In first press conference, GOP CD1 candidate rails against Jane Fonda endorsement of Regunberg

FYI: You’ve probably been pronouncing his first name wrong

By: - August 11, 2023 5:54 pm

Gerry Leonard, the Rhode Island GOP-endorsed candidate for Congress, left, held the first press conference of his campaign on Friday, Aug. 11, at Providence’s Memorial Park. At right is Sal Marinosci, a U.S. Navy veteran from Little Compton. On his podium is a photo of Jane Fonda during her 1972 trip to Hanoi. (Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)

PROVIDENCE — In front of the names of the hundreds of Rhode Islanders who died in World War I, Republican Gerry Leonard invoked a different war — the Vietnam War — in his first press conference since declaring his campaign for Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District.

The GOP’s endorsed candidate for the Sept. 5 primary was in Providence’s Memorial Park Friday to decry an endorsement the campaign of Democrat Aaron Regunberg received from actress Jane Fonda, whose antiwar activities made her one of the Vietnam War’s most controversial figures. Fonda is also featured in an upcoming ad for Regunberg’s campaign.

“This endorsement goes against everything veterans represent,” said Leonard, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 30 years in Kuwait, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, during what amounted to a seven-minute conference. Standing next to him throughout the conference was Sal Marinosci, a Navy veteran from Little Compton.

“I find it reprehensible that one of my opponents would accept her endorsement,” Leonard added.

Marinosci thanked Leonard for his service, and said that he hopes veterans of Rhode Island “come and protect our state” by supporting the GOP’s-endorsed candidate.

In 1972, Fonda accepted an invitation to visit Hanoi, the capital of then-Democratic Republic of Vietnam (also known as North Vietnam) during the height of the war. During the trip, she was photographed wearing a helmet and sitting atop an anti-aircraft gun and criticized the U.S. military for allegedly conducting targeted bombings of North Vietnam’s dike system — the federal government denied that such attacks were intentional. Fonda has since apologized several times for the photograph.

Leonard said that his late mentor, a Vietnam War veteran, spoke “many times about the negative impact her visit had on the morale of U.S. troops.”

“Troops that were supporting and defending our freedom,” he said.

Leonard added that he is “not denouncing anti-war activists or our ability to protest.”

“I fought to defend our ability to do that for 30 years,” he said.

An email from the Regunberg campaign spokesperson Friday afternoon responded to Leonard’s criticism: “Jane Fonda is a leader in the fight for climate justice and our campaign is proud to have her support.”

“Republicans love to try to distract from the fact that their party continues to break our country’s promises to its veterans by underfunding and privatizing services,” the spokesperson said. “In Congress, Aaron will fight to fully fund the VA with the staff and infrastructure needed to provide the benefits our nation’s veterans earned and deserve.”

When asked to respond to the statement from Regunberg’s campaign, Leonard said, “I’d be more than happy over the next few weeks to talk to any and all of you.” A similar answer was given when asked about what veterans issues the Republican would prioritize if elected to Congress.

Leonard also used his press conference to reveal that his first name is pronounced like “Gary,” not “Jerry,” a sign that this political newcomer has his work cut out for him on the campaign trail.

“The name is actually a last name by a gentleman that signed the Constitution by the name Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts,” he said.

Regunberg is one of 12 Democrats running in his party’s Sept. 5 primary. Unlike the crowded field of Democrats, Leonard faces only one opponent in the Republican race: former Middletown Town Council member Terri Flynn, who did not seek her party’s endorsement. Flynn, who has emphasized the “grass-roots” nature of her campaign, has yet to hold a press conference or event.

Neither Republican candidate has confirmed whether they will participate in a debate hosted by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island on Tuesday, Aug. 15, from 5:30-7 p.m. at Dwares JCC, 401 Elmgrove Avenue, Providence. Another debate on Thursday, Aug. 17 from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Roger Williams University Campus Recreation Center in Bristol is for Democrats only.

Leonard took just four questions from the three reporters in attendance before ending his press conference.

“Gentlemen, see you again,” he said as he left the park.


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Christopher Shea
Christopher Shea

Christopher Shea covers politics, the criminal justice system and transportation for the Rhode Island Current.