PROVIDENCE—Former Providence Mayor Joseph R. Paolino Jr. yesterday announced his entry into the crowded field for the Democratic nomination in the 2nd Congressional District, declaring himself an underdog and touting his experience in economic development.
Standing in front of LaSalle Academy, his alma mater, the former Rhode Island economic development director who just resigned as U.S. ambassador to Malta to become a candidate, zeroed in on several issues that he said are important to 2nd District voters.
Paolino called for a crackdown on illegal immigration, and proposed phasing out bilingual education programs and making English the nation’s official language.
He also opposed cutting Medicare benefits, supporting use of general government revenue to prevent the Medicare trust fund from running out of money in five years.
“I’m not going to be a typical candidate, and I’m not going to run a typical campaign,” Paolino said. “I want to get away from political gimmicks – the sound bites, the slick slogans and the name calling – and get back to basics: what to do about the issues facing our state and our country.”
Although Paolino, 41, is entering the race late after waffling about his intentions, he is a formidable candidate in a six-way contest in which Lt. Gov. Robert A. Weygand was the best-known contender.
Other Democrats seeking the nomination are Warwick City Council President Linda Sullivan, former state Sen. Joseph McGair of Warwick, former state Sen. Gordon Mulligan of Cranston, and Kathryn O’Hare, the former mayor of West Warwick. Four Republicans are vying for the GOP nomination to succeed Democrat Jack Reed, who is running for Senate.
Paolino enjoys strong support in the state’s Italo-American community and he developed business contacts in his years as director of the Department of Economic Development during the Sundlun administration.
He is a proven fund-raiser, but also has the personal resources to finance his campaign if necessary. He currently lives on the East Side of Providence, in the 1st District, but is buying a house in Narragansett, which is in the 2nd. While mayor in the 1980s, he lived in the 2nd District. He previously represented Federal Hill on the City Council.
Paolino’s biggest liability is his disatrous run for governor in 1990, when he outspent everyone, blew his lead and finished third in the Democratic primary.
Now, he says he has the varied background to be an effective fighter for Rhode Island in Washington. His supporters in the audience of several dozen people echoed that line. “I think Joe’s got a very interesting blend of experience,” said Providence City Councilman Thomas M. Glavin.
Paolino was introduced by veteran Democrat Eleanor Slater, Rhode Island’s Democratic national committeewoman and his campaign chairwoman. But Paolino,who was the party’s endorsed candidate for governor in 1990, said he would not seek the Democratic endorsement this time around. He suggested the party should refrain from endorsing anyone in the race.
On issues, Paolino generally is a centerist Democrat. Yesterday, he said both parties need to move toward the middle to solve the nation’s problems.
He is a supporter of abortion rights, saying,”I believe a woman has the right to make her choice.”
The top issue in the race is jobs, Paolino said. He pledged to fight proposed cuts to the Small Business Administration, try to get a New Englander named to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission-which controls electric rates, and promote Rhode Island’s jewelry industry “by supporting a level trading field with countries like China and Taiwan.”
Paolino criticized corporate executives who get pay hikes while laying off employees. Tax cuts benefitting business should be tied to job preservation, he said.
The former mayor also said illegal immigration is a jobs issues. The size of the Border Patrol should be doubled, a “triple-fence” built along the Mexican border near San Diego and a national system of employee verification adopted, he said.
But Paolino said he agrees with President Clinton that children of illegal immigrants should not be shut out of the nation’s public schools. He also called for welfare reform, supporting a five-year lifetime limit on cash benefits and a two-year maximum for healthy adults to find work.
Recalling the recent death of his grandfather, Anthony Paolino, from bone cancer, Paolino said his family was fortunate enough to be able to afford around-the-clock home care.
“But for many people, if you cut Medicare, they’re not even going to be able to pay for the basic medical assistance they need for their parents,” he said.
Asked if the nation truly can afford to maintain current benefit levels, Paolino said, “Right now they’re talking about putting together a bipartisan commission, which I think is going to be important because everybody’s going to use this issue as a political football, back and forth.”
Joseph R. Paolino Jr.
OFFICE SOUGHT: Congress, 2nd District.
CURRENT POSITION: None.
PREVIOUS OFFICE: U.S. Ambassador to Malta.
RESIDENCE: Providence and Narragansett.
PROFESSION: Public official.
EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree, Roger Williams University; master’s degree, Harvard University Extension School.
FAMILY: Married to the former Lianne Andreoni. Children: Jennifer, 11; Christina, 9; Jacqueline, 4; Joseph III, 2.