To borrow an old phrase, the Anthony Gemma campaign last week âlabored mightily and brought forth a mouse.â
His press conference last week fell woefully short of what he promised would âhave an immediate, stunning, game-changing impact on Rhode Island politics. It will make national headlines. Lives will be changed profoundly â and mostly for the better.â
My life was not âchanged profoundlyâ for the better or the worse and I doubt yours was, either.
The only immediate, stunning, game-changing impact it had on Rhode Island politics (the claims Gemma made when hyping the event that later came to be derided as âGemmapaloozaâ) was to make Gemma, one of three candidates in the Democratic primary for the 1st District congressional seat, into a punchline.
On the continuum of candidates in that race, Gemmaâs press conference moved him closer to perennial candidate Christopher Young and even further behind the incumbent, David Cicilline, who was the target of Gemmaâs verbal assault.
The thing is, the guy canât help it: hyperbole, overkill and over-the-top seem to be his default positions. You will remember that he officially opened his campaign in back in April by promising to do no less than âredefine the job of Member of Congress and re-invent and reinvigorate public service for the 21st century.â He likened his âNew Ideaâ to FDRâs âNew Deal.â No, he really did; Iâm not kidding.
He doesnât just say that possible witnesses fear political reprisals from the congressman, no, he has to go overboard and say the witnesses are speaking to his investigators with âthe certain (certain!) knowledge that they are putting their lives on the line.â For those who would doubt that, he embellishes with people âhiding in their attics with weaponsâ because Cicilline Democrats are coming for them.
Gemma boasted last week that he has presented âsmoking gunâ evidence that âDavid Cicilline has committed criminal acts relating to voter fraud (he is absolutely the only person I know who thinks so), but he couldnât stop himself there. He added suggestively that his private investigatorsâ report on Cicilline âhas naturally expanded into areas of possible criminal conduct that, if revealed, would shock and even sicken you.â If revealed? What the heck did you call a press conference for if you are not going to reveal it?
Gemmaâs explanation of what he dramatizes as amounting to âa direct attack on our democracyâ turns out to be a few scattered allegations (âunder the pains and penalties of perjury,â he intoned) and a lot of innuendo. He is saying, in effect: âHere are a few paltry tidbits, but, boy, if you could only see what I have in my back pocketâŠâ
That is disgraceful.
If he has actual evidence of âpossible (note the wiggle word possible) criminal conduct that, if revealed, would shock and even sicken youâ doesnât he have a responsibility â as a citizen, let alone as a candidate for Congress â to share this information with the public? Is he keeping last-minute surprise accusations under his hat until a day or two before the primary?
There is a pattern here: The Lincoln businessman has a tendency to go nuclear when he senses things arenât going his way. Gemma did nearly the same thing two years ago. Reporters and the public were largely ignoring Gemmaâs campaign in 2010 when, in the last few weeks, he started throwing bombs at Cicilline for financial misfeasance and corruption in Providence while Cicilline was mayor and lying about the same. Gemma pulled out all the stops, but it still provided him no better than a relatively distant second-place finish (37 percent vs. 23 percent) in the four-man primary that year.
Gemma is also a bit of a control freak, which I believe is why he has taken to avoiding questions from the media whenever he can. He actually ran away from a chasing squad of reporters at his formal campaign announcement and after taking just a few questions at his âpress conferenceâ, he literally cocooned himself in the center of a protective cordon of staffers and supporters to make a quick getaway before the media could pin him down any further on his allegations.
At his press conference, Gemma tried to cloak himself in the credibility of the FBI and RI State Police, saying, in essence, that if they are involved in this, that it canât be the load of crap it appears to be.
Unfortunately, the FBI, as is their wont, wonât comment at all, ever, under no circumstances, period, nothing more to be said.
But State Police Col. Stephen OâDonnell did his level best to keep his department out of the middle of the mudslinging. âThe integrity of the RI State Police is paramount to me,â OâDonnell said in a written statement. âDue to the sensitive nature of the allegations, coupled with the timing of them, it would be unfair and inappropriate to confirm our involvement or non-involvement.â
By noting the timing, OâDonnell seems to suggest that perhaps the State Police are being used for political purposes, and he will have none of it. (That is my interpretation, not his.)
During the quickie Q-and-A last week, Gemma said, somewhat defensively, âI didnât call you here today to make this a big circus event,â but as far as I can tell that is the conclusion that was drawn by not only all the media there, but also people who have commented on it from distance afterward.
n I have always loved politics, but one of the increasingly irritating downsides in the last decade or so is the seemingly complete and utter sense of humor on the part of people who get involved in political campaigns, at the state as well as the national level.
The most recent example of this is Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romneyâs so-called âbirtherâ joke. In case you missed it, Romney, campaigning in Michigan, one of his several âhomeâ states, joked to supporters at an event that he and his wife were both born at local hospitals and raised in the area so, âno oneâs ever asked to see my birth certificate.â
It was a joke, swiping fun, if anything, at all of the Obama birth certificate hoodoo and estabilshing his homeboy credibility in a swing state.
The Obama campaign immediately went batbleep, accusing Romeny of joining Donald Trump and other whack jobs who question the legitimacy of the Obama presidency because there was apparently a grand conspiracy back in 1961 stretching from Kenya to Hawaii to get Obama elected as the first black president 47 years later. Get a grip, folks. Itâs going to be a long campaign.
Jim Baron covers the State House for the Rhode Island Media Group. His opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of The Standard Times or SRI Newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.