PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island Republicans elected former state Senate candidate Joseph A. Powers as the new party chair on Saturday, choosing him over former chair Giovanni D. Cicione.
Powers will replace Sue Cienki, who stepped down to fill the Republican national committeewoman position that Lee Ann Sennick is vacating.
During Saturday’s convention at The Event Factory in Warwick, the Republican State Central Committee also elected Jessica Drew-Day as first vice chair, choosing her over Russell Hryzan, and the party elected Niyoka Powell as second vice chair, choosing her over David Talan and Scott Bill Hirst.
Mary Lou Sanborn ran unopposed for secretary, Lance Chappell ran unopposed for treasurer, and Cienki ran unopposed for national committeewoman.
A total of 148 people voted on Saturday. The GOP did not release vote tallies, but all the winners received “overwhelming support,” party executive director Jesus Solorio said.
“I’m excited,” Powers said after the vote. “We have an amazing team working off an amazing foundation created by former chairwoman and now national committeewoman Cienki.”
Powers, 52, of Cranston, works as a real estate agent, general contractor, and investor, and he previously served in the US Coast Guard. He ran for state Senate last year, losing to Senator Frank S. Lombardi, a Cranston Democrat who received 57.6 percent of the vote while Powers received 42.2 percent.
In seeking the state Republican Party position, Powers had said the party needs “an injection of new blood.” The GOP “should be looking to the future to build something instead of the same old stuff,” he said.
Cicione, 52, of Barrington, served as chair of the state Republican Party from 2007 to 2011, and he had argued that his experience would allow him to “hit the ground running.” But Powers had said, “My goal is not to hit the ground running — it’s to fly over it.”
On Saturday, Powers said, “I think everyone was ready for that new energy to come in, but that does not mean we are not going to utilize the experience of the people who were there before. We are going lean on them to propel us forward.”
Powers takes over after a disappointing GOP showing in last year’s election cycle. Democrats swept the statewide offices, Republican Allan W. Fung lost the high-profile Second Congressional District race, and despite recruiting 66 General Assembly candidates, the Republican Party lost a seat, leaving it with 14 of the 113 Assembly seats.
But on Saturday, Powers said many Republican candidates received more than 40 percent of the vote in Assembly races, so they just needed to build a little more support to win future election. “We would be foolish not to leverage the data and the energy we got last year,” he said. “We have started with our training, and we have the right people to rock and roll.”
Powers had said Republicans allow others to define their message. For example, the GOP is often portrayed as opposing LGBTQ+ people but “nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.
His comments came during a week in which House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi removed Representative Robert J. Quattrocchi, a Scituate Republican, from a House committee because Quattrocchi asked Representative Rebecca Kislak, a Providence Democrat who is a lesbian, “Are you a pedophile?” House Minority Leader Michael W. Chippendale, a Foster Republican, objected to Quattrocchi’s removal from the committee, saying, “The Speaker has acted under pressure from ‘a mob.’” Powers declined to comment on that situation Saturday.
Powers takes over as Rhode Island gears up for a special election in the First Congressional District to replace US Representative David N. Cicilline, a Democrat who is resigning to lead the Rhode Island Foundation. And he takes over as the 2024 presidential campaign is beginning to heat up.
In 2016, Powers said he voted for former President Donald J. Trump because he “wanted to see what a businessman could do, as opposed to senators and attorneys,” and he said, “I wanted someone to shake the tree.” But he said he is a “data-driven guy” and will look at all the options for Republican presidential candidates and their prospects in the year ahead.
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.