Frank and David Caprio could challenge the Lynches as Rhode Island’s leading political family
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.
Bill Lynch, who once supported an unsuccessful effort to neutralize David Caprio, dismisses such talk, responding to those who question Frank T. Caprio’s Democratic credentials by saying, “I don’t give that much credence. This is Rhode Island, and everybody knows everybody. We’re not California or New York, [states with] clear party lines. I’m very friendly with a number of Republicans. I may differ with them politically, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re evil. Frank, standing on his own, has always been a good Democrat. I think people will be very comfortable with that as the campaign unfolds.”
The exceptional son
Frank T. Caprio, 39, the oldest of the Caprio children, seems very much the exceptional son. The Warwick Beacon’s Student Athlete of the Year in 1984, he excelled at baseball and football as a youth, going on play the sports before graduating with an economics major at Harvard. (As depicted in a prized photo in his campaign office, Caprio had the chance to square off against Roger Clemens during a spring training exhibition game when the Rocket ended a month-long holdout in 1987.) Elected as a Rhode Island delegate to the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, Caprio won a seat in the House of Representatives while pursuing a law degree at Suffolk University, and he moved to the state Senate in 1995.
Caprio’s campaign office is located in the basement of a three-story, family-owned building at the foot of Federal Hill, not far from where his relatives lived when they came to Providence. (Although exterior signage labeling the structure as the Caprio Building is readily visible to nearby motorists, Caprio uses the address — One Center Place — to identify the location.)