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POLITICS AS USUAL: Gemma's announcement didn't change a thing (OPINION)

September 4, 2012

To borrow an old phrase, the Anthony Gemma campaign last week “labored mightily and brought forth a mouse.”
His press conference last week fell woefully short of what he promised would “have an immediate, stunning, game-changing impact on Rhode Island politics. It will make national headlines. Lives will be changed profoundly – and mostly for the better.”
My life was not “changed profoundly” 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 “Gemmapalooza”) 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, Gemma’s press conference moved him closer to perennial candidate Christopher Young and even further behind the incumbent, David Cicilline, who was the target of Gemma’s verbal assault.
The thing is, the guy can’t 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 “redefine the job of Member of Congress and re-invent and reinvigorate public service for the 21st century.” He likened his “New Idea” to FDR’s “New Deal.” No, he really did; I’m not kidding.
He doesn’t 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 “the certain (certain!) knowledge that they are putting their lives on the line.” For those who would doubt that, he embellishes with people “hiding in their attics with weapons” because Cicilline Democrats are coming for them.
Gemma boasted last week that he has presented “smoking gun” evidence that “David Cicilline has committed criminal acts relating to voter fraud (he is absolutely the only person I know who thinks so), but he couldn’t stop himself there. He added suggestively that his private investigators’ report on Cicilline “has naturally expanded into areas of possible criminal conduct that, if revealed, would shock and even sicken you.” If revealed? What the heck did you call a press conference for if you are not going to reveal it?
Gemma’s explanation of what he dramatizes as amounting to “a direct attack on our democracy” turns out to be a few scattered allegations (“under the pains and penalties of perjury,” he intoned) and a lot of innuendo. He is saying, in effect: “Here are a few paltry tidbits, but, boy, if you could only see what I have in my back pocket…”
That is disgraceful.
If he has actual evidence of “possible (note the wiggle word possible) criminal conduct that, if revealed, would shock and even sicken you” doesn’t he have a responsibility — as a citizen, let alone as a candidate for Congress — 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 aren’t going his way. Gemma did nearly the same thing two years ago. Reporters and the public were largely ignoring Gemma’s 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 “press conference”, 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 can’t be the load of crap it appears to be.
Unfortunately, the FBI, as is their wont, won’t comment at all, ever, under no circumstances, period, nothing more to be said.
But State Police Col. Stephen O’Donnell did his level best to keep his department out of the middle of the mudslinging. “The integrity of the RI State Police is paramount to me,” O’Donnell said in a written statement. “Due 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.”
By noting the timing, O’Donnell 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, “I didn’t call you here today to make this a big circus event,” 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 Romney’s so-called “birther” joke. In case you missed it, Romney, campaigning in Michigan, one of his several “home” states, joked to supporters at an event that he and his wife were both born at local hospitals and raised in the area so, “no one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate.”
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. It’s 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

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