Accusations fly as Cumberland Democrats endorse Mutter

Accusations fly as Cumberland Democrats endorse Mutter

CUMBERLAND – The wide margin of victory for Jeff Mutter in the Cumberland Democratic Town Committee’s endorsement vote last Wednesday had the mayoral challenger declaring that it sends a message of unity within the local party.

The rare vote of confidence in a Democratic challenger over an incumbent prompted Mayor Bill Murray to suggest a “fixed” vote of a “group that’s taken over” a revamped town committee that’s been filled with people who don’t like him.

Mutter said he didn’t know what would happen heading into the endorsements, and was surprised by his resounding win. He attributed it to the “message of working together to solve some of the challenges that we’re facing.” He said he dwelled during the meeting on the message of “building consensus.”

“Obviously, the tone has been not so much for consensus building” under Murray, he said.

The Democratic Town Committee voted 23-8 last Wednesday, June 27, to endorse Mutter over Murray.

Murray said that all one has to do is take a look at the executive committee to know that he never stood a chance in the endorsements. That committee includes Chairman Tom Kane, a political opponent who announced that he won’t be running to retain his at-large Town Council seat, Sen. Ryan Pearson, attorney Kelley Morris, and former fire board member Bruce Lemois.

“They’ve got their people there,” Murray said. “I knew it was going to happen, but it’s very unusual for the incumbent Democrat with a strong record, and a longtime Democrat with a history of supporting many Democrats, not to win.”

The committee has seen significant upheaval since two years ago, said Murray. The committee lost a number of members due to controversy surrounding a campaign mailer sent on behalf of Sen. Ryan Pearson in the committee’s name but without the committee’s permission.

Mutter said it’s almost unheard of for a challenger to win the party endorsement over an incumbent. He said he thinks the endorsement is important, particularly given the changed and diverse makeup of the committee, including a number of younger people. He said he thinks any endorsement is important, especially when one is going “up against a pretty established two-term mayor.”

“I think it sends a strong message that there are things that are being ignored here,” he said. “It’s more than a campaign slogan when I say that we matter.”

As Murray views it, the “consensus” Mutter is seeking revolves around getting control of school funding within all branches of town government. If the council, school board and mayor’s office are all controlled by people who want to dramatically boost school funding, checks and balances will be gone, he said.

The company marketing Mutter’s campaign is Martin & Associates, the same firm hired to do public relations for Cumberland schools and many other area schools.

In an effort to ensure fairness in the endorsement process, local Democratic leaders spelled out ahead of time how it would all work, including using a secret ballot process for the first time. Each mayoral candidate was given 10 minutes to speak and asked to fill out a questionnaire.

Kane said it’s unfortunate that Murray “is attacking members of the Democratic Party because he did not win the endorsement vote.” The committee “went above and beyond” to ensure the process was fair and transparent, he said, including frequent notices and a published announcement in The Breeze.

“Requesting candidates were also provided with a phone list of all active members for correspondence purposes,” he said.

Regarding the meeting itself, the executive board determined that a neutral member of the committee not seeking an endorsement for office, Lemois, would be the best choice to run the meeting, said Kane.

“This was also done to further ensure the process was unimpeachable,” he said.

While candidates seeking endorsement provided answers and opinions in their questionnaires, Murray chose not to answer the platform questions “but rather made general statements,” said Kane. The committee was subjected to “contemptuous answers and an adversarial tone throughout the meeting.”

Murray said the only person to ask him questions was School Committee Chairman Ray Salvatore, who “attacked” him on charter schools and this year’s school budget process.

Murray abruptly exited the meeting immediately after hearing the results rather than remaining and offering congratulations to successful candidates, said Kane.

Murray said he left the meeting after the mayoral endorsement, but he did not storm out, as some people suggested, but left because his wife was upset about the result and he didn’t want her to have to stay. He said he shook Mutter’s hand on the way out and congratulated his opponent.

Mutter confirmed that the two shook hands.

“He told me good job after my comments,” he said. “I told him the same. After the vote was counted, he left. He didn’t stay until the end.”

Murray said he intends to run a campaign focused on the needs and desires of Cumberland residents, with or without the party endorsement.

Kane said it was also surprising to see several key family members and other supporters of Murray not attend the meeting.

Murray said some members of his family were missing, because they were at Disney World, but said their attendance wouldn’t have changed the outcome.

Kane said the committee heard several successful speeches, endorsed deserving candidates, and was pleased overall with the revamped process.

“We are proud to have a platform with a forward-looking vision for Cumberland. This is now matched with great candidates who support this platform up and down the ballot,” he said.

In addition to his focus on building consensus, Mutter zeroed in on the challenges ahead for Cumberland, including managing growth, developing a long-range plan to fund schools, which he said is not in place currently, and planning upgrades to town facilities, including Diamond Hill Park and the Senior Center.

Murray said Pearson repeatedly assured him that the endorsement process was fair, but he still felt the system was stacked against him before the meeting even started.

The mayor noted that the committee endorsed someone who doesn’t even have “Democrat” on his campaign signs and only recently reaffiliated with the party over someone who has been faithful to party causes and fundraising, including raising $4,000 “by myself” for candidates. He said he reminded some members of the committee of all he’s done for the local party and told them they turned their backs on him.

Cumberland Democratic Town Committee’s other endorsements:

Council At-Large: Peter Bradley and Roland Gauvin

Council District 1: Stephanie Gemski

Council District 2: Craig Dwyer

Council District 3: Lisa Beaulieu

Council District 5: Robert Shaw Jr.

State Senate: Ryan Pearson

State Senate: Roger Picard

State Representative: Mia Ackerman

State Representative: Alex Marszalkowski

State Representative: Robert Phillips

State Representative: Jim McLaughlin

Governor: Gina Raimondo

Lt. Governor: Dan McKee

Treasurer: Seth Magaziner

Secretary of State: Nellie Gorbea

Attorney General: Peter Neronha

U.S. Senate: Sheldon Whitehouse

U.S. Congress: David Cicilline