The Fierro Race and the Progressives' Future

Organized labor racked up some big victories in the General Assembly primaries last week - ousting incumbents David Caprio and Doug Gablinske, replacing departing progressive David Segal with a like-minded Christopher Blazejewski, and replacing the departing moderate Joanne M. Giannini with the more liberal Maria Cimini.

But labor didn't sweep. Its biggest loss came in Woonsocket where one-term liberal Representative Chris Fierro lost to Robert Phillips. So what happened?

Pat Crowley, with the National Education Association-Rhode Island teachers union, says labor was focused on other races - and surprised to see Fierro go down. But in hindsight, he says, the result makes some sense: Woonsocket is a fairly conservative place and Fierro won the 2008 election in a six-way race, benefiting from a divided opposition. "I think, in retrospect, we got lucky," Crowley says.

In a one-on-one race, Phillips - among the losers in 2008 - was able to draw on his deep roots in the community and pull out a victory.

Still, the liberals' victories last week amount to a remarkable turn for a progressive caucus that was limping along amid the departure of several leading players - Segal, who left to run for Congress, Representative Ray Sullivan, who took a job with Congressman James Langevin, and Representative Edwin Pacheco, who is now serving as chairman of the state Democratic Party.

Crowley says he is hoping that the progressive victories, paired with a sympathetic Speaker of the House in Gordon Fox, will mean real power. Of particular interest: the powerful House Finance Committee, which will be completely overhauled in the face of retirements and electoral defeats.


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