EAST GREENWICH–Former East Greenwich Town Council President Sue Cienki was elected to lead the Rhode Island Republican State Central Committee this past weekend, but one at-large member has since resigned over the vote.
In a statement released on Twitter Monday morning, Barbara Ann Fenton, the wife of Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and two-time Republican nominee for the Governor of Rhode Island, said she would be stepping down from her position effective immediately.
“As a niece of a 9/11 NYFD firefighter, the cousin of a firefighter named on the IAFF memorial in Colorado Springs, the granddaughter of a fire chief, the niece of a deputy fire chief and the cousin of another firefighter on the front lines every day, I cannot in good conscience remain an active member given your attitude and comments towards these everyday heroes,” Fenton wrote in her resignation letter.
Accompanied with this statement posted as a photo, Fenton further continued by stating she “will always stand in solidarity with these everyday heroes and not @CienkiSue.”
When Cienki was approached by NBC 10 News later that day, she said she was not anti-firefighter or anti-union, but pro-taxpayer.
“Let’s get more Republicans and Independents elected up there that are really concerned with what’s left in your wallet,” Cienki said, referring to more representation on Smith Hill.
In East Greenwich, however, the fire department became a politically divisive subject going into Election Day last year, especially surrounding concerns about overtime and pension liabilities. Existing tensions between members of the fire department and the former town council grew after a presentation was given last June, alleging that firefighters had been gaming the system to receive more overtime.
Cienki was also formerly the subject of a lawsuit involving an East Greenwich firefighter, who claimed that at a town hall meeting she’d threatened to cut off his genitals and feed them to his dog.
A few weeks before the East Greenwich Town Council flipped to a Democrat majority, the Republican Town Committee shared a video highlighting donations received by the town’s Democratic Committee – most notably donations made by the East Greenwich Firefighters Association.
“The Democrats are running on getting rid of Gayle Corrigan because that’s what the fire department told them they want to do,” Deutsch said shortly before Election Day. “They want to run on peace and civility and all this stuff, yet they’re the ones doing hate mailers about us. The hypocrisy, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. The people in town are smart enough to figure that out on their own.”
The video pointed out a $1,000 donation made from the firefighter’s association earlier that year, as well as a $600 donation made in 2017. But according to the Rhode Island Director of Campaign Finance, Richard Thornton, donations from political action groups that fall within the $1,000 per the calendar year are allowed.
Although no laws had been broken, former Town Councilman Nino Granatiero at the time said accepting the donations was ethically questionable and against the best interest of the residents. The Democrats, to some degree, he said, would be in debt to the union when contract negotiations come up later this year.
Cienki declined to comment to NBC 10 News about the lawsuit brought forward against her, but she did say it was disappointing to receive a letter of resignation from Fenton.
“As Chair, you actually get to fill 23 at-large delegates,” Cienki said. “She was an at-large delegate to begin with, so, when a new chair comes in, that slate is wiped clean.”
Cienki was one of four candidates and initially fell short of receiving the necessary 96 vote majority to be elected as chairwoman. At the first vote Saturday, Cienki won 81 votes. Going into a second vote, after Rep. Robert Lancia was eliminated as the lowest vote-getter, Michael Veri, who made an unsuccessful run for the Rhode Island Senate and ran his campaign for the chair seat while serving overseas, urged his 28 supporters to back Cienki.
Fung’s candidate, Rebecca Schiff, who trailed shortly behind Cienki in the first vote, withdrew from the race to announce Cienki as the next chairwoman. Schiff stressed the importance of unity within the party.
Going forward, Cienki told the Pendulum she hopes to see a greater diversity of ideas represented on Smith Hill.
“For 80 years the democrats have controlled the general assembly,” she wrote in a Facebook message Wednesday morning. “There is no balancing of ideas. No checks and balancing of opposing viewpoints which creates a disservice to taxpayers.”
Increases to taxes, she said, like the state’s proposed $10 billion budget, results in less money in taxpayer’s wallets, which forces many young people and seniors out of Rhode Island.
“To be a Rhode Islander it is taxing,” she said.