PROVIDENCE — State Senator Ana B. Quezada on Thursday called for a high-ranking state official to step down following the release of an e-mail alleging he made racist and sexist comments during a business trip to Philadelphia in March.
After trying to keep the document secret for three months, Governor Daniel J. McKee on Thursday complied with Attorney General Peter F. Neronha’s order to release the e-mail that alleges David Patten made a series of racist, sexist, and otherwise inappropriate comments while visiting Scout Ltd. on March 10 along with James E. Thorsen, then-director of the state Department of Administration.
Patten, director of the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, was visiting Scout Ltd. because the Philadelphia-based company is seeking to redevelop the Cranston Street Armory. Patten, who makes $174,490 a year, now remains on paid administrative leave.
Quezada, a Providence Democrat who is running for the First Congressional District seat, issued a statement, saying, “The way these officials behaved in Philadelphia is disgusting and once again calls into question Governor McKee’s judgment in selecting the top people in his administration.”
She called for Patten to resign and for the McKee administration “to release any and all communications with state staff and officials about their decision to cover up this situation.”
“Rhode Islanders deserve to know what went on behind closed doors that enabled this to be withheld from the public for so long,” Quezada said. “It’s disturbing that in 2023, cronyism and corruption are still the image that Rhode Island is showing to the rest of the country. It hurts our reputation, our economy, and our faith in government. Rhode Islanders deserve leaders who are transparent, honest, and actually use their office to serve the public good.”
Michael P. Lynch, an attorney representing Patten, issued a statement Thursday, saying Patten is embarrassed and humiliated, “not just for himself and the impact on [him] and his family but for those who placed so much trust in him as DCAMM Director.” Lynch said the events that unfolded on the trip to Philadelphia “were the result of a mental health event characterized by health professionals as an acute stress event that built up over time.”
Representative Enrique Sanchez, a Providence Democrat, also issued a statement on Thursday, saying, “Racially insensitive remarks are wrong. Harassing comments and sexual insinuations are wrong. So is extorting sneakers, beer, vegan cheese and a special opening of a fancy restaurant. On behalf of the state, I apologize to Scout for the awful way state of Rhode Island officials allegedly treated them.”
Many Providence businesses run and staffed by people of color experience racially insensitive comments, he said, and many women who work in businesses across the state report inappropriate comments from men the workplace.
“Some businesses feel like they have to give free favors to powerful state officials, and they don’t like it,” Sanchez said. “The allegations about how the McKee administration treated Scout, the state vendor for the Cranston Street Armory project, are exactly what is wrong with the broken culture of business and politics in our state.”
Sanchez praised Scout executives for reporting the behavior. But he said he hopes the company does not face “retaliation” from the administration as it pursues the Cranston Street Armory project. “We also need a clear public apology and meaningful reforms,” he said.
When asked if he wants Patten to resign, House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, a Warwick Democrat, said, “I expressed my displeasure to the administration. Mr. Patten is an employee of the executive branch and does not work for the legislature, so I will have no further comment.”
Senator Samuel W. Bell, a Providence Democrat, also weighed in, saying he was “appalled by the revelations of state officials’ behavior towards Scout.”
“Extortion from state contractors is wrong,” he said. “No public official should extort items such as alcohol, vegan cheese, hand-blown glass, a pair of sneakers, and a private meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant that had to be opened specially for the occasion ... Nor is it appropriate to make the comments that were made about the Asian-American community.”
Bell said Scout Ltd. did the right thing by reporting this behavior. And he said, “I sincerely hope that their decision to properly report this impropriety had nothing to do with the McKee administration’s surprise decision to not propose funding for this project” through a governor’s budget amendment.
“It sends the wrong message if funding for a project suddenly does not appear when a vendor chooses to report extortion by an administration official through the appropriate channels,” he wrote. “It is critical that potential state contractors know they will be treated fairly. State contractors need to know that they are not breaking any unwritten rules if they report extortion, and they will not receive any retaliation if they speak up about impropriety.”
This story was updated with comments from Senator Samuel Bell.