In Upset, Ranglin-Vassell Defeats DeSimone; Frias Wins In Cranston

Sep 13, 2016

Ranglin-Vassell on the stump in August.
Credit Ian Donnis/File Photo / RIPR

In a surprising blow to Rhode Island's political status quo, first-time candidate Marcia Ranglin-Vassell defeated House Majority Leader John DeSimone during primary voting Tuesday.

In a strong display of anti-incumbent sentiment, one-third of the 18 incumbent state lawmakers facing primary challengers went down to defeat.

But none of the outcomes was more striking than Ranglin-Vassell's defeat of a longtime power on Smith Hill.

With 100 percent of the vote in, according to unofficial results, Ranglin-Vassell got 50.6 percent of the vote (677 votes), compared with 49.4 percent (660 votes) for DeSimone. That count includes mail ballots.

"I went in this to win, I went in to fight for the people, and this is what democracy looks like," Ranglin-Vassell said, adding that she was not surprised by her win. "The people sided with me. This election was about a choice: do you want to stay in the past 24 years, or do you want to move to the future, and they sided with me."

DeSimone first won election in 1992, and developed a big network of political friends and allies. But DeSimone may have also been hurt by publicity about his practice of paying his property taxes after they were due, and also by critical mailers sent by anti-gun violence group funded by Alan Hassenfeld.

If she beats a Republican opponent in November, Ranglin-Vassell said her top priorities will include pushing for a $15 an hour minimum wage, shifting spending from prisons to education, and trying to deter gun violence.

Six of the 18 General Assembly incumbents facing primary challenges were defeated, reflecting anti-incumbent sentiment among voters.

DeSimone moved up to become majority leader, the second-most powerful position in the chamber, in 2014. That happened when Nicholas Mattiello won the leadership battle to become speaker after the resignation of Gordon Fox, and DeSimone's allies helped put him over the top.

More recently, the relationship between Mattiello and DeSimone cooled somewhat, due to the residency issue involving Rep. John Carnevale, an ally of DeSimone. The majority leader's defeat will set off a scramble to move up to the no. 2 position in the House. Potential candidates could include Reps. Chris Blazejewski (D-Providence), Cale Keable (D-Burrillville), Joseph Shekarchi (D-Warwick), Stephen Ucci (D-Johnston) and Ken Marshall (D-Bristol).

Ranglin-Vassell, a Jamaican native who works as a Providence teacher, said she decided to run because of a sense of urgency about issues like gun violence, underperforming schools, and a lack of jobs for young people.

Three other incumbent lawmakers also fell in the face of challengers backed by the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats. On the whole, six of 14 candidates endorsed by the progressive group won their races.

Meanwhile, RI Working Families, an advocacy group established last year, called the primary results a big win.

"We should be very proud of gutsy endorsements we made of champions for working families against much more conservative and powerful opponents," RIWF state director Georgia Hollister Isman said in a statement. "All four of the challengers we endorsed -- Jason Knight, Moira Walsh, Jeanine Calkin, and Marcia Ranglin-Vassell -- won their races. All these folks took the fight to their opponents on $15 an hour minimum wage, paid sick days and other working families priorities. The message these victories sends is clear --voters are hungry for bold progressive policy."

In total, Hollister Isman said, RI Working Families won seven of its 10 races, including victories for two South Kingstown reps, Teresa Tanzi and Kathy Fogarty, and Susan Donovan's victory for an open seat in Bristol.

Sam Bell, director of the RI Progressive Democrats, said the results show that voters want more progressive leadership from their lawmakers.

"We struck a body-blow to the right-wing machine that runs our state tonight," Bell said. "It's an absolutely incredible series of victories that will fundamentally reshape our politics. The machine is still in charge, but ... Rhode Island politics is fundamentally changed." 

Meanwhile, Rhode Island's National Committeeman Steven Frias won an easy victory in a GOP primary, defeating Republican rival Shawna Lawton with 77.3 percent of the vote for the chance to run against Mattiello in November. He said he's looking forward to taking on the man who holds what is often considered the most powerful post in Rhode Island government.

North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi cruised to victory, with 61.5 percent of the vote, easily outpacing Democratic challenger Kristen Catanzaro, according to unofficial results.

Democratic Congressman David Cicilline and Jim Langevin easily defeated under-funded token opponents.

Here's a rundown on most of the other legislative primary races, based on unofficial results:


District 3: Moria Walsh defeated incumbent Rep. Thomas Palangio (D-Providence).

District 9: Rep. Anastasia Williams (D-Providence), first elected in 1992, hung on to repulse a challenge by Michael Gazdacko.

District 11: Rep. Grace Diaz (D-Providence) outpaced two challengers, Robert K. Goldman and Laura Perez

District 13: Ramon Perez won 56 percent of the vote in a three-way contest for the seat being vacated by John Carnevale, defeating Lisa Scorpio and Anthony DeFilippo.

District 21: Warwick Councilor Camille Vella Wilkinson ousted another member of the Class of 1992, Rep. Eileen Naughton, while also outpacing David Kruzona.

District 22: Rep. Joseph Solomon (D-Warwick) repulsed progressive challenger Jennifer Siciliano.

District 27: Rep. Patricia Serpa (D-West Warwick) defeated progressive opponent Nicholas Delmenico.

District 34: Progressive Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-South Kingstown) pulled 51 percent of the vote while defeating two opponents, Rachel Clough and Ewa Dzwierzynski.

District 35: Rep. Kathleen Fogarty (D-South Kingstown) squelched an attempted comeback by former rep Spencer Dickinson.

District 52: Alex Marszalkowski won the race for the seat vacated by Rep. Karen MacBeth (D-Cumberland), defeating David Chenevert.

District 54: Rep. William O’Brien (D-North Providence) defeated progressive challenger William Deware.

District 60: David Coughlin (D-Pawtucket) held on in the face of a tight challenge from David Norton.

District 64: East Providence Councilor Helder Cunha won the seat being vacated by Rep. Helio Melo, outpacing former rep Brian Coogan.

District 67: Progressive challenger Jason Knight of Barrington defeated Rep. Jan Malik (D-Warren).

District 69: Former teacher Susan Donovan defeated Todd Giroux for the seat vacated by Rep. Ray Gallison (D-Bristol).

District 72: Former rep Linda Finn of Middletown defeated James Cawley, who had the backing of the House leadership, for the seat being vacated by Rep. Dan Reilly (R-Portsmouth).


District 2: Challenger Ana Quezada edged Sen. Juan Pichard (D-Providence).

District 6: Sen. Harold Metts (D-Providence) defeated challenger Jonathan Hernandez

District 7: Sen. Frank Ciccone (D-Providence) retained his seat, in his second match with Doris De Los Santos.

District 8: Sen. James Doyle (D-Pawtucket) held on against Matthew Fecteau

District 17: Democrat Jina Petraraca-Karampetsos won in a large field for the seat vacated by Sen. Edward O'Neill (R-Lincoln).

District 30: Progressive Jeanine Calkin ousted Sen. William Walaska (D-Warwick), who was first elected in 1994.

This post has been updated.