Michael J. Gardiner announced his candidacy for U.S. Representative for Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District two days after Michael G. Riley did the same. Gardiner and Riley will likely meet in a Republican primary but both leveled significant criticism at incumbent Jim Langevin.
“He votes with his party 99 percent of the time, and has been described as a fiscal liberal and social conservative,” said Gardiner. “I’m not sure if he really represents the district.”
Langevin first gained the District 2 seat in 2001, and has defended it easily ever since. He successfully defended the seat against Republican Mark Zaccaria in 2008 and 2010 by overwhelming margins. However, both Gardiner and Riley believe the Democrat’s seat is at risk.
“He’s certainly not focusing on the issues that I think are important,” said Riley, “and I should add that the Democrats are expected to lose the House in November, and personally I think a freshman Republican is better than a 13-year minority Democrat that no one is going listen to.”
“I think his campaign is suffering from a lack of enthusiasm and I think he’s vulnerable,” said Gardiner. “Jim Langevin is a lockstep Democrat. I am not a lockstep Republican. This state has approximately 176,000 independent voters, and I think they’ll go my way.”
Gardiner is a graduate of Cranston High School East and the University of Rhode Island. He served in the Rhode Island Army National Guard from 1981 to 1990, received his law degree from Western New England College School of Law in 1989, and has been in private practice since 1993.
“My experiences in more than 23 years as a lawyer, working with and defending Rhode Islanders, have put me in contact with Rhode Islanders and the issues that affect them,” said Gardiner. “Meanwhile, Jim Langevin has spent the last four years talking about cyber security, looking for some sort of trophy bill or hood ornament.”
Gardiner was with the Providence law firm Gunning, LaFazia & Gnys from 1989 to 1992, before starting his own practice, initially working as a representative in the district courts.
“I’ve spent a lot of time working with people and really understanding the issues that affect them,” Gardiner added.
Gardiner unsuccessfully sought the party’s nomination in 2010. This will be Riley’s first attempt to gain public office, though he has served on the Narragansett Charter Review Committee since 2005, an appointed position.
“I’m running to try and fix something,” said Riley.
The son of a naval pilot, Riley was born in Pensacola, Fla. during his father’s first landing his plane on an aircraft carrier. Due to his father’s Naval career, Riley has lived in 11 states and even spent time in the Philippines as a child.
“I’ve lived a lot of places,” said Riley, “but Rhode Island is by far the best.”
After graduating from the University of Connecticut in 1978, Riley spent his career working in finance on the New York stock exchange, notably with firms PaineWebber and Letco Specialist LP. He was in one of the towers during the September 11th terrorist attacks, and relocated his family to Narragansett after “carefully” escaping the disaster.
Like Gardiner, Riley has also been perfectly clear in his opinion of Langevin, previously criticizing the incumbent for being too focused on “other things” and calling him “absent.”
“I also believe in term limits and he’s been there 13 years,” said Riley, before confirming that if elected he would limit himself to six years in office.
“I’m not looking for a career in politics,” Riley reiterated. “I’m running to fix something. I see something wrong, I try to fix it.” Rhode Island currently has the second highest unemployment rate in the country. Eleven percent, that’s pathetic. Had I been in government when this started, I would have done something. That’s leadership; when you take on a problem that has to be addressed regardless of party.”
Both candidates were a little less free when asked for comments on each other, though each was perfectly willing to explain why they were better suited for the position.
“Michael Riley has had a successful though stressful career on the floor of the New York stock exchange,” said Gardiner. “However, I don’t think the skill set of buying and selling translates to running for Congress.”
Gardiner believes that his experiences in law make him better suited.
“I have a pretty good breadth of experience. You have two years in the House and it really helps if you have a background in the life of Rhode Island so that you can hit the ground running,” Gardiner added. “I know I’d be lost on the floor of the stock exchange and it would take Michael Riley a long time to train me. It would take me a long time to train him in what I’ve learned in over 23 years in law.”
Riley meanwhile acknowledged that he does not know Gardiner well but did state that he believes himself to be more capable of helping to jumpstart Rhode Island’s struggling economy.
“I think Michael Gardiner is very knowledgeable in certain areas,” said Riley. “However, it’s mostly legal stuff, which I’m not that focused on. I think you want people with the tools, and I have the skill set and experience that I think is unrivaled.”
The two have semi-opposing view points; while the Riley campaign will focus on the economy, Gardiner will be running his campaign on issues of oil price, housing and health care. His platforms include lowering gas prices at the pump, continued health care reform and reducing foreclosures. Riley meanwhile sees social issues as “a lack of focus” and is solely focused on the economy.
“We could have a serious economic meltdown very soon,” said Riley, “and we need to pay attention to that first.”
Riley will fund his campaign through a combination of donations and personal wealth. The campaign is headquartered on Post Road across from Warwick City Hall. Donations to the Micheal Gardiner campaign can be made at www.gardinerforcongress.com.
“I’m a lawyer,” said Gardiner. “We start with nothing all the time and we make our case.”
The incumbent Langevin will also face a challenge from Democrat John O. Matson. The 12-year veteran congressman garnered 60 percent of the vote in his most recent successful defense, and still boasts one of the highest job-approval ratings in the state at 47 percent.