By KATHERINE GREGG and CHRISTOPHER ROWLAND
With staff reports from Tom Mooney
Journal State House Bureau
Nov. 4, 1998
-- Proving once again that it is tough to beat an incumbent in
good economic times, Gov. Lincoln C. Almond beat back Myrth York's
promises of new ideas and vision to win a second, four-year term
The 62-year-old Republican defeated Democrat
York in a replay of their 1994 contest.
With 98 percent of the polls in, Almond had
50.9 percent of the vote; York had 41.8 percent; Cool Moose Party
Candidate Robert J. Healey Jr. had 6.6 percent; and Reform Party
candidate John Patrick Devine had .8 percent, according to unofficial
"Make no mistake about it. Rhode Island
is on the move," said a beaming Almond, as he took centerstage
at the Marriott Hotel ballroom, amid supporters shouting "four
With his family and staff crammed onto the
podium with him, Almond promised to keep the issues that had dominated
the campaign high on his second-term agenda: child care, health
care, the needs of senior citizens, and "affordable colleges."
And, "we will have a new gym for that
basketball team," said the University of Rhode Island alumnus,
in his biggest applause line.
"I can assure you we will never ever
do anything to let you down, and we will continue to give Rhode
Islanders honest, open government," he said.
York took Providence, but with no mayoral
race, turnout was very low. Almond won big in vote-heavy communities
like Cranston, Warwick, Woonsocket. York took
Pawtucket, but not by enough to soak up Almond's huge margins
in the suburbs. In all, York won in only five communities.
York called Almond to concede the race at
around 10:20 p.m., and to tell him she "would like to assist
him in any way she can."
"It's better to win but it does matter
how you play the game," a thankful York told a loyal crowd
of Democrats crammed into the Biltmore ballroom. "And it
does matter how you define success."
York said her campaign had managed to strengthen
the Democratic Party and raise important issues such as education
and health care.
And saying she wanted to set the record staight
for "some people," York emphasized: "I do love
Rhode Island. I care passionately . . . I care about its future.
The crying started outside York's suite before
the final numbers were in.
"I just knew it was going to be very
close, but I thought that we would pull it out in the end. When
will Rhode Island wake up?" lamented volunteer Connie Cathers.
"I've got to believe Rhode Island just
isn't ready for a woman governor," said York campaign operative
Jack McConnell. "It's sad, because I have two daughters.
But I have no other explanation for this," he said.
Though York had an uphill run against Almond
in 1994, the slope was even steeper this time.
York started strong. But she had to make
a convincing case for ousting a governor who had presided over
a healthy economy, low unemployment and a record $128 million
state surplus without any major scandals.
She couldn't do it.
While he sought credit for "an historic
turnaround," she argued that Rhode Island was under-performing
the rest of the nation and that she had the "vision, energy
and leadership" to make it do better.
While she tried to tap into middle-class
discontent, he got to boast: "24,000 more working."
His claim was based on the jump, from 1995-1997, in the number
of Rhode Islanders working anywhere -- including Connecticut's
Foxwoods casino -- in both public and private-sector jobs.
With no deep ideologic gulfs between them,
she whacked him for Rhode Island's below-par high school test
scores; ridiculed him for spending $1 million in road money to
"beautify" a short stretch of Route 95 in Cranston;
questioned his judgment in giving 13.9 percent raises to state
traffic court judges working three days-a-week, on average.
She scored a direct hit with her criticism
of his administration's failure to take any action, over 17 months,
to clean up known toxic waste violations at American Shipyard.
Less than two weeks before the election, the state's environmental
agency slapped the shipyard with $65,965 in fines.
But, York never convincingly explained her
own vision in terms that could be easily grasped, lapsing into
bureaucratic jargon or esoterica from her own campaign lexicon.
She talked often, for example, about "Hope Scholarships,"
without stopping to explain that this was her name for the $500
college scholarships she was offering students, with "B"
averages in high school.
As a senator in 1991-1994, she advocated
the expansion of family welfare benefits while opposing then-Governor
Sundlun's attempts to limit the once costly aid program known
as General Public Assistance.
Welfare was a big issue in the 1994 race;
a big unmentioned issue in the 1998 race. But Almond sought in
his TV ads to subtly remind viewers that the "moderate"
York they see in 1998 was far left-of-center the last time she
held office: "Myrth York. A risk we just can't afford."
Nonetheless, a race that should have been
a romp for Almond turned into a potential squeaker, with polls
showing a neck-and-neck race until the very end.
Some said Almond waited too long to respond
to the persistent drum-beat of York attack ads on his record.
Other pundits attributed the closeness to the Almond style,
which fans call "deliberative," and critics, "plodding."
Never an aggressive meet-and-greeter, Almond
vowed when he came into office that he would not let the job consume
his personal life -- and he didn't -- eschewing the usual round
of wakes, retirement parties, fundraisers and the like.
Early in his administration, after Almond
lost his first big battle with General Assembly leaders over his
failed pension reform package, radio talk show curmudgeon John
Hackett delivered a blunt assessment: "Governor . . . you
got rolled by the Democratic lawmakers." The image stuck.
In recent months, Almond sent out mixed signals.
While taking credit for every business-friendly move by the Democrat-controlled
General Assembly, he unabashedly wooed organized labor.
Days after the September primary, he won
a huge symbolic victory when the state AFL-CIO -- which had backed
York in 1994 -- decided to remain neutral this year.
The decision did not foreclose individual
unions from backing York, both financially and with get-out-the
vote efforts. The National Education Association was among her
key backers. She also had endorsements from a hospital workers'
union, printers, steelworkers, carpenters and teamsters.
Still, the loss of the AFL-CIO endorsement
was a major psychological blow to her, and boost to him. Crowed
Almond: "It shows what can happen when you have communication
instead of confrontation."
The former U.S. attorney also courted the
endorsement of the Rhode Island arm of the Laborers International
Union of North America -- and its general president, Arthur Coia
-- despite highly publicized allegations of mob influence in the
"The vast majority of Rhode Islanders
know Lincoln Almond, know his record," then-campaign manager
Edward Morabito said.
Weeks before the election, a group of 90
non-union construction companies went to court to try
to block the Almond administration from requiring the
use of union-only workers on an $18.6 million state project
In their suit, the contractors contended
that new union-worker rule would stifle competition, and jack
up the price for construction of a new Department of Labor &
Training headquarters. They also accused the administration of
ceding design of labor agreements, for the project, to the AFL-CIO.
The case is still pending, and Almond administration
director Robert L. Carl Jr. has said the union-worker rule was
aimed at averting potential clashes between union and non-union
workers that have bedeviled other projects.
But the front-page news of the lawsuit had
folks at the corner diner scratching their heads.