McNamara to focus on education, steps down as party chair

Posted 11/16/23

As he steps down as Rhode Island Democratic Party Chair, Rep. Joseph McNamara (Dist. 19, Warwick/Cranston) looks to devote more time to education.

McNamara said his decision not to seek the …

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McNamara to focus on education, steps down as party chair


As he steps down as Rhode Island Democratic Party Chair, Rep. Joseph McNamara (Dist. 19, Warwick/Cranston) looks to devote more time to education.

McNamara said his decision not to seek the Democratic party chair again was due to new responsibilities as a member of Speaker Joseph Shekarchi (D-Warwick)’s leadership team and an appointment to the Education Commission of the States (ECS), an agency consisting of governors, state legislators and other officials throughout all 50 states.

McNamara stressed he is not planning to retire from public service- in fact, he’s already got reelection plans for another term in the General Assembly- and is looking to continue working on priorities including education as a state representative and member of  ECS.

“I hope to have some major national policy initiatives in place that will benefit Rhode Island students,” McNamara said. “And I know that my constituents in both Warwick and Cranston are pleased with the investments that we’ve made in both housing and the environment.”

On Wednesday, McNamara endorsed Liz Beretta-Perik as his successor as Rhode Island Democratic Party Chair at an organizational meeting of the party.

McNamara made the announcement on the heels of what was  a successful election night for Democrats statewide, with Gabe Amo’s victory in Rhode Island’s First Congressional District and school bond questions- a priority of McNamara’s- passing in Barrington, Bristol, Cumberland, East Greenwich, Lincoln, Middletown and Warren, only failing in North Kingstown.

“We’ve enabled communities, due to the bonding issues that we’ve constructed, to a once-in-a-lifetime, generational chance to build new schools,” McNamara said. “And as we saw last Tuesday, several other communities are going to take advantage of this. We have the momentum in terms of education.”

McNamara said that he first took notice of Beretta-Perik as a potential successor as they were campaigning for Representative Seth Magaziner in 2022.

“She’s a very intelligent, articulate woman,” McNamara said. “You know, people have said, Joe, I’m not that impressed by you, but she’s OK, you’ve got our vote. She shows up and is knocking on doors, even in neighborhoods that can be a little rough.”

McNamara said that Beretta-Perik, who, unlike him, is not a current member of the General Assembly, will be able to get more involved in partisan spats and more easily navigate a polarized political environment.

“As party chairman, have I targeted Republican members?” McNamara asks. “Yes, but only because they were weak, had poor records and we had better candidates. That formula was due to successful, quality candidates. But that will make a difference- she will be able to just say you know, so and so is a Trumper and he was at the Capitol on January 6. How can you vote for him when he’s not in touch with reality and is denying an election?”

McNamara is still supporting Beretta-Perik following a Providence Journal story regarding litigation against her husband, Michael Perik, involving potential fraud.

The foremost concern for McNamara in the State House is reducing chronic absenteeism. He said Warwick has the fourth-highest chronic absenteeism rate in the state, with only Woonsocket, Central Falls and Providence higher.

Other  issues that McNamara is looking to advocate for in the upcoming General Assembly session may not seem connected to chronic absenteeism at first, the representative sees them as interconnected. According to McNamara, while every child’s situation is different, the most common medical excuse for chronic absenteeism is asthma, meaning legislation regarding pollution could help alleviate this issue a bit as well.

“If there was one single issue I could identify, whether it be housing insecurity, hunger, being a foster child- there isn’t one,” McNamara said. “There are many, many, many issues relating to chronic absenteeism. It’s different for every kid.”

 McNamara made headlines nationally for announcing Rhode Island’s votes during the 2020 Democratic National Convention roll call in a video alongside Iggy’s Boardwalk executive chef John Bordieri, dubbing Rhode Island the “calamari comeback state.” This followed legislation advocated for by McNamara making the squid dish the state’s official appetizer, which McNamara credits as helping revitalize Rhode Island’s fishing industry with a sustainable source of seafood.

Throughout his tenure as chair, which began in 2014, McNamara has overseen a tumultuous shift in national politics- one that saw partisan divides deepen from national to local levels.

To him, though, his legacy as he leaves the Democratic Party Chair position is one of bringing his party together.

“Uniting the party around good policy that benefits the state and being able to build consensus, such as the Act on Climate, gun control, which we’re still focusing on for obvious reasons, marriage equality, educational initiatives,” McNamara said. “And that’s something that we can agree on- bipartisan agreement on many of those issues. I think good policy creates good politics, and if you stick with that, that’s why you prevail.”

McNamara, democrats, chair


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