It’s early in the election season – candidates don’t need to declare until June – but this time Mark McKenney isn’t waiting until the 11th hour.
The Democrat and attorney, who for years has been active in civic and municipal events, will announce his candidacy on social media today for Senate District 30, the seat won two years ago in a Democratic primary by Janine Calkin. Calkin beat longtime incumbent William Walaska. Walaska died April 3, 2017 after an extended battle against cancer.
In an interview Sunday, McKenney, who was friends with Walaska, said he first contemplated running for the senate seat in 2010, the year Walaska was thinking of running for general treasurer.
McKenney had the seat in his sights again in 2016 when it was thought Walaska would not seek re-election because of his health. McKenney declared for the post, but then withdrew when Walaska chose to run. He was the first to sign Walaska’s papers.
“I’m a strong believer in giving back,” McKenney said. He also believes for the state to be successful it must offer opportunity for those growing up here as well as those who have chosen to leave.
“I’ve been very lucky,” he said, “my three kids all came home.” Unfortunately, he said, that hasn’t been the case for his friends whose children have left the state and aren’t planning to come back.
“It seems to me we have to improve the opportunities to keep kids here and to bring them back,” he said. He feels there are a wide range of things that could be done better starting with politics.
“We can’t have more Gallisons and Foxes,” he said, referring to former House Finance Chairman Raymond Gallison – who pleaded guilty to charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, filing false tax returns and identity theft – and former House Speaker Gordon Fox, who was imprisoned on bribery charges. McKenney said the state looks like a “garbage dump.”
Beyond the appearance, he said “something systemic has to be changed out there to have a state better positioned without [making] sweetheart deals.”
McKenney is a partner in the law firm McKenney, Quigley and Clarkin. He was a key player in bringing together the business community, insurance companies and labor leaders during the successful overhaul and reform of Rhode Island’s embattled workers’ compensation system in the 1990s.
In a release McKenney says, “On a local and national level, our politics have become bitter and divisive. That has to end if we want to effect positive change. I have shown over the years that I can work with people who have different and even competing interests, and I’ve done it with civility and humor. There’s important work to be done in this state. There will be difficulties and disagreements. But solutions can be found, and a reasonable way forward can be achieved. As your senator, I will fight for issues that are important to me and important to the people of Warwick.”
McKenney has a long history of volunteer work in the community, most of it involving literacy and libraries. He served as president of Literacy Volunteers of America – Rhode Island, chair of the State Library Board, and president of the Providence Community Library. He has also been president of the Buttonwoods Beach Association, chaired the Buttonwoods Fire District Board of Supervisors and serves on the Warwick Zoning Board of Review.
McKenney said he supports proposed city and state bond issues to make school renovations and repairs and a “new, fairer tax system that supports small businesses and helps them thrive,” he said. “We should grow our economy by helping middle class Rhode Islanders instead of giving special deals to wealthy, connected corporations.” He said he supports equal pay for women.
McKenney said he plans several fundraisers. He has not set a budget on his campaign.
“It depends how much I raise,” he said.
Now that he is going for the seat after all these years, McKenney said he’s anxious to get out and walk the district.
McKenney is a graduate of Boston College and Catholic University Law School. He grew up in the Buttonwoods section of Warwick and still lives there today with his wife, Tricia. He has three grown children: Caitlin, an English teacher at Davies Vocational Tech; Cara, an art teacher at Pilgrim High School; and Dan, who works for a technology company.