficient number of progressive votes to put him over the top. In this sense, having Jabour as an opponent is preferable to facing Jabour’s vanquished primary challenger, Alexis Gorriaran, whose positions are much closer to those of Toste. Jabour’s base, meanwhile, consists of mainstream Democrats who see him as familiar face who can deliver for the district.
Considering how 15,000 of District 5’s 19,000 eligible voters failed to cast ballots in 2004, the candidate who can motivate this group has the best chance of winning.