Editor's Note: This article has been updated with a correction. The deadline for candidates to file is June 24, not June 26 as previously reported. The Independent regrets the error.
NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — The race to replace outgoing State Sen. James Sheehan (D-D36 North Kingstown/Narragansett) has its first declared candidate, and it’s a familiar face.
Narragansett Democrat Alana DiMario announced in a press release June 9 that she is running for the open seat.
“I’m running for State Senate because I see firsthand the challenges facing my neighbors and our state and I know I can make a difference in the General Assembly,” DiMario wrote. “The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly shown the strength of our community, but has also laid bare social and economic
inequities that must be addressed by leaders committed to tackling these problems.”
DiMario, in her first political run, primaried Sheehan in 2018, receiving 42 percent of the vote to Sheehan’s 56 while running on a progressive agenda, differing with the senator on issues such as abortion and gun control. She has worked as a Licensed Mental Health Therapist for 15 years at a private practice in The Meadows in North Kingstown, something which she says would give her a unique perspective in the General Assembly.
“Mental health care needs are front and center in people’s minds, from the needs of our schools to improving public safety,” DiMario wrote. “We need voices and perspectives like mine in the legislature. The General Assembly will benefit from a diversity of professional expertise overall, both in the development of policy and in the way the work of the people gets done.”
While she has remained politically active and engaged in the community since her first run, advocating for expanded paid leave, a higher minimum wage and the Reproductive Privacy Act, DiMario says she initially had no plans to run for State Senate.
“So I have to be honest: I was persuaded (to run),” DiMario said. “There were a lot of people who I had become connected with when I ran in 2018, different local advocates for different issues and community leaders in both North Kingstown and Narragansett. I had remained active behind the scenes supporting other people’s campaigns, supporting other issues and people had continually said ‘you should run again, we’d really like to support you’ and I did not have any intention in primarying Senator Sheehan again. We had had a difference on some issues, but he actually moved quite a bit on those issues and I didn’t see a need to run, (but) then when the seat was vacated and people started to talk to me about (running) again and I was persuaded.”
For DiMario, addressing inequalities are what she says are front and center to her platform. She supports socialized medicine, free college, public subsidies for renewable energy, gun control, expanding mental health support services in schools, and voting by mail.
In particular, many of her stances have been influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic and how to use the crisis as an opportunity to implement progressive policies.
“I think that what I would’ve said six months ago is maybe a little bit different than what I would say now just because I think that we have these really pressing issues recovery and just sustaining until we get to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, but I think that what I really want to do is to be able to keep an eye on as we’re trying to correct and recover and maintain, trying to implement policies that are also going to be sustainable and forward-thinking,” DiMario said. “I was really encouraged for example last week during the governor’s press conference about the intention to re-open school in the fall where she and (RIDE) Commissioner (Angélica) Infante-Green were talking about trying to address systemic inequities as we’re trying to move forward and adapt and recover in terms of educational policy and I think that that is the kind of vision that I want to make sure is brought to any discussion, whether it be job creation or looking at investment in housing, whatever kind of discussions are being had I want to make sure that there is an eye towards trying to address inequities that might exist, making sure that people who are often left out of those kinds of recovery efforts are brought in and are paid attention to kind of set a model to what we can do moving forward.”
Now running for a second time and with more political experience under her belt, DiMario feels more confident heading into the campaign season.
“I learned everything that I know now because I knew nothing before,” DiMario said with a laugh about running for office. “Just in terms of how campaigns are run, I do have a pretty strong network in this community and I was able to activate that network, even people who haven’t really been involved in political campaigns before, so being able to just figure out what kind of help I needed and delegating tasks and just how the necessary parts of a campaign function in terms of communication and getting mailers out and learning the ropes of knocking doors and things like that and so I do feel like I have a head start this time, both in having that activated network and then just being familiar with that kind of nuts and bolts stuff of what you need to do to get the word out about yourself.”
However, she admits campaigning in 2020 is a lot different than campaigning in past years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and has made her have to look at new approaches to what’s worked before, though says things on the trail have been good so far.
“It’s different because I really found last time that a lot of the sustaining energy of my campaign was getting out and talking to people and being with people and hearing from people and just with the limitations that we still have and obviously not wanting to make people uncomfortable by going and knocking on their doors right now and things like that if people are trying to be a bit more isolated, it’s just felt a little different in that way,” DiMario said. “It’s been a lot of digital connection with people, really just trying to organize people who are interested in volunteering digitally and having Zoom calls with people.”
So far, DiMario is the only declared candidate for the race in either party, with a deadline to file to run coming on June 24. Whatever happens, however, DiMario says she’s energized and ready to face the challenge head on.
“I think I was energized by the response I got in 2018 and I think that I have gotten to know a lot of the different systems and organizations locally that are active in different areas and I think that I am really excited this time around to be able to expand the topics and issues when door knocking,” DiMario said. “I think it’s going to be a challenging campaign season but I am interested in being creative and seeing how that goes.”
The primary is set for Sept. 8, with the nominees from both respective parties facing off in the general election on Nov. 3. For more information on DiMario and her platform, visit alana4ri.com.