Joe DeLorenzo: ‘I sincerely apologize to everyone’

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Embattled Rhode Island Democratic Party 2nd Vice Chair Joseph DeLorenzo issued an apology Monday for controversial comments he made last week about Rep. Teresa Tanzi’s sexual-harassment allegations.

“I sincerely apologize to everyone for my recent unfortunate remarks,” DeLorenzo, a former Cranston state representative, wrote in a statement. “As a husband, father of two daughters, and grandfather to two granddaughters, I never meant to minimize the problems of sexual harassment, which is a very serious issue.”

“I was originally trying to express my disappointment in the Democratic Party’s movement to the far left and the challenge to Joe Paolino as the National Committeeman,” DeLorenzo continued, referring to Cranston Sen. Joshua Miller’s short-lived campaign against Paolino to be one of Rhode Island’s representatives on the Democratic National Committee.

“As a lifelong Democrat, my hope is that we can all work together and repair the divisions within our party,” DeLorenzo said. “I never intended to create any controversy and am sorry for doing so.”

DeLorenzo’s public apology comes after House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, a fellow Cranston Democrat who effectively controls the state party, called on him to do so Friday evening. Nearly every other prominent elected Democrat in the state has called on DeLorenzo to resign his post in the party, and progressive activists have signaled they may push for his ouster.

State Rep. Joe McNamara, the state party chairman, indicated he was satisfied with DeLorenzo’s apology and wants to move on. “We must all do our part in 2018 to come to the table and work together to elect Democrats at all levels of government,” McNamara said. “This apology is an important step towards that goal.”

But the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus, a new group the party formed earlier this year, quickly issued a statement saying its members still want Mattiello and McNamara to remove DeLorenzo. They warned that if the Mattiello and McNamara do not, they will ask state party committee members to organize an emergency meeting to oust DeLorenzo.

“Mr. DeLorenzo’s statement is too little, too late,” the statement from the caucus said. “Mr. DeLorenzo doubled-down on his sexist remarks last week, insulting women, undermining the integrity of elected women, and otherwise attempting to divide the party with inflammatory comments.”

“Despite what Mr. DeLorenzo and Speaker Mattiello have said, this has nothing to do with ideology,” the statement said. “It is about common decency. Mr. DeLorenzo’s comments do not reflect the values of our party, and frankly, shouldn’t reflect the values of any party.”

DeLorenzo, 75, says he’s served as a vice-chairman of the Rhode Island Democratic State Central Committee, which serves as the state party’s governing body, for 27 years.

The firestorm started a week ago when DeLorenzo told The Providence Journal the party was being taken over by progressives, bemoaning former House Majority Leader John DeSimone’s 2016 primary loss to a progressive challenger, now-Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell.

DeLorenzo’s comments led to a petition by a number of mostly female Democrats, including Tanzi and Sen. Gayle Goldin, calling on him to resign his party leadership role for “comments that were divisive, offensive and insulting.” The fury on the left increased exponentially after DeLorenzo gave an interview to WADK’s John DePetro where he suggested Tanzi should reveal who sexually harassed her at the State House and questioned her account.

“Don’t just make a blanket accusation,” DeLorenzo told DePetro. “Someone might have said, ‘Teresa, your hair looks good’ – and I’ve met her, I think, twice in my life – ‘Your hair looks good.’ ‘Oh, you’re harassing me.’”

“But as far as going out there and saying, ‘For sexual favors we’ll pass your bill’? Eh, I don’t think so,” he said, chuckling.

State Sen. Jeanine Calkin, D-Warwick, was among those expressing dissatisfaction with DeLorenzo’s apology on Monday.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook