Six candidates will duke it out in Congressional Dist. 2 primaries


The candidates in the Congressional District 1 primary race have caused quite a stir, but those in the Congressional District 2 race haven’t gotten nearly as much media attention or airtime. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t just as passionate about winning the seat.

Six candidates will appear on the primary ballots next Tuesday: two Democrats and four Republicans. Independent candidate Abel Collins won’t come into the picture until November.

For the Democrats, incumbent James Langevin has the party endorsement, and challenger John Matson, the “Carpenter for Congress,” said this is his fifth and last time running for Representative.

In the Republican corner, Michael Riley is the GOP-endorsed candidate but is being challenged by Michael Gardiner, Kara Russo and Don Robbio for a spot on the November ballot. Here’s a bit about each of the candidates, including why they think voters should hit the polls on Tuesday to vote for them and not their primary challengers.



The endorsed Republican candidate is spending money like he means it. 

“I’m serious about winning,” he said when asked about his nearly $400,000 in total expenses as of his latest Aug. 22 filing. “The days when people could put no money into their campaign … and win an election are long gone.”

Riley said his campaign expenses are meant to inform voters of who he is and what he has to offer.

“To actually convince people I’m right for the job,” he said. “And that takes money … I’m not thrilled I have to spend it.”

Riley said there are those people who run that are “gadflies” and “dreamers.” He said he is neither.

“I’m interested in taking action,” he said.

On Tuesday, things were in full swing at the Riley campaign headquarters, with nearly 20 people on the lower level of the Apponaug building making cold calls to potential primary voters.

“I chose this forum because I want to fix things,” he said. “What I see going on in Rhode Island today can be corrected.”

But Riley said Rhode Island won’t miraculously recover on its own.

“It’s an imperative that our legislators get America back on the right track,” he said.

Riley believes the keys to a comeback lie in reducing the size of government and ensuring growth happens.

“I want to grow the pie,” he said. “I have a lot of experience in business … I think my experience is very relevant to today’s problems.”

Riley said he would create policies that would ensure a positive environment for growth.

“Growth cures a lot of things,” he said.

Riley said Rhode Island isn’t far from having an environment where business is booming, but to get there, the state needs to undergo structural changes, like flattening taxes, creating a sound tax policy, shoring up entitlements and easing regulations.

Riley, a businessman for 35 years, worked on Wall Street as a day trader, where he said he did well in an extremely competitive setting.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Riley was inside the World Trade Center Building. The day, and the experience, changed his life forever.

“I decided it was time to move my family out of what I thought was harm’s way,” he said. After deliberating on where to move, Riley and his family set their sights on Rhode Island.

“We fell in love with Rhode Island and with Narragansett,” said Riley, who resides in Narragansett today.

Riley said it took him a few years to get back on his feet after the Sept. 11 attack, but eventually did, and started a hedge fund with two colleagues. Because of his chosen industry, Riley said he is constantly examining economic issues.

Though Riley has never held political office before (he ran unsuccessfully for Town Council in 2006 and for Senate Dist. 36 in 2010), he said he aims to win this race.

“I offer the best combination of leadership skills … and actual business experience,” he said, saying he doesn’t like to lose but won’t take anything for granted.

“Rhode Island has got too much potential for the condition we’re in now, and we need to fix that,” he said.

Find more about Riley at

Gardiner ran for the Congressional District 2 seat unsuccessfully in 2010, and said his campaign this year is a continuation of what he started two years ago.

“The Republican Party needs a new voice,” he said. And Gardiner thinks he is just the voice the people of Rhode Island have been looking for.

Gardiner grew up in Cranston, and attended the University of Rhode Island and the Western New College School of Law. In addition to his career in law, Gardiner served in the R.I. Army National Guard, worked at the docks in Galilee and even sold furniture to make ends meet. He now has a private law practice.

Gardiner said his main issues include honing in on the real estate market, the nation’s fuel supply and health insurance to turn the economy around. Gardiner said he is passionate about achieving change nationally but also for Rhode Island.

“If we could turn ‘F’s’ into ‘C’s,’ Rhode Island would be an incredible place to live,” said Gardiner, who said the state is last on every list of positive things and first on lists of negatives. “Rhode Island,” he said, “is like a delightful child struggling in school.”

By setting reasonable goals, like moving from failing to average, Gardiner thinks Rhode Island can be immensely improved.

In addition to his strong feelings on the economy (a long list of things are outlined on his website,, Gardiner is also pro-same-sex marriage and pro-choice, though he was careful to note that taxpayer money should not be used to subsidize abortions. Gardiner said the Obama administration has gone beyond the “rule of law” (where government’s decisions are made by applying legal principles), causing people to worry that “things are changing in a way they don’t want.”

“The Republican Party has to be a party that is about the rule of law,” said Gardiner.

Gardiner said constituents should vote for him in the Sept. 11 primary because, as a lawyer, he has a background that will enable him to represent the people.

“My primary opponents really don’t have the skills to be doing what they’re doing,” he said, saying that his top contender, Riley, just knows how to “make money in a good market or a bad market.”

“We need more professionalism in politics,” he said.

Find more information on Garinder at

This clandestine candidate does have a website, and a P.O. Box, but otherwise, he’s fairly mysterious. Phone numbers were disconnected and emails went unreturned, though Robbio was slated to appear on a WPRO debate on Wednesday evening as of press time.

According to his website,, Robbio was born in Providence and was educated in the public school system. At the age of 17, Robbio enlisted in the Air Force and, after an honorable discharge, served in the Air Force Reserve for five years. Robbio went on to Northeastern’s School of Broadcasting, and became a technical director for television. He also worked as a senior technician for what his website calls a “top secret research and

development laboratory,” creating communications systems for the government.
In addition to the biography portion, Robbio’s website includes a two-part outline for his plans for Rhode Island. Written entirely in capital letters, Part 1 of Robbio’s plan begins with a statement of equal representation.

“I am not going there [Washington, D.C.] to represent the Republican Party,” he writes. The passage continues: “I am going there to represent the people of Rhode Island.”

He promises to have a website on which constituents can vote on bills up for consideration in the House.

“I will check the website to see how you voted, and cast my vote according to the way the majority of you voted,” he wrote.

Robbio’s website also promises daily TV and radio programs that will commence once he is in office.

Robbio names incumbent James Langevin directly a handful of times throughout his “Plans for Rhode Island,” saying at one point that the congressman “voted for every destructive piece of legislation that was placed before him.”

Part 2 of Robbio’s plan includes a list of things he hopes to accomplish if elected, including limiting outsourcing of jobs, reducing dependency on foreign oil, forming a coalition of top CEOs and businesspeople in Rhode Island to explore job creation and stop the “runaway expansion” of government and its agencies.

Although Robbio may not be out on the front lines like fellow Republicans Gardiner or Riley, he was coined a “sleeper” candidate when he ran for Congress in 2010, getting a higher percentage of support than endorsed Republican candidates in a Brown poll conducted in late July of 2010.

More information on Robbio can be found at

Russo was not immediately available for comment earlier this week – she explained on a rainy Tuesday afternoon over the phone that she was en route to finalizing the details of her wedding cake. Russo is getting married this weekend, just two days before the primary, to Congressional District 1 Democratic candidate Chris Young.

Russo did provide some insight into her campaign via email and a nudge to her website, which highlights her Catholic routes, tracing them back to Charles Carroll, signatory of the Declaration of Independence. A graduate of Boston University, Russo moved to Rhode Island in the late 1990s, and worked in the marketing department of what is now the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Russo went on to serve as the director of sales and marketing at URI’s Ryan Center, and also served on the board of directors for the South Kingstown Chamber of Commerce.

Though she has never held elected office, Russo did run for lieutenant governor in 2010, losing out in the primary election. Her fiancé, Chris Young, has vied for political office for many years, this year embattling incumbent David Cicilline and his outspoken challenger, Anthony Gemma, in the Congressional District 1 Democratic primary.

In a lengthy email, Russo outlined her stance on the Social Security and Medicare systems, tax cuts and job creation. Russo said she would seek to impose a tax tariff on imported goods, incentivizing outsourced jobs to return to U.S. soil.
On the topic of Social Security and Medicare, Russo honed in on the national debt, blaming Congressional bribes for the collapse of banks and the $16 trillion debt. She suggests the dissolution of the Federal Reserve Bank under provisions of the Emergency War Powers Act.

“This would save about $450 billion a year in interest on the debt to international banks, and part of these funds would be used to secure Social Security and Medicare,” she wrote in an email. “I would also repeal Obamacare, which the president and this Congress are planning to use to cut $716 billion from Medicare.”

Russo said constituents should vote for her in the primary because of her strong and unwavering commitment to her beliefs.

“I am 100 percent pro-life, and I am also the only candidate [out of myself, Michael Riley, and Michael Gardiner] who is against same sex ‘marriage,’” she wrote. “I am against the atheistic communistic attack that is being carried out on our country through an increasingly radical secular agenda – an agenda whose purpose is to collapse America from within by destroying the bonds that keep our America together: religion, family and population.”

Russo bashed Langevin for “outrageously betraying” his Catholicism in his support of same-sex marriage and for, in some circumstances, supporting a woman’s right to choose the option of abortion.

More about Russo is available at


Incumbent Congressman Jim Langevin has served in the Second Congressional District since 2000 and is seeking re-election to continue the path he has been on for 12 years.

“I am committed to getting our fiscal house in order while supporting priorities like education, small business development and infrastructure investments that will create jobs for Rhode Islanders and give all Americans a fair opportunity to succeed,” wrote Langevin in an email yesterday.

Langevin said the most important thing he believes the legislature can do is to put people back to work by creating jobs. “My primary focus will continue to be creating quality, well-paid jobs and economic security for Rhode Islanders,” he said. To do so, Langevin thinks changes need to be made to the tax code, particularly putting an end to special interest tax cuts and tax breaks for the wealthy. These changes, he said, should be paired with legislation that incentivizes companies to create jobs at home instead of overseas.

Langevin also notes the long-term importance of fixing the state’s crumbling infrastructure, like our roads and bridges, and putting people to work in the construction field.

Langevin is also a proponent of increasing support for career and technical education programs and supporting industries like manufacturing.
Langevin said he plans to continue his efforts to protect and strengthen Medicare and Social Security.

“I disagree with my Republican colleagues who believe the solution is to shift more health care costs to seniors and privatize Social Security,” said Langevin. “We have the ability to make these programs work for everyone through steps like ending the Social Security payroll tax … and increasing efficiencies in Medicare that have already shown they can save more than $700 billion.”

In addition to his party’s endorsement, Langevin has received the support of the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the Sierra Club and Portuguese American Citizens Committee, and the Democrat Town Committees throughout District 2.

“It means a lot to me to have the support of groups that represent so many of my constituents and that are passionate about issues of great importance to the middle class,” he said. “However, I’ve always found that Rhode Islanders are more concerned with what you are working on and what you stand for than who has endorsed you, and I’m proud to run on my ideas for moving the country forward.”

Langevin encourages voters to choose him in the primary election because of his bipartisan work in areas like technical education, health care and cybersecurity.

“Voters know they can count on me to focus on policies that strengthen our middle class and give everyone who works hard a fair chance to succeed,” he said. “Too many Rhode Islanders are still out of work and struggling to get by, and I am not done fighting for them.”

More info on Langevin at

The Democratic challenger to incumbent James Langevin is John Matson, who is running for what he said is his “fifth and last time.”

Matson said he has chosen to run because he believes he can give voice to the “average citizen,” a voice he believes is lacking in Washington, D.C.

Matson said he hasn’t taken a dime from anyone during his campaign, and according to his campaign finance filings, he’s telling the truth. Though Matson has roughly $50,000 in his coffers, the entirety of the money is from his own pocket. Matson said candidates that accept money from millionaires, like Langevin, will cater to them when in Congress.

“They’re hired to do a job as Congressmen and Senators to take care of us, and they don’t do the job,” he said.

Matson, who has worked primarily as a construction worker and in the real estate industry, said there’s not much he hasn’t done. Though he has run unsuccessfully for Congress four times before, he has held public office, serving on the Hopkinton Town Council from 2004 to 2006.

In 1986, Matson’s daughter Julia, an instructor at the Naval Marine Intelligence Center for the U.S. Navy, lost her life serving her country. Matson’s website said this event, as well as the loss of a dear friend, is the impetus for his campaign. But it was a zoning law change in 1996 that affected the value of Matson’s home that spurred him to run for office.

“I felt very aggravated,” he said, explaining that he chose Congress above other elected offices so he would have a “stick big enough to go out in the street and get somebody to listen to you.”

Since then, Matson said he has immersed himself in politics, attending classes and conventions, and meeting high-ranking politicians.

“They’re just like us,” he said.

Among Matson’s biggest problems with how government is run is that the parties run “from the top down.” Matson, who ran as an independent two years ago, said that, if he thought he had a legitimate chance of winning as an independent, he would have run as one again. His loss, he said, is what prompted him to become a Democrat.

Matson said there needs to be major change to Congress, and though he knows he alone cannot do it, he hopes others like him will step forward to challenge incumbents and party favorites.

Matson said he plans to set a precedent this year, and hopes to inspire young people to do as he has done, and take a stab at politics. If he succeeds in inspiring others, “that’s enough,” he said.

More information on Matson is available at


1 comment on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

Michael Riley has explained to other reporters that he was not in the World Train Center when the planes struck. He went through the train station there on the way to his office down the street where he gathered with his staff to witness the collapse etc.

Saturday, September 8, 2012