Updated: Jun 17, 2022
This piece is part of the Options’ opinion column Chattering Classes.
State Senator Sam Bell’s challenger is mired in accusations of sexist bullying and corruption involving Providence city funds, yet this candidate is campaigning as an ally who likes to reminisce about times gone by. At its core, David Salvatore’s campaign in the 5th Senate District is an ugly example of straight entitlement masquerading as allyship.
Rhode Island politicians have a tradition of sending out an introduction letter when they kick off a campaign, called a Mother T. The name is a reference to the first letter of its kind in 1992 by Rhoda Perry in her state senate reelection campaign fending off a young David Cicilline that started off with the words “My mother, Theresa.” Since her success, the letters have become a staple of Ocean State campaigns. I received one such letter in my mailbox recently from David Salvatore – a term-limited Providence city councilor – about his campaign to oust an out member of the State Senate.
The candidate’s Mother T was two full pages, filled with nostalgic prose about his local neighborhood. Reading it, I was disturbed by Salvatore’s tone and lack of intellectual depth. He certainly pushed the idea that he had grown up in the area and never ventured to live anywhere else, and he showered affection on every company, street, and random item he could think of in his local area.
It is not unusual for RI politicians to emphasize they grew up here, but since in this letter there was no comparison to going somewhere else, no revelation from experiences elsewhere as to why he loved the places he did, there was no weight in his words. Fluff for fluff’s sake. No mention of moving and deciding to come back. No reason for why here, why now. It showed a lack of curiosity that would concern me in any politician, even one with fewer problems than Salvatore.
Worse was how he reminisced about a place he has never left. A little bit of nostalgia is nice, yet when you dedicate two pages to it, one starts to feel that the writer is referring to a place they had not been to in a long time. This is an odd way to write about a place one is asserting one has lived their whole life. Salvatore writes as if he sees the same streets and buildings as the rest of us but no longer sees what he thinks our neighborhoods should be. It is a chorus of lovely words that disguises a repugnant implication.
This letter comes at a time when Salvatore’s name has been in the news recently, yet not about his campaign for state senate. The city councilor’s brother is attempting to receive over $300,000 from the City of Providence illegally for unapproved spending on towing services – somehow, the contract ended up not being put out for an open bid.
The city councilor isn’t new to controversy, in 2018 the president of the Black Business Association, a local RI-focused nonprofit, criticized Salvatore, who was then council president, for not supporting women or minorities. Her remarks led to five women in total coming forth to make accusations – including from women on the Providence City Council – that Salvatore had yelled at and belittled women on the council. His actions were so disturbing that at the time, Sabina Matos, then a city councilor and now the lieutenant governor, even called for Salvatore to seek treatment for anger management.
All this is before one mentions the man is a business lobbyist at the state house who often is advocating against the interests of everyday people.
You won’t find discussion of any of this in the candidate's Mother T, or why he thinks we need one less member of the LGBTQ community in the state senate. In fact, his whole campaign seems to be about pushing a nice-guy image void of substance. He posts photos filled with smiles and puppies on social media, has shared stories of unionizing coffee shops, and announced he’s such an ally that he is using RI Pride for some low-cost PR marching in the parade Saturday.
He has even taken pinkwashing to a new level with a rainbow logo that references Trans and Black peoples for his campaign to kick out an out elected official. This allyship presented in June seems newfound since just this April, Salvatore praised Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, who not only opposed marriage equality but has flat-out refused to apologize for this, to The Providence Journal. While he claimed Ruggerio and he don’t agree on everything, he didn’t mention the senate president’s anti-LGBTQ stances as something they disagree on, instead, the only thing he singled out was a construction project. Meanwhile, Bell is Ruggerio’s staunchest critic – including calling out the Senate leader’s continued mistreatment of Queer and Trans peoples.
The Mother T I opened up to read didn’t alleviate any of these concerns, it only added to how his campaign is based on deception.
One might toss this aside as just a tale of a term-limited Providence city councilor’s desperate attempt to stay relevant. Salvatore won’t be the last councilor to run for the first thing he sees when his term is up. Yet, what makes Salvatore’s run so important is his choice to try to throw out one of the Senate’s only LGBTQ members. Salvatore’s campaign isn’t about politics, policy, or strategy, it is about straight entitlement – we need to call it out for what it is.
This piece is part of Alex Morash’s attempt at a monthly column, Chattering Classes. Chattering Classes looks at the queer happenings in local politics, local Queer talk around town, and calls out bad actors – regardless of political party – that seek to harm LGBTQ people. Suggested column topics are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.