When K. Joseph Shekarci holds a fundraiser, he gets a crowd.
It’s been that way for some time, and on Tuesday night the state representative from Warwick and House minority leader did it again at the Crowne Plaza.
Shekarchi packed the Plaza Ballroom and, at some points during the evening, as many as 40 people stood in line to shake his hand. They were patient. They were willing to wait. Shekarchi doesn’t rush people, and that is one reason they like him.
Predictably, many elected officials were in attendance, from House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio to Rep. David Bennett and Ward 2 Councilman Jeremy Rix. But there were also old-timers, up-and-comers and people who aren’t politically active.
How is it that more than 400 people would spend $150 to chat with Joe for a couple of minutes?
“What you see,” Shekarchi said, looking around the room, “are the relationships that have been built up through business, politics, friendships…people of all walks of life, and I appreciate all of it.”
Sen. Erin Lynch Prata is one of several who cited Joe’s ability to listen as a reason for his popularity.
“Joe’s a good guy,” she said. “What we need now is collaboration. With everything going on we need a message of unity.”
George Zainyeh, a former Democratic candidate for Warwick mayor, put it in more poetic terms. He said Shekarchi has a “soft ear, a gentle shoulder and helps when he can.” As for what brought such a crowd out, Zainyeh answers, “He’s been around for a long time.”
Zainyeh said Shekarchi’s “future is looking bright.”
And what might that be? Zainyeh’s answer is that Shekarchi could do “whatever he wants to do.”
Few claim to have been following Shekarchi’s political career as long at Jackie Baginski. She says she got to know him because her father and Shekarchi were friends and she’d helped around Shekarchi’s law office. She was 14. She believes she’s Shekarchi’s first campaign volunteer – a role she continues to fill, only now she’s his campaign manager.
“He’s honest and hard working. He never misleads people. He’s unlike some politicians that way,” she said.
“He can say yes and no on the issues and they [those asking something of Shekarchi] will still walk away believing they have been heard,” said City Council President Steve Merolla.
Ann Gooding, who at one point worked for the state Democratic Party as well as working with prior city administrations, put it in different terms.
“I think the world of him,” she said. “He’s down to earth and would stick his neck out for anyone.”
Rep. Carol McEntee, whose husband, Michael, served as a Warwick representative when Shekarchi was a youth, said, “He’s a leader. He brings bills to the finish line. He builds consensus.”
Richard Beneduce offered a different view on why the event was so crowded. He noted that an early Shekarchi fundraiser – when it was questionable whether Mattiello had the votes to retain his position as speaker – was equally mobbed. He reasoned that many politicos were hedging their bets.
“They never know when he’s going to be speaker,” Beneduce said.
That’s a question Mattiello couldn’t answer.
Mattiello said he thought he is good for another term, but of course that depends on the voters and his colleagues.
Throughout the evening, Shekarchi stood outside the room that quickly filled as people visited food tables, made acquaintances and mingled. As people drifted out, they stopped once again to chat with Shekarchi.
Brenda Baginski, who had been recruited by her daughter to assist with tickets, couldn’t put a number on the turnout.
“Quite a lot,” she ventured.
Quite a lot could also describe what Shekarchi has amassed in his campaign war chest – $1,049,451, according to his 2019 fourth-quarter filing with the State Board of Elections.
What does he plan to do with the money?
“I don’t know,” Shekarchi said.