Patrick Ward elected to lead Providence Democrats

Patrick Ward is the new chairman of the Providence Democratic City Committee.
Patrick Ward is the new chairman of the Providence Democratic City Committee.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Providence Democratic City Committee, once a powerful source of votes in city elections, has a new chairman.

Patrick Ward, the 50-year-old husband of Ward 15 Councilwoman Sabina Matos, was elected to lead the committee Thursday evening during a meeting at the Rosario Society Hall in Silver Lake. Ward succeeds Victor Capellan, who stepped down to focus on his job as superintendent of schools in Central Falls.

“If we want to continue electing Democrats across the state, Providence has to be strong,” Ward said following the vote. Mayor Jorge Elorza attended to meeting and endorsed Ward, who didn’t have an opponent.

Ward, who has been a member of the city committee for several years, said he has always been interested in Democrat politics, but acknowledged that the election of President Donald Trump prompted him to seek the chairmanship.

Ward said he fears Rhode Island has become more conservative, noting the Cranston now has a Republican-led City Council and the voters in Johnston, long a Democrat stronghold, supported Trump in the last election. He said he’s aware several members of Providence Democratic City Committee who also supported Trump.

“I want to find the activists,” Ward said. “They’re out there.”

It won’t be easy.

For decades the city committee played a vital role in swinging local elections while controlling many patronage jobs scattered throughout city government, but its influence has diminished over the last 20 years.

Aside from rarely holding meetings, the committee has endorsed losing candidates in each of the last three open mayoral primaries and has done little to sway City Council elections. The committee’s political action committee had just $368 as of Dec. 31, according to a filing with the R.I. Board of Elections.

City committee members are elected every four years, with 11 members coming from each of the city’s 15 wards. Ward said he believes fewer than 130 of the committee’s 165 seats are currently filled, with some members dying and others moving away.

But he said he hopes to win back some of the less active members and convince younger Democrats in the city to get involved. He noted that 2018 will be a busy year, with all of the statewide officeholders up for re-election, as well as Elorza and each member of the City Council.

Ward is the fifth new leader of the city committee since 2011. Ken Richardson, Lauren Nocera and state Sen. Maryellen Goodwin all held the volunteer position for a short time during the Taveras administration, and Capellan was tapped the lead the committee by Elorza in 2015.

Although the committee has lost some of its luster, Democrats in Providence are as powerful as ever. All of the 38 elected officeholders in the city – between the mayor, the City Council and the state legislature – are Democrats. Providence hasn’t elected a Republican mayor since 1978, a councilman since 1986 or member of the General Assembly since 1992.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan