The 'calamari campaign kid' addresses Rotary Club

Posted 11/19/20

By JOHN HOWELL This has been an election year like no other for Rep. Joseph McNamara. With the pandemic, like others running for election McNamara had to take special measures when walking his district. He couldn't hold traditional fundraisers, and those

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The 'calamari campaign kid' addresses Rotary Club


This has been an election year like no other for Rep. Joseph McNamara.

With the pandemic, like others running for election McNamara had to take special measures when walking his district. He couldn’t hold traditional fundraisers, and those meet-the-candidate coffee klatches were out of the question. But then he never would have imagined being mentioned in front page stories in the New York Times and Washington Post or that Jimmy Fallon would do a caricature of him on “The Tonight Show.”

That wasn’t part of the script – but then, when you do something out of the ordinary, unexpected things can happen.

McNamara talked about his flash of notoriety during the Democratic National Convention at the Nov. 12 Warwick Rotary Club meeting. His talk had been billed as an analysis of the election and how he dealt with the pandemic, but then he brought up calamari.

As chair of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, McNamara had the role of seconding the nomination of former Vice President Joe Biden for president. With an in-person convention out of the question, each state was allotted 30 seconds to announce its votes for the candidate. McNamara saw an opportunity to highlight the state and a fishing industry that nets $60 million annually.

“They wanted a story of maybe an individual that overcame this great, horrendous burden, because of actions by the government or health department overcoming this disease,” McNamara said of the DNC. “And I said to the members of my team, baloney. This is an opportunity for us to promote the state of Rhode Island, period.”

With his feet in the sand and Greenwich Bay as a backdrop, he picked Oakland Beach as the site for the state’s moment in front of television viewers around the world. He wasn’t alone. Iggy’s senior chef John Bordieri, wearing back and holding a plate of calamari, was beside him.

McNamara said it took 20 takes before finalizing the keeper clip. Limited precisely to 30 seconds, he nearly ran out of time to announce the state’s votes for Biden. And even after the video was good to go, there was the specter of rejection. The national committee insisted on “vetting” the chef. That all worked out and McNamara went on to tell the world that Rhode Island is the “calamari comeback state.” It not only caught the media’s attention for being one of the most offbeat moments of the convention, but the interest of foodies as well.

McNamara said squid sales picked up as restaurants saw an increase in calamari orders. He was contacted by a delegation from Taiwan, looking to make connections with the Rhode Island fishing industry. He said Taiwanese are especially concerned about the quality of food and where it comes from. He expects the inquiry will lead to the exportation of Rhode Island squid to the Asian island nation.

As for the campaign, McNamara staged a fundraiser – only it was a “drive-through” grab-and-go event where donors picked up their steak and cheese sandwiches. Describing himself as “not a Facebook person,” but recognizing he needed an online presence, McNamara did two made two online videos. One focused on COVID-19 and for the other he hired two neighborhood kids to do a video walking the district. He said they were well received.

McNamara said signs also played a big role in this year’s campaign. While he repeated the adage “signs don’t vote,” he believes they were especially important this year since many people stayed home and they took note of the candidates their neighbors supported.

“This election was certainly like no other,” he said

“Having been on the losing side of presidential elections, I realize how much people get vested in these campaigns. I think it's incumbent upon all of us to reach out to our friends, who may be supporting the candidates that didn’t prevail, and speak with them, and be civil, and help them,” he said. “Most importantly in our society today is the return of civility, on all levels, and that starts with each and every one of us, reaching out, being settled and kind. This is the only way we can heal our country and restore a higher level of civility.”

calamari, McNamara


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