The Rhode Island Political Co-operative is a group of Progressive Democrats running for elected offices throughout the state. One of the expected 50 candidates they will run in 2022 is Lenny Cioe, who is primarying Senate President Dominick Ruggerio in District Four again. A number of factors played a role into why he ran the first time against Ruggerio in 2020 and why he is this year.
“The first time I ran, I ran out of anger. For years, I carried the anger of my friends that died from AIDS in the 1980s and how no one cared. I ran on the anger that my father had Parkinson's and he had given his life to the state of Rhode Island as a teacher at Ponaganset High School and he died from Parkinson's. And his medication costs were anywhere from $3,000 to $4,000 a month. Now those same medications would be $5,000 to $6,000 a month and how little has changed,” Cioe said. “I ran on the anger of what was going on during the COVID crisis. But now, my second time running, that anger turned into a strong resolve. [When] I walked those streets with no name recognition and just my message, people heard me. It moved the needle forward in a progressive movement that more civic leaders are needed. Nurses, electricians [and] people from the working and middle class are needed in the government. And that resolve is now why I’m running again.”
Cioe and Ruggerio’s last primary was decided by a close margin of 341 votes. Cioe is confident the result of their first matchup shows his chances of winning are higher this time around.
“Last time, he spent $350,000 to my $17,000. And I only lost by 300 votes. If you do the math, look [at] how much he spent on each vote trying to stop me. This time I’m better prepared. Last time we built the plane while we were flying. But this time we can fly the plane and actually reach new heights.”
Many of the Progressive Democrats are criticizing the redistricting process this time around, including Cioe. He called the process this time around a “farce,” citing a concern that the Providence portion of the district will be carved out to give Ruggerio a better chance in their rematch. Unseating Ruggerio would result in a new Senate President, and possibly, Majority Leader. Cioe would like to see Senators Sam Bell and Jeanine Calkin in those leadership positions.
There are four key issues Cioe has heard from residents that he plans to address if elected: Creating a fair tax system for all, healthcare, small businesses and education.
On the issue of healthcare reform, a starter for Cioe is, “To do an audit of the companies that are managing [Rhode Islanders’] healthcare; to find out how public funds are being spent.”
The topic of improving the state’s education system has many different solutions. Providing adequate funding to the public schools system is one of Cioe’s main policy proposals regarding the education system.
“We need to improve our education. Under Senate Presidents since 1984, there’s been cut after cut to [public] education, and look what’s happened. Central Falls is still under state control; Providence is now under state control. That’s under [Ruggerio’s] watch. So goes Providence, so goes the rest of the state. And we need to refund education, and make it public education.”
Cioe is a proud RIC Alumnus, graduating from the college in 2008 after finishing his first two years at CCRI. “It was one of the best education experiences I’ve ever had in my life. RIC is the best bang for your buck for a school in the whole state. In fact, I think in all of New England. It’s big enough where you get a diverse enough group, but small enough where you don’t feel lost. I absolutely [loved] it.”
He added, “There’s great professors [at RIC]. [It was] a great experience I had there.”
Cioe was in the nursing program, which provided an extra challenge since it’s a competitive program to get accepted into. However, a study group he was part of that the nursing students needed led to one of his fondest memories about his RIC experience.
“In nursing, you need to have study groups. And we had an all-male study group; the amount of men in nursing was very small at that time. The first time we got together, it wasn’t working, so I set the law down. I said ‘we’re going to come to this prepared, we’re going to study, go through everything [and] everybody has to be ready. If you’re not ready, we’re going to [vote] you off the island.’ The group of us did exceptionally well on one of the ATI exams and it was because we studied. I can’t believe how well we did on that test.”
Additionally, Cioe and I spoke about non-political topics such as the characteristic he thinks Rhode Island is best known for.
To view the full interview, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_MLUcTxXXU.