The big story from Tuesday’s primary election, understandably enough, was the seeming upset by Michael J. Pinga of state Senator Stephen D. Alves, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and a longtime political presence from West Warwick.
While Alves called for a recount of Pinga’s 17-vote victory — a matter due to be taken up next week by the state Board of Elections — he also seemed resigned in his public comments to the prospect of his defeat.
If Pinga’s victory holds up, it will represent some small quantity of difference in a legislature, like most, that resists change and where incumbents enjoy a built-in advantage. Yet it offers a reminder, too, that even longtime lawmakers can be ousted by an energetic challenger who high-lights an opponent’s record.
As someone who operates a family bakery, Pinga seems a curious hybrid — a member both of Operation Clean Government and the NRA, according to the ProJo — so how his self-described idealism matches up with his apparent new office bears watching.
With attention focused on the intensifying presidential race, it was mostly a very quiet primary day in Rhode Island, with US Senator Jack Reed coasting to an easy victory over Christopher Young, his Democratic challenger, and most legislative incumbents gaining unremarkable victories.
In Woonsocket, progressive Christopher Fierro emerged from a field of Democratic candidates to notch a victory, and David Segal, a kindred spirit in Providence, repelled challenger Richard Rodi.
Still, it was hard not to be struck by the intense disinterest surrounding local elections. In one example of the low level of public participation, two of the most powerful men in Rhode Island government, House Speaker William J. Murphy and Senate President Joseph Montalbano, each won unchallenged primary victories with fewer than 1000 votes.
In West Warwick, where Pinga and Alves ran the most energetic campaigns in a three-way Democratic race, each of the top two candidates received just fewer than 1000 votes.
Meanwhile, some in the world’s greatest democracy remained troubled by how the mechanics of the process were, in some cases, rather rusty. Some polling places in Providence, for example, didn’t open on time, and people trying to vote before they went to work were turned away from at least one location.
In another instance of a Providence political tradition, Patrick Ward, a candidate for state representative in District 7, described how some of his campaign signs were ripped up and dumped in front of his house last week. Adding insult to injury, he says, his truck was vandalized in front of his house.