fb-pixel Skip to main content

Hot mic in R.I. Senate stirs controversy

Senator Mendes calls for an apology or resignation after a microphone picks up someone on the Senate dais saying, “these (expletive) people” at the close of a recent Senate session

Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio seen at the conclusion of the Feb. 15 Senate session on Rhode Island Capitol TV.Handout

PROVIDENCE — Senator Cynthia Mendes on Wednesday called for an apology or resignation after a hot mic picked up someone on the Senate dais saying “these (expletive) people” right after the conclusion of the Feb. 15 Senate session.

The F-bomb can be heard on a Rhode Island Capitol TV recording after Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, a North Providence Democrat, raps the gavel, bringing the day’s session to an end.

Mendes, an East Providence Democrat who is running for lieutenant governor with support from the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, noted that during the session the Senate had approved new legislative district maps that she and other progressives had criticized and voted against.


“Last week, someone behind the dais — either @SenatorRuggerio or his staff — was caught on a hot mic exclaiming, “these (expletive) people” as Senators argued about @SenatorRuggerio ‘s blatant gerrymander that cuts Black candidates out of their districts,” Mendes tweeted.

She said she is not sure exactly who said those words or at whom they were directed, but said she thinks they were directed at senators.

“I was not the only Senator in a heated discussion,” Mendes tweeted. “I don’t know if the ‘these (expletive) people’ comment was directed toward me and my colleagues who dared to dissent or towards others, but it was certainly directed towards Senators.”

“When the Senate President or his staff say “these (expletive) people” to dismiss the voices of Senators representing their constituents, it isn’t just inappropriate,” she wrote. “It demonstrates the entitlement and arrogance in the Senate that I have often spoken publicly about.”

If Ruggerio said those words, he should apologize, and if one of his staff members said it, then he or she should resign, Mendes said. “What was said was incredibly disrespectful,” she wrote. “It violated Senate rules & insults our constituents who we were sent to speak on behalf of.”


Senate spokesman Greg Pare declined to say who made the comment or who they were referencing. “I’m not getting into who said what,” he said. “I do know what it was about, and it was not about Senator Mendes. Not everything is about Senator Mendes.”

Pare noted that the comment came well after the Senate had voted 29 to 9 for the new House, Senate, and congressional district maps.

And he noted that foul language has been a feature of campaign announcements and tweets by Rhode Island Political Cooperative members and candidates, including Mendes. When Mendes and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Matt Brown launched a progressive slate of Rhode Island Political Cooperative candidates, they use the same offensive word in their kickoff video, where Brown says, “We’re gonna win the whole [expletive] State House.”

Mendes also tweeted video showing Senator Joshua Miller, a Cranston Democrat, approaching her after the conclusion of the Senate session. She said Miller was upset that she had claimed that gerrymandering had cut Harrison Tuttle, president of the Black Lives Matter RI PAC, out of Miller’s Senate district.

“After we adjourned, Senator Joshua Miller accosted me,” Mendes wrote. “He was angry that I’d referenced the fact that candidate @_HarrisonTuttle had been gerrymandered out of his district. Here’s a video of him waiting until the moment the Senate adjourned to wave his finger in my face.”


Miller referred to Tuttle as “that kid” and “directed personal insults toward him,” Mendes wrote. “I argued in defense of my statements. I’m sure those at the dais noticed.”

Miller tweeted in response, saying, “I have never insulted Harrison and never will. I have never been involved in gerrymandering and never will. I have never blocked single payer, I was actually the first to sponsor single payer several years ago.”

In an interview, Miller said he was “legitimately upset” that someone would accuse him trying to gerrymander someone out of his district. He said he doesn’t even known where Tuttle lives, and he said, ”I don’t have the capacity to gerrymander. I don’t draw the maps.”

On Wednesday, Tuttle tweeted that he had white people dismiss him as a “kid” or “boy” throughout his life.

“Historically, phrases like this have been used by white people in America to address adult Black men in order to diminish and disregard their intelligence, status, and hard work,” he wrote.

Tuttle has said he plans to run for the General Assembly but he has not decided whether to seek a House or Senate seat.

“I’m incredibly proud of the work that I and my co-organizers at @blmripac have been able to accomplish in the past few years,” he wrote. “We have had lots of success working with legislators in the General Assembly, and I personally have good relationships with many.”

Senator Melissa A. Murray, a Woonsocket Democrat, entered the Twitter fray later in the day, tweeting, “So ‘we’re going to win the whole (expletive) state house” at Senators = okay; ‘(expletive) people’ with no context = not okay? Also, I’d rather have a colleague confront me directly than walk by me & whisper scream ‘weak, weak, weak woman.’ But that doesn’t fit the narrative now does it?”


Murray tweeted, “How many times have y’all looked at your phone after a meeting and uttered the same words after the 5th spam call that day or yet another unsolicited DM on Insta? I don’t know the context but like Greg Pare stated, not everything is about Sen Mendes.”

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.