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White Warwick Senate candidate wore blackface in 2009, apologizes

Michael C. Carreiro says, “I made a mistake 13 years ago, and I’m owning it.” His opponent, Jennifer T. Rourke, who is Black, says, “This behavior should be disqualifying for anyone seeking positions of leadership.”

Michael C. Carreiro, a Democratic candidate for state Senate District 29, is pictured in this July 2009 Facebook photo wearing blackface, dressed as the singer James Brown.Screen shot

PROVIDENCE — A white Democratic candidate for a state Senate seat in Warwick is apologizing for wearing blackface during a 2009 event when he dressed as the singer James Brown.

Michael C. Carreiro, president of the Warwick firefighters union, Local 2748, filed paperwork on July 5 to run for the Senate District 29 seat that Michael J. McCaffrey, a Warwick Democrat who is the Senate majority leader, is vacating after 28 years in office.

Carreiro’s Facebook page contains a photo, dated July 19, 2009, that shows him wearing what appears to be black makeup, a black wig, and dark sunglasses.

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“The photos you are referring to were taken at a 2009 themed event I attended dressed as the singer James Brown,” Carreiro told the Globe in a written statement Thursday night. “I want to be clear that this was wrong. It was offensive and unacceptable — and I’m sorry.”

He said politicians and public officials often make excuses “in an effort to avoid blame and deflect criticism.”

“That’s not me,” Carreiro said. “I made a mistake 13 years ago, and I’m owning it. Events of recent years have exposed how much harm can be caused by these types of actions, and I very much understand that and I’ve learned from it.”

Blackface is defined as wearing dark makeup to “mimic the appearance of a Black person and especially to mock or ridicule Black people,” according to Merriam-Webster. “The wearing of blackface by white performers was, from the early 19th through the mid-20th centuries, a prominent feature of minstrel shows featuring exaggerated and inaccurate caricatures of Black people. The use of blackface is considered deeply offensive.”

Carreiro is running in a Democratic primary against Jennifer T. Rourke, a Black woman who is cofounder and cochair of the progressive Rhode Island Political Cooperative.

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When asked for comment, Rourke issued a statement Thursday criticizing Carreiro for the blackface photo as well as his “likes” for a Facebook page titled “Support Officer Darren Wilson” and a Facebook page for the Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

Wilson is the former Ferguson, Missouri, police officer who fatally shot an unarmed 18-year-old Black man, Michael Brown, in 2014. The US Justice Department did not prosecute Wilson but issued a report faulting the city and its law enforcement for racial bias and unconstitutional practices.

“The picture of Michael Carreiro in Blackface, his adoration of Tucker Carlson, and his support for the police officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, is deeply disturbing,” Rourke said. “This behavior should be disqualifying for anyone seeking positions of leadership. Michael Carreiro should withdraw his candidacy and resign from his leadership position in the firefighters’ union.”

Rourke said that during the candidate filing period, she reached out to the district Democratic committee, seeking its endorsement.

“None of them returned my calls. I am a mother of four, a reproductive rights activist, and I’ve worked multiple jobs my whole life,” she said. “The fact they would not consider endorsing me over someone who wore Blackface and celebrates Tucker Carlson just shows how broken the leadership of the Rhode Island Democratic Party is.”

The Democratic district committee has not made an endorsement yet.

On June 24, a Republican candidate for the Senate District 29 seat punched Rourke in the face during an abortion rights rally at the State House.

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Jeann Lugo, an off-duty Providence police officer, has since been charged with simple assault and disorderly conduct and on Friday pleaded not guilty. He has dropped out of the state Senate race, and the Providence police chief is recommending Lugo be fired. Rourke sustained a concussion in the assault.

Rourke ran for the Senate District 29 seat in a 2020 primary, receiving 41.8 percent of the vote to McCaffrey’s 58.2 percent.

Carreiro has donated more than $3,000 to Rhode Island Democrats over the years, including $1,000 to the RI Senate Democrats PAC, $200 to McCaffrey, and $200 to House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, a Warwick Democrat, according to reports filed with the state Board of Elections.

Meanwhile, two Republicans have declared their candidacies for the Senate District 29 seat: Anthony Phillip DeLuca II and Christopher R. Barker.

Declared candidates must submit nomination papers with the required number of signatures to their local board of canvassers by 4 p.m. July 15.


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