M. CHARLES BAKST
Sept. 27, 1998
From a Newport hotel, to Brown University,
to a South Providence forum come today's gubernatorial campaign
news and views.
Here's what Arthur A. Coia, embattled general
president of the Laborers' International Union of North America,
says about Linc Almond, the former U.S. attorney who is Coia's
choice for reelection as governor:
"I consider the governor Mr. Squeaky
Clean and I consider myself Mr. Squeaky Clean also."
I went to see Coia in Newport. I knew Almond
would be seeing him there and I wanted to catch up with the 55-year-old
Barrington resident who operates out of Washington and makes headlines
but isn't always an easy interview to land.
With Coia's support, look to the Rhode Island
Laborers in coming days to endorse Republican Almond over Democrat
Myrth York, as they did in 1994.
Through a 1995 pact between the Laborers
and the Justice Department, Coia presides over an in-house cleanup
of the Mafia-tainted union. But the internal anti-corruption unit
he set up to stave off a federal takeover of the union has charged
him with permitting mob influence in the union and taking kickbacks
from a union vendor.
Last we heard in April, Coia had begun his
defense in a secret, quasi-judicial union proceeding, with a former
U.S. prosecutor as judge.
Seeking to nail down the Laborers endorsement,
Almond on Tuesday conferred in Newport's Doubletree Islander Hotel
with Coia and Armand Sabitoni, Laborers' vice president and New
England regional manager, a good guy to know in Rhode Island labor
circles. The international union's executive board was in town
The three men huddled in the hotel's Astor
Room, which is near the Vanderbilt Room. (Hey, it's Newport.)
Afterwards, Coia couldn't say enough about the gov:
"He's got a lot of good programs . .
. We have worked closely with his administration in bringing new
jobs to Rhode Island."
Coia was talking construction jobs, highway
jobs and other things. You may think of the Laborers as building
trades, but the union's 10,000 Rhode Island members also include
everything from nurses to grave diggers.
Coia loves the Providence Place mall project
Almond has pushed. "It's very vital to everybody in Rhode
Island," Coia said. A mall, a convention center, new hotels
-- "These are things that make cities go and make the state
I asked Coia about his status with the union
-- those charges that he let the Mafia hold sway.
He said, "The matter has been before
our independent hearing officer and all the evidence has been
put forth and we're waiting for a decision."
He declared, "The truth will come forward,
the process is in place and no one in the union is above the process,
and I feel that when the decision is rendered I will be vindicated."
He anticipates a decision around the end
of the year.
I said some folks would blanch at the idea
of Almond, Mr. Squeaky Clean, hanging around with him. That's
when Coia said he also considers himself Mr. Squeaky Clean. "Charges
or allegations are just what they are," he said. "Evidence
and facts speak for themselves."
I never see Coia around Barrington. I think
of him as being a Washingtonian. But he said he regularly talks
by phone with Sabitoni, as he speaks regularly with Laborer vice
presidents around North America. "I am a Rhode Islander,"
Coia said. "I pay taxes in Rhode Island. I vote in Rhode
Island. My heart's in Rhode Island, although I'm not very much
He looked vigorous -- he had prostate cancer
surgery in January -- and he said, "I feel good, I feel strong,
I work every day."
Though he sometimes aligns himself with Republicans,
Coia's a Democrat. He's been a big Democratic fundraiser and became
a pal of Bill Clinton, who now has his own problems.
Coia told me he hasn't spoken with the president
in a year or so. And he hasn't heard lately from Hillary either.
Coia didn't always live in Barrington. Indeed,
Doubletree staffer Joyce Notte Motte, whose late father
was governor, went to North Providence High School with Coia,
and yes, she ran into him at the hotel and they reminisced. "You
couldn't ask for a nicer person," she said.
Later, I asked Almond about the news stories
on charges that Coia allowed organized-crime figures to influence
"When you seek the endorsement of a
union, you talk to the leadership of the union," Almond said
matter-of-factly. "I don't know what's happening in a secret
hearing . . . I'm not his lawyer . . . That topic did not come
York, too, seeks the Laborers' backing. "I
want everybody's endorsement," she told me.
Almond said he knew Coia from the days when
both were lawyers handling workers' compensation cases.
Former Senator York said she's met Coia a
few times over the years. "I think he's smart, I think he
cares about Rhode Island," she said.
As for the news stories: "Whenever there
are allegations of misconduct, I guess I would say I'm concerned
about them, but there's a process that's ongoing."
SPEAKING OF THE MALL:
Both the Almond and York campaigns talk about
it -- Almond insists it's a plus for him, York insists it's a
minus for him -- but I'm waiting to see whether the candidates
put their money where their mouths are and bring up the subject
in a TV commercial.
Both opposed the mall in 1994, with Almond
the more outspoken and pledging to quash it if he was elected.
Later he said he meant simply that he would quash the financing
arrangements, and he renegotiated the deal so that state subsidies
would kick in only when the place was up and running.
Last week, when York campaign manager Rob
Horowitz and Almond campaign manager Ed Morabito spoke at Darrell
West's Brown University political science class, Horowitz took
issue with Morabito's frequent refrain that Almond doesn't run
more strongly because he is so self-effacing. Horowitz said, "Voters
are smarter than that . . . It starts with the first thing they
saw him do is flip flop on the mall . . . That changed people's
view of him from this reformer that they saw in the election to
a business-as-usual politician."
Morabito said later that the gov's course
on the mall showed "leadership," that he avoided taxpayer
risk and brought home more than $400 million in private investment.
If I don't see a commercial from either camp
on this matter, I'll have to assume the issue cuts both ways and
is too risky to push before a statewide audience, as opposed to
certain constituent groups.
Meanwhile, when Professor West last week
issued a poll showing Almond leading York, 41 percent to 35, with
9 percent for Cool Mooser Bob Healey, 2 percent for Reform Party
cxandidate John Devine and 13 percent undecided, I had two immediate
Why can't Almond, with such favorable indicators
as 72 percent thinking Rhode Island is on the right track and
with his enjoying a 58 percent job approval rating, do better?
In these circumstances, he should be trouncing
Given Almond's inability thus far to capitalize
on those conditions and given the fact that York is well known
and experienced, why can't she catapult over him?
West said Almond's problem is he lacks Mayor
Buddy Cianci's flair for self-promotion. But with the good economy
and voter confidence, West said, "All the pieces are in place
for him to have a good election."
And York's problem? "She has not yet
solidified her Democratic base." Among Democratic respondents
in the poll, she outpaced Almond only 53 percent to 33.
It may be, West said, that some working-class
Democrats just don't identify with the wealthy East Sider and
that Almond seems more the average Joe. Of course, York, tagged
by Almond in '94 as too liberal, is pitching her drive to working-class
Rhode Islanders, so maybe her message will sink in.
I enjoy bantering with York and Almond. For
example, as I drove to Newport, I noticed on repaved Route 4 a
DOT your-dollars-at-work sign, with the notation: Lincoln Almond,
Governor. When I met up with the gov, I twitted him.
After all, when he took office, he refreshingly
broke with custom and kept his name off the welcoming signs at
the state borders. Almond says he had nothing to do with the Route
4 sign but, hey, it's "nice" and he won't alter it.
DOT director Bill Ankner confirmed later
that he was the one who decided to put Almond's name on the sign.
Actually, Ankner said, there are four such signs, on Route 4 and
a repaved Route 6 in Johnston. He said including the governor's
name was customary in other states in which he worked.
BUT MUCH THAT
happens in a campaign is beyond bantering. It is very serious stuff, and people take it
seriously -- or should.
On Wednesday night, Almond, York and Healey
appeared before a Rhode Island Civil Rights Roundtable forum
on minority issues at the CCRI campus in South Providence. One
question sought their views on legalizing same-sex marriage.
Healey said it was fine by him, but Almond
and York muffed this chance to stand for human dignity.
York said, "That issue is used by the
right wing in this country to really create hate and ill feeling
and all of that. I think we need, before we even get to that question,
to really enforce the human rights laws, the civil rights for
all people, and make sure that we have the equality of treatment
in education, in jobs, in housing . . ."
Almond noted that he signed the gay-rights
law banning discrimination in employment, credit, housing and
accommodations. But he said, "I just don't think the Rhode
Island public or the American public is ready for same-sex marriages."
Two key audience members, Rep. Mike Pisaturo,
D-Cranston, and Kate Monteiro, president of the Rhode Island Alliance
for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, said later that the York and
Almond responses fell short.
Pisaturo, a York supporter, is gay and is
the sponsor of a same-sex marriage bill. He told me, "The
governor has a long way to go on the issue. I'm not counting him
out yet . . . He needs to be educated." Pisaturo was "disappointed"
in York. He said she could take a "leadership" position
on this issue and not be hurt politically. In fact, "When
voters perceive you've taken a courageous stand, I think they
appreciate that." But he said, "She's hiding from an
Monteiro, a political independent who is
undecided in the race, told me, "I was very disappointed
in the answer from Lincoln Almond and I was slightly disappointed
in the answer from Myrth York."
Monteiro said York was correct in saying
arch-conservatives try to exploit the issue and Almond had a small
point, too, but these are only beginnings: "She got the answer
10 percent right and he got the answer 1 percent right. Maybe
right now, without much discussion, Rhode Island isn't as ready
as it ought to be. But one would expect that candidates who are
running for the highest office in the State of Rhode Island would
have the strength and the fortitude to take a strong stance, a leadership stance, on a very fundamental
basic issue . . . That goes for both of them." I wouldn't necessarily expect the candidates to have such guts, but I'd sure welcome it.
M. Charles Bakst is The Journal's
Copyright © 1998 The Providence