PAWTUCKET — With tomorrow’s Democratic primary looming, the race for the House of Representatives District 59 seat between incumbent J. Patrick O'Neill and his challenger, fellow Democrat John Arcaro has taken a heated turn.
O'Neill's camp has put out a bright orange flier showing a head shot of Arcaro under bold lettering that reads: “Community Warning” and “This politician has been seen peddling extreme positions that are out of touch with Pawtucket's working families. Approach with caution.” Underneath reads, “Have you seen this man?”
The flier contains quotes from articles that Arcaro wrote in 2007 for a religious publication called The Good News Today on the topics of public education, working mothers and gay marriage, and urges primary voters to “Say No” to Arcaro's “extreme positions.”
The quotes, as taken out of context, are extreme, and O'Neill's flier calls them “anti-public education, anti-women and anti-equal rights.” Indeed, in one story about the value of home-schooling for Christian parents, Arcaro asks readers if they have ever thrown their children off a cliff, let their child walk across a busy highway blindfolded or left their children at an X-rated movie theater for six hours. “If any of these scenarios seems outrageous to you, then now you know how God feels when you surrender your children to public schools,” Arcaro wrote.
On children growing up in homes where both parents work, Arcaro writes, “Mom works so she can have her 'independence'” and in an article on gay marriage, he wrote, “If you are outraged at the thought of sodomite marriage being legalized, you have only to look in the mirror to place the blame. Yes, just as the sins of each one of us killed Jesus, the inaction of Christians has resulted in homosexuals receiving the 'blessing' of state-sanctioned marriage in these United States of America.”
Arcaro doesn't deny writing these words, but said he did so as a form of satire. He said that, knowing his target audience was of a far-right, conservative religious newspaper, he wrote to be critical of alleged “Christians” who complain about how bad the world is and refuse to take any action to fix things.
Arcaro also said his views have changed since 2007. He said he doesn't believe in discrimination on any level and he realizes that extremists exist on both sides of the gay marriage issue. He detailed his long and expensive journey to bring his Haitian-born wife and two sons safely to Pawtucket and said that to be accused of discrimination by his opponent is “despicable.”
He also bristles at being labeled “anti-equal rights,” pointing out that a brother and uncle both died of AIDS and he has dedicated his political campaign to his uncle's memory.
As to public schools, Arcaro said that his mother was a teacher for over 30 years and he, himself attended public schools, as do his children. He added, however, that he thinks public education needs a lot of improvement, and points to this as being the reason he has tried to help by serving as past president of the Baldwin School PTO and an active member of the Varieur School PTA.
For his part, O'Neill said the flier quotes Arcaro's “own words” and added, “That's the shocking part to me.” He said that Arcaro, who has testified at the statehouse many times on right-to-life and gay marriage issues, holds extreme conservative views on these and other topics but has kept these hidden during his campaigning. He said that by printing some of Arcaro's statements,” “Voters can decide if they are rational or not.”
As to the issues, O'Neill, who is an attorney, said he is seeking re-election because he feels he has reached the point over the past eight years where he is known and respected in the legislature and can make a difference. “I feel I am just about to take off. Like I'm flying on all cylinders,” he stated.
O'Neill said he has a good working relationship with both Mayor Donald Grebien, who is unopposed in his re-election bid, and incumbent Dist. 15 Sen. Donna Nesselbush, who is also seeking re-election in a contest with independent candidate Robert Venturini.
He said that among his key issues are working in support of restoring the state's historic tax credit program, which will be a big help to Pawtucket as it tries to lure developers to its many old and abandoned mill properties. “This means more jobs,” he added.
Arcaro has pledged to be “a full-time” representative for the district and points to the many organizations and volunteer efforts he has participated in to improve the neighborhood. He said he also has a financial background that would be beneficial and is president of the Pawtucket Taxpayers Association.