Gorbea, Mattiello trade barbs after he backs rival

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – One of the two Democrats running for secretary of state is less than pleased with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello for backing her rival in the race.

In an email to colleagues Wednesday, Mattiello said he will be backing three Democrats in contested races at the state party’s special endorsement meeting on Sunday night: Ralph Mollis for lieutenant governor, Guillaume De Ramel for secretary of state and Frank Caprio for treasurer.

“I would appreciate the support of the above candidates and I hope you can communicate these choices to the committee people who will be casting the votes from your district,” Mattiello, D-Cranston, said in the email.

The House speaker plays an influential role in determining Democratic Party endorsements, and Mattiello’s decision to back the three men was seen as a blow to their opponents.

The campaign manager for one of those opponents – Nellie Gorbea, who is running against De Ramel for secretary of state – hit back at Mattiello on Thursday.

“To do things differently you wouldn’t support a slate of politicians that are already elected and political insiders,” Rico Vota, Gorbea’s campaign manager, told WPRI.com, alluding to Mattiello’s comments since taking office in March about wanting to make changes.

“I think the speaker is faced with a tough job, but I’m a little disappointed to see business as usual trotted out in the same way with the slate he’s supporting for the Democratic convention endorsement,” Vota said.

Mattiello dismissed Vota’s comments, arguing that De Ramel is more of an outsider than Gorbea because she was deputy secretary of state under former Secretary of State Matt Brown, who served from 2003 to 2007.

“If anyone’s the insider, it’s her,” Mattielo told WPRI.com through a spokesman. “She worked in the secretary of state’s office. Guillaume has never been in office and never been political.”

Gorbea appears to be the underdog in her race against De Ramel, who lost the 2006 Democratic primary for secretary of state to Mollis and has been racking up endorsements from labor unions and other interest groups as he makes his second attempt. The pair are scheduled to debate on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers next month.

Vota said Gorbea plans to fight for the party endorsement on Sunday despite Mattiello’s decision. “We’re aware of the forces that are at play against us, but we’ve got plenty of supporters in that room and we’re going to be there with our people,” he said.

The Rhode Island Democratic Party’s State Committee is scheduled to gather Sunday evening at the Rhode Island Convention Center to vote on which candidates to endorse in the primary, which is Sept. 9. No public polls have been conducted in the secretary of state race.

The Providence Journal reported Tuesday that John M. Carlevale Sr., a 70-year-old Republican who has made multiple unsuccessful bids for office in the past, plans to run for secretary of state on the GOP ticket.

Ted Nesi ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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