WARWICK — The Warwick Board of Canvassers on Thursday dismissed a pair of complaints that question whether a Michael C. Carreiro, the Warwick firefighters union president running to represent a section of the city in the state Senate, still lives in Warwick.
The three-member board ruled that the complaints were not filed in time because the law required such objections to be filed by July 18 — within three days of when Carreiro submitted his nomination papers for the Senate District 29 seat that Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey, a Warwick Democrat, is vacating after 28 years in office.
Both Jennifer T. Rourke, Carreiro’s opponent in the Democratic primary for the Senate seat, and Rob Cote, an outspoken critic of payments for unused Warwick firefighter sick time, filed the complaints. After Thursday’s ruling, they indicated they plan to pursue their objections with other authorities, such as the state Board of Elections.
Rourke and Cote noted that Carreiro’s wife, Jennie, filed for divorce in Family Court on July 27, and her complaint states the Michael Carreiro resides in North Providence. Also, the summons complaint for divorce for Carreiro lists the address of a North Providence home that belongs to his father.
But Carreiro told the Globe, “I do not reside in North Providence. My family and I are currently dealing with a personal matter. Times like these are tough for our family, and I respectfully ask for privacy during this difficult time.”
Assistant City Solicitor Peter F. Skwirz advised the Board of Canvassers that Rourke and Cote had filed their complaints on Aug. 1 — two weeks after the statutory deadline for challenging the eligibility of a candidate. “It’s not a timely complaint,” he said. “So on procedural grounds, it would be appropriate for the board to deny.”
Board vice chair John DelGuidice said, “I don’t want to see a technicality get in the way of democracy.” But all three board members agreed that they did not have the jurisdiction to consider complaints at this point.
Carreiro made headlines last month when it was revealed that his Facebook page included photos of him wearing blackface during a 2009 event when he dressed as the singer James Brown. The Facebook page contained a photo, dated July 19, 2009, that shows Carreiro, who is white, wearing what appears to be black makeup, a black wig, and dark sunglasses.
“I want to be clear that this was wrong,” Carreiro told the Globe in a written statement at the time. “It was offensive and unacceptable — and I’m sorry.”
Rourke, a multiracial woman who is co-founder and co-chair of the progressive Rhode Island Political Cooperative, issued a statement Thursday, saying, “Wearing blackface alone should be disqualifying with the voters in our community, but not living in the district should be disqualifying for Carreiro to be on the ballot this fall.”
Rourke spoke during Thursday’s meeting, drawing a comparison between Carreiro’s situation and that of former state Representative John Carnevale, who was the subject of a WPRI-12 investigation that raised questions about whether he lived at the Providence address he claimed on election and campaign finance paperwork. The investigation prompted City Hall hearings where prosecutors determined Carnevale lied under oath.
When he declared his candidacy for the Senate, Carreiro listed an address on Bunting Road in Warwick, and city property records show the house is owned by Michael and Jennie Carreiro.
Rourke claimed Carreiro was not living there when he filed his nomination papers. She cited the divorce complaint document claiming Carreiro resides in North Providence and a Warwick Beacon report that said neighbors haven’t seen Carreiro’s truck outside the Bunting Road house in about two months.
“This is the type of situation that we need to actually investigate because this speaks to the integrity of the election,” Rourke said. “If he does not reside inside the home, he is not qualified to run for this seat.”
Cote also addressed the board, saying Carreiro gave one address on his nomination papers and that his wife filed a court document saying he lives elsewhere.
“You can’t live in two places. I think it’s incumbent upon this body that you get to the bottom of it,” he said. “From the point of election integrity, I just want to know: What is the truth? Somebody lied and somebody told the truth.”
Cote told the board he has been told that Carreiro plans to claim residency in a camper stored on the property, but he said city ordinances prohibit living in campers on residential premises.
Carreiro did not speak during Thursday’s hearing, and he did not comment after the hearing. But a lawyer representing him, Christopher E. Friel, said it was clear the Board of Canvassers had no jurisdiction to hear the complaints at this point. And in any case, he said Carreiro is a resident of Warwick and Senate District 29.
“There is a difference between where you lay your head at night and whether you are a resident,” Friel said. “In Rhode Island General Laws, it’s very clear what constitutes residency.”
He noted that a section of state law titled “residency for voting purposes” lists factors that “shall be considered prima facie evidence of a person’s residence for voting purposes.”
Those factors include the address provided to the Division of Motor Vehicles for the voter’s driver’s license, the address from which the voter’s motor vehicle is registered, the address from which the voter filed his last federal income tax return, and the address provided to the voter’s employer. And according to those factors, Carreiro is a Warwick resident, Friel said.
But where is he laying his head right now? “It really doesn’t matter, as far as I’m concerned,” Friel said. “Even had these complaints had been timely filed, I’m certain the board would have found he is a resident of Warwick and is properly on the ballot.”
Rhode Island law states that, “A person’s residence for voting purposes is his or her fixed and established domicile,” and that’s determined by “that person’s factual physical presence in the voting district on a regular basis incorporating an intention to reside for an indefinite period. This domicile is the place to which, upon temporary absence, he or she has the intention of returning.”
A person can have only one domicile, the law states, and a person doesn’t give up that domicile for factors such as employment or service outside of the state connected with military operations, confinement in a correctional facility, being a patient in a hospital or nursing home, or attending a college.
According to the state’s central voter registration system, Carreiro registered to vote in 2004 in Warwick. In 2006, he registered from a Bunting Road address in Warwick, and he registered at another Bunting Road address in 2015.
Voter records also show that Carreiro registered as a Republican in 2006 and again in 2015, and he voted in the 2016 Republican statewide and presidential primaries.
In June 2018, he changed to unaffiliated. He voted in the Democratic primary in September 2018 and did not disaffiliate from the Democratic Party afterward. In December 2020, he conducted a transaction at the Division of Motor Vehicles and checked off Democrat on the form, records show.
Republicans Christopher R. Barker and Anthony Phillip DeLuca II also are running for the Senate District 29 seat.