R.I. Dems elect first woman leader

By: - November 16, 2023 4:57 pm

Liz Beretta-Perik of Jamestown, left, with Rhode island House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, right, was elected the new chair of the Rhode Island Democratic Party on Wednesday, Nov. 15. (X account of @JoeShekarchi)

Rhode Island’s Democratic Party has a new leader, and for the first time in its history, it’s a woman. 

The Rhode Island Democratic Party State Committee unanimously elected Liz Beretta-Perik as its chair at its reorganization meeting on Wednesday, according to an organization statement. 

Beretta-Perik, a Jamestown resident who previously served as the state’s Democratic National Committeewoman, fills the spot held for the last decade by Joseph McNamara. McNamara, a Warwick Democrat and state legislator, previously announced he would not seek re-election to the chair position, citing his responsibilities with House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi’s leadership team. McNamara endorsed Beretta-Perik to succeed him.

“I am honored to serve as chair of the Rhode Island Democratic Party and the first woman in the job,” Beretta-Perik said in a statement. “Rhode Island Democrats, led by Joe McNamara for nearly a decade, have worked tirelessly and successfully to elect Democrats all across our state. I’m eager to build on that record, working to ensure Democrats have what they need to win and everyone is part of that victory.”

Top Democrats celebrated the election of Beretta- Perik and other members of the executive board elected as part of the organizational meeting that occurs every four years. 

Joe Powers, Rhode Island Republican Party chairman, also offered his congratulations, simultaneously denouncing the Democratic Party’s lack of women leaders in the past.

“For a party that touts that they are all about women, it is good to see that they have put those words into action by electing their first woman party leader, finally,” Powers said in a statement. “Unlike the RI Dem Party, the Republican Party of RI has had the honor of having not one, not two, not even three, but FIVE remarkable women leading our party. So while the RI Dem Party celebrates a belated milestone, we proudly affirm that the Republican Party of RI believes in action, not just rhetoric when it comes to empowering women in politics.”

Beretta-Perik fired back in a statement on Friday, calling Powers’ critique “meaningless.”

“If the state Republicans claim to be in the 21st century, they need to back it up with a record that supports women,” Beretta-Perik said. “While there are 45 Democratic women legislators in the General Assembly, the Republicans have a pitiful total of five women in the legislature, two of whom don’t even caucus with the House Republicans. As RI Democrats pass meaningful legislation to protect and advance the rights of women… Republicans try to take away a woman’s right to choose and move us backwards. Instead of losing election after election, Republicans should spend more time listening to the majority of women in Rhode Island.”

The Rhode Island GOP had its first woman chairwoman in March 1986, when Leila Mahoney stepped in to fill the unexpired term of John A. Holmes Jr., who stepped down to make an unsuccessful run against Fernand St Germain for Congress that year. Mahoney passed away on Jan. 3, 2023, in Florida. She was 81. Holmes passed away on Aug. 9, 2023, at the age of 74.  

Mahoney’s decision not to seek a new term in 1987 was not a surprise. She had expressed concern that the job’s frequent night and weekend activities took away from her family life.

“You need to have your personal life be totally committed to politics and be willing to spend the time with the city and town chairmen and the local committees,” she told Providence Journal columnist M. Charles Bakst in February 1987.

Other members elected to the Democratic Party executive board include:

  • 1st Vice Chair: James Diossa
  • 2nd Vice Chair: Lisa Tomasso
  • 3rd Vice Chair: Felix Appolonia
  • 4th Vice Chair: Thomas Kane
  • Secretary: Arthur Corvese
  • Recording Secretary: Stephen Mulcahey
  • Corresponding Secretary: Ann Gooding 
  • Treasurer: Grace Diaz
  • Assistant Treasurer: James Ginolfi
  • DNC National Committeewoman: Lisa Andoscia

Updated to include additional comments from Beretta-Perik.


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Nancy Lavin
Nancy Lavin

Nancy Lavin is senior reporter covering state politics, energy and environmental issues for the Rhode Island Current.