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The Rhode Island GOP elects new leadership

Raymond Baccari


It’s a brand-new era for the Rhode Island Republican Party. During the party’s leadership elections on Saturday, delegates elected a new chairman, first vice chair, second vice chair, treasurer, secretary and national committeewoman.

There were two candidates running for party chair: Joe Powers, who was the 2022 GOP nominee for State Senate District 26, and Giovanni Cicione, who was party chair from 2007 to 2011.

Both candidates had a chance to give a speech during their nominations before voting occurred.

In his speech, Powers focused on looking ahead, bringing everyone in the party together and ensuring both their candidates have the necessary data for future election cycles.

“In my world of business, everything is about strategy, everything is about data, and everything is about planning,” Powers said. “And if we don’t plan, then we fail, and that’s the game plan moving forward with the entire team, with everybody in this family that we call the Republican Party. To bring everybody together again. To be the ones that are going to show everyone who we are, that we are on the forefront of a real red wave that we will dictate, that we will ride, that we will control. We are the only ones that should have control over where this party goes, and that’s how we’re going to succeed when we move forward.”

Cicione emphasized the importance of being united moving forward, especially for the upcoming First Congressional District special election.

“We have an opportunity that comes along very rarely,” Cicione said. “Not just an open congressional seat, but an open congressional seat in a special election. We have proven again and again over decades that special elections are good for Republicans in Rhode Island. It is when we shine, it is when people pay attention to what it is we’re saying and what it is we’re trying to do.”

Cicione, who ran for this very district before, said that whoever the Republican candidate is “deserves every last bit of support that we can give him or her.”

“We need to be able to get out there immediately in the next few months, have the best candidate come forward and have the systems in place to get that candidate’s votes,” Cicione added.

After all the votes were counted, Chairwoman Sue Cienki announced that Powers won, which was followed by a loud applause and attendees chanting, “Joe! Joe! Joe!”

“Joe worked really hard and I give him great credit for that,” Cicione told The Anchor after the results. “He’s going to make a great chairman, and I’ll be there to help him however I can.”

Cicione added that he’ll continue to assist the party moving forward in the upcoming election cycles such as 2024.

Powers ran on essentially a de facto ticket alongside two other candidates seeking leadership positions: Jessica Drew-Day, who ran for first vice chair, and Niyoka Powell, who ran for second vice chair.

Drew-Day won the race for first vice chair against Russ Hryzen, who at the time was the incumbent. Drew-Day was recently the 2022 GOP nominee for State House District 33 against State Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee (D-Dist. 33). She was also recently elected to chair the South Kingstown GOP.

Powell won the race for second vice chair against two other candidates: Dave Talan, who is a co-chair for the Providence GOP and Scott Bill Hirts, who is the current vice president of Hopkinton’s Town Council. Powell was recently an independent candidate in the 2022 election for State Senate District 1 against Sen. Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1). Powell is also co-vice chair of fundraising for the Providence GOP.

Lance Chappell and Mary Lou Sandborn won uncontested races for treasurer and secretary.

Cienki, who was not seeking another term for party chair, ran for the open national committeewoman position that was vacated by Lee Ann Sennick, who recently became director of communications for the four State Senate Republicans. This election was held so the winner could serve the rest of Sennick’s term. An election for a full term is set for June 2024, where a vote will also happen for the national committeeman position currently held by Steve Frias.

Almost every current elected Republican, current party leader, former elected officials, former party leaders and candidates in past elections were in attendance.

Both the new party leadership and those in the room were optimistic about where things are heading moving forward following these results.

“I think it’s great, there’s a lot of new energy in the room,” Cienki said. “The people that won were all former candidates, they worked really hard, they know the system. I think they’re going to do an outstanding job and of course I’m a phone call away if they have any issues. I can certainly answer any of their questions, it’s a good team – very excited.”

Executive Director of the Rhode Island GOP, Jesus Solorio, shared a similar sentiment.

“You can just feel it across the room, it was excitement,” Solorio said. “We have a brand new team, a lot of newcomers. These are folks that ran last cycle, [they] are going to take what they learned and help build up the state party, build up on what Chairwoman Sue Cienki did for the past four years. It’s that excitement, it’s bringing up folks that have been in the trenches and now are going to help build up the next part of the state party.”

Solorio added the party will take what they learned from 2022 and implement that for future election cycles.

As for whether embracing mail-in voting and early voting will be on the table, Solorio said, “We have to invest in not only mail ballots, but early voting [and] educating Republicans that ‘hey we need to go out and vote, take advantage of the mail ballots, early voting and then come out and help our candidates on Election Day.’”

The optimism from these election results also is shared by House Minority Leader Michael Chippendale (R-Dist. 40), who also nominated Powell for second vice chair.

“I’m very excited. We have a great group of people up there where it’s so much energy I wish we could bottle it up and save some for the future,” Chippendale said. “We’re going to go forward with a renewed sense of urgency and an invigoration that, honestly, I haven’t seen in the state party in a while. And it’s refreshing, I’m excited and I feel very optimistic.”

A frequent theme in local politics is that there is often a connection to Rhode Island College in some way. In this case, both Powers and Powell are alumni of RIC, which Powell acknowledged in a post-election interview with The Anchor.

“It’s amazing to see because all of the other people that run for office are from all of these prestigious schools and they think that little Rhode Island College can’t produce anything that is worthy of the statehouse,” Powell said. “So, here we are, here we are in politics and ready to drive change because we are the people that are being affected by a lot of things going on right now. So, we’re going to work as hard as we can to bring this party back where it needs to be.”

Looking ahead, Powell is focused on working in a team spirit and willing to help any Republican running in 2024.

As First Vice Chair, Drew-Day wants to grow the party “from a grassroots effort” by strengthening the existing city and town committees as well as starting local committees for towns who don’t have any yet.

Powers is also looking at the work and hurdles ahead, with his sights being on the First Congressional District special election.

As for what his areas of focus will be for the upcoming elections, Powers said that he’s a data-driven guy and will “start pulling all the information” and “start talking to the right candidates” to make sure the party has the right people in order. He added that there will be a process in place.

Alongside the special election later this year to replace outgoing Rep. David Cicilline, the party will have to play both offense and defense in 2024. That election cycle will see Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) up for reelection along with every General Assembly member and Cranston Mayor Ken Hopkins.


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