Arcaro: I was pressured not to run for House 59
Arcaro: I was pressured not to run for House 59
PAWTUCKET - John Arcaro says he thinks he's unraveled the mystery behind Rep. J. Patrick O'Neill's last-minute decision not to run for re-election in 2014. The details aren't very pretty, he suggests.
Arcaro is running in House District 59 in part because he's seen Rhode Island's "politics as usual" firsthand this year and isn't happy about it. He said his experience illustrates why more people don't get involved in politics.
According to Arcaro, everyone from O'Neill to House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello to Mayor Donald Grebien wants the House 59 seat to go to his opponent, Jean Philippe Barros, and they were trying to get Arcaro not to run for the seat leading up to the June 25 filing deadline.
Everyone reached by The Breeze is denying Arcaro's accusations. O'Neill, who beat Arcaro in four previous elections, could not be reached for comment.
O'Neill's seemingly abrupt announcement on June 23 that he wouldn't run again after telling The Breeze three days earlier that he would run wasn't a surprise, according to Arcaro. Many locally knew weeks before that the incumbent was leaving and that Barros would file papers for the seat.
The plan, according to Arcaro, was to give Barros as easy a road to a House 59 win as possible, and he says Grebien confirmed as much during a breakfast meeting with Arcaro on June 17. As the challenger tells it, if Arcaro would just run for the City Council District 5 seat being vacated by Barros or for School Committee, the mayor was pledging to throw his support behind him.
Arcaro said he briefly considered running for council but decided to run again for the House 59 seat, setting up a primary battle with fellow Democrat Barros.
Arcaro said he got to see how deep the support for Barros went during a trip to the House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello's office on June 20. It was during that visit that he says Mattiello's chief of staff, Leo Skenyon, advised him not to run for the House 59 seat.
Arcaro said he asked Skenyon about whether someone was running for O'Neill's seat and shared with Skenyon how confident he was that he could beat the incumbent in 2014 after getting closer to that goal over four previous attempts at the office.
"I told him how I'm sure I can beat him this time," said Arcaro. "He said that we already have someone running for that seat and we would strongly suggest that you not run for that seat."
Arcaro said he tried to "make my pitch again," telling Skenyon about how he had progressed from just 18 percent of the vote against the incumbent back in 2006 to 44.3 percent of the vote in 2012. Skenyon was unswayed, he said, telling him that he would appreciate it if Arcaro didn't run for the seat.
Arcaro said he told Skenyon he would take his advice into consideration and said he'd let him know what his final decision was. The response surprised him.
"He stuck out his hand and asked, 'so, do we have a deal?'" said Arcaro. "He wanted to know if he could tell the speaker the good news."
Larry Berman, spokesman for the House of Representatives, gave a different account of the visit from Arcaro. According to Berman, Arcaro was visiting Senior Deputy Chief of Staff John Conti when he asked for a courtesy meeting with Skenyon, saying he'd never met with the chief of staff.
At the time, said Berman, those in the speaker's office "had no idea that" O'Neill wasn't planning to run again and Skenyon told Arcaro so. Skenyon told Arcaro that "Barros had an interest in running," said Berman, "but that was it." While Skenyon "did discuss the race a little," there was "nothing about supporting the candidate," he said.
Arcaro said his family members didn't risk everything to emigrate to the U.S. so he could get pressured out of running for the House 59 seat. He said he became more determined than ever that day to finally win the seat.
This isn't the first time he's taken on the "political establishment," said Arcaro. In 2002 he walked door-to-door with Bruce Bayuk, the write-in candidate who lost by a narrow margin to then-Speaker John Harwood in the same District 59.
Arcaro said he became even more convinced that O'Neill wasn't running when he attended an open house at the incumbent's house on Sunday, June 22.
O'Neill told The Breeze two days earlier, June 20, that he was seeking to sell his Sterling Street home but would move into a Pawtucket condo, but Arcaro said the agent who was showing O'Neill's home informed him that Sunday that the owner was planning to move out of the city. The next day, June 23, O'Neill announced that he wasn't running.
Because he wouldn't play along, said Arcaro, he's convinced that a plan to have O'Neill file declaration papers for the House 59 seat on June 23 and then withdraw from the race just before the June 25 deadline was scrapped.
Barros told The Breeze he was not aware of any action by the speaker's office or mayor's office to pressure Arcaro not to run for House District 59. He understood that Arcaro "may have been looking for support from the speaker's office," but had no knowledge of anyone trying to pressure him not to run.
Grebien said by email that "there was no plan or attempt to make any election easier for anyone."
Grebien said he was approached by Barros about a week before the filing deadline and Barros told him he wanted to take it to the "next level" and run against O'Neill.
"I met with and was aware that Mr. Arcaro knew of Councilor Barros' decision and he was considering running for the open council seat," he said. "As far as pledging support or trying to deter someone from running for public office, that is just not my style."
Grebien said he believes people who want to get involved should be allowed to. Conspiracy theories like Arcaro's are what discourage people from running for office, he said.