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R.I. official resigns amid scandal over racist, sexist comments made in Philadelphia

David Patten’s lawyer issued a statement apologizing to the people of Rhode Island and Philadelphia but continued to blame the incident on “an acute stress event”

David Patten, director of the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, and James E. Thorsen, testifies before a House Finance subcommittee earlier this year.Screen grab

PROVIDENCE — David Patten, the state official accused of making a series of racist, sexist comments during a business trip to Philadelphia, resigned Thursday evening.

Patten’s resignation as director of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance in the state Department of Administration comes amid national coverage and mounting criticism of Governor Daniel J. McKee’s administration over the incident. Patten wrote that his resignation becomes effective June 30.

“I intend for this resignation to be irrevocable as of the date of this letter,” he wrote.

McKee issued a statement saying he had asked Patten to resign after a human resources investigation was completed. The governor described Patten’s conduct as “disturbing, entirely unacceptable, and not representative of Rhode Island’s values or the integrity of our state workforce.”


Patten’s lawyer, Michael P. Lynch, issued a statement, again attributing Patten’s behavior to “a health issue termed an acute stress event – culminating from various events over the past three years.”

Patten “appreciates how distracting this matter has become for those with the responsibility of running our state and how it detracts from all of the good that has been accomplished and is yet to come,” the statement says. “To ensure that can happen, Mr. Patten knows he must step away.”

“While a simple apology is never enough, Mr. Patten is apologetic to the citizens of Rhode Island,” Lynch wrote. “He also apologizes to the many individuals in Philadelphia he met with in March and were, unfortunately, recipients of comments that resulted from Mr. Patten suffering this acute stress event.”

But he said Patten “wants to make clear” that his behavior was not “part of his fabric and were in no way intentional.”

Lynch said Patten does not want to “prolong the distraction nor engage in what could be a long, expensive and litigious fight for all parties.”


Patten, who makes $174,490 a year, has been on paid administrative leave.

Patten traveled to Philadelphia on March 10 with James E. Thorsen, the director of the state Department of Administration at the time, to Philadelphia to visit Scout Ltd., a company seeking to redevelop the Cranston Street Armory.

After the trip, Scout executives wrote an e-mail alleging “a series of bizarre, offensive and unprofessional actions” by Patten. The e-mail was shared with McKee.

The e-mail said Patten commented on the appearance of a female business executive, asking where her husband was and saying, “If I knew your husband wasn’t going to be here, I would have come last night.”

It said Patten commented on a pair of sneakers he’d received, saying, “Are these made in China? I hope not, because I really hate China” — and then looked at a female Asian staff member in the room and said, “No offense, hun.”

And it said Patten ordered company officials to have “the best croissant in Philadelphia ready for me upon arrival” along with “a cold six pack waiting on the table in your conference room,” adding, “You have three hours to convince us to give you $55M.”

McKee tried to keep the e-mail secret for three months until last week, when Attorney General Peter F. Neronha ordered the document’s release.

On Thursday, McKee spokesman Matthew Sheaff said in a statement that McKee initiated Human Resources and State Police investigations into Patten’s conduct “to ensure the state was strongly and soundly positioned to act should the appalling allegations prove to be true,” Sheaff said.


“The Human Resources investigation highlighted Mr. Patten’s highly inappropriate conduct, which was disturbing, entirely unacceptable, and not representative of Rhode Island’s values or the integrity of our State workforce,” Sheaff said. “As a result, Governor McKee called for Mr. Patten’s resignation, and Mr. Patten complied.”

The state was prepared to move forward with disciplinary proceedings which would include a legally required personnel hearing process, the statement said. That process could have extended beyond Patten’s June 30 resignation, and that would have resulted “in a continuation of his paid administrative leave at a cost to taxpayers,” the statement said.

Sheaff said that as a “classified employee,” Patten had the legal right to due process prior to any potential disciplinary action.

“Therefore, the governor’s call for a resignation expedited Mr. Patten’s removal from state service,” he said. “Because Mr. Patten has indicated that he is dealing with a health issue, the state will pay the employer portion of his health insurance premium until September 30, while Mr. Patten continues to pay his co-share, to allow him to receive any treatment he may need.”

According to a copy of Patten’s separation agreement obtained by the Globe, Patten has agreed to never work for the state again, and to request for his name to be removed from the state civil service examination list.

State officials in turn agreed not to contest Patten’s claim for unemployment benefits, if he makes one. It will be up to the Department of Labor and Training to determine if Patten can receive unemployment benefits.


Steph Machado contributed to this report.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at Follow him @FitzProv.