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Democratic Leaders Helped a Blackface-Wearing Conservative Run Against a Progressive Black Woman In Rhode Island

Democrat Jennifer Rourke, running for Rhode Island State Senate, was physically assaulted by her GOP opponent last month, and is now being targeted by her own party.

Jennifer Rourke

Jennifer Rourke, a candidate for Rhode Island State Senate, was violently attacked by her Republican opponent last month after giving a speech at an abortion rights rally. Jeann Lugo, an off-duty cop running for state office as a Republican, punched Rourke in the face twice and was charged with assault and disorderly conduct. “This is what it is to be a Black woman running for office. I won’t give up,” Rourke tweeted at the time. Lugo went on to drop out of the race, as did Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey, the conservative Democratic incumbent that Rourke was challenging.

But Rhode Island Democratic Party leaders helped another conservative Democrat get on the ballot to run against Rourke in the 29th Senate District race. Rourke is now facing a challenge from Michael Carreiro, who wore blackface and appears to be a fan of Tucker Carlson. State Democratic party leaders haven’t just refused to support Rourke over Carreiro — they actually went out of their way to help Carreiro get on the ballot, collecting signatures on his behalf after it was revealed he wore blackface.

“The fact that the Democratic Party leadership would rather work with the guy who wore blackface against me — a Black and brown, progressive, working-class candidate running for office was very disappointing,” Rourke told More Perfect Union this week. “But it also shows that they are not real Democrats, that they’d rather dig their heels in and protect their own power” than support a candidate like herself get elected “and improve the lives of working people everywhere.”

Carreiro, a white man, wore blackface during a 2009 event and made the photograph his Facebook profile picture. He also appeared to have liked a Facebook page called “support officer Darren Wilson,” referring to the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in 2014, and the show page for Tucker Carlson Tonight. A photo on Carreiro’s Facebook page features the candidate posing and smiling next to Carlson. 

McCaffrey, the district incumbent who has been in office for the last 28 years and served as Senate Majority Leader for the last five, signed an affidavit swearing that he collected signatures for Carreiro. At least 5 members of McCaffrey’s family signed Carreiro’s nomination papers to help him get on the ballot, according to the document. The Chair of the Warwick Democratic City Committee, Kimberly Wineman, and the Deputy Legislative Director of the Rhode Island Senate, a position hired by the Senate leadership team, also signed affidavits swearing that they collected signatures for Carreiro. 

Carreiro filed his paperwork to run for office just hours after McCaffrey announced his retirement. The Boston Globe reported that McCaffrey took a number of calls that morning “from people expressing interest in running,” but declined to give any names. The Rhode Island Democratic Party’s unwillingness to support Rourke, and role in propping up Carreiro’s run for office, is part of a broader pattern of establishment Democrats opposing progressive and working-class candidates across the country. Party officials did not respond to requests for comment from More Perfect Union.

Rourke, a long-time abortion rights activist and mother of four, has spent most of her life working multiple jobs to get by, including as a waitress, a bartender, and many years in retail. As a co-founder of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, Rourke is also committed to defeating conservative Democrats in local and state races to help the left build lasting power. The Co-op, which formed in 2019, is backing 30 candidates who have pledged to support universal health care, a Green New Deal, and a $19 minimum wage, along with other progressive priorities. The group is part of Renew U.S., a national progressive group aiming to build the political infrastructure that would help candidates like Rourke win. After Rourke was assaulted, Renew U.S. provided her with crisis security consulting as her family faced a wave of right-wing threats — support that she says is crucial for helping working-class candidates feel safe running for office. 

McCaffrey, who Rourke and Carreiro are vying to replace, has an “A” rating from the NRA and has fought against legislative efforts to codify Roe v. Wade. He was also previously endorsed by Rhode Island Right to Life. Carreiro, meanwhile, does not have a campaign website or policy platform up yet, and has said little about his policy positions publicly. “That’s why I’m running,” Rourke said. “With the help of dozens of other candidates for the state legislature, and our ticket for governor and lieutenant governor, we can help get rid of this conservative Democratic machine, and get a government that actually fights for working class people like myself.”

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