NKStudents4Candidates causes tension between Democrats and Republicans

October 19 Town Council Meeting, from Town Council's Live and Archived Media Page

Kyle Thole, Online Editor

A political action committee (PAC) known as “NKStudents4Candidates” has recently faced issues raised by town Republicans. These Republicans warned that they would not participate in this year’s candidates day at North Kingstown High School, allegedly because of the newfound student organization.

NKStudents4Candidates was co-founded by NKHS seniors Joe Vento and Jacob Cedor. However, it has no association with the North Kingstown School Department. Additionally, there are numerous misconceptions that Students4Candidates is tied to North Kingstown High School’s Student Union. These allegations are also false. NKStudents4Candidates and North Kingstown High School’s Student Union are two separate entities, as reported by the North Kingstown School Department and Students4Candidates.

Vento explained that the difference between the high school’s Student Union and NKStudents4Candidates is that “Student Union is an apolitical organization. It is connected to the school department and includes representatives to various committees. Student Union works with the administration, staff, and school committee to enhance the educational experience of students at NKHS and throughout the district. NKStudents4Candidates is a political action committee.”

The PAC is for students who are engaged in local politics. According to the NKStudents4Candidates website, the goal of the group is to “support the interests of students and youth in our town.” 

Comprising current NKHS students and alumni, Vento said the sole purpose of Students4Candidates is to “support candidates who will work with students once elected in office. NKStudents4Candidates has no connection to the NKSD.”

Current Town Council President Greg Mancini said, “the students have never represented themselves as anything other than students. To suggest that they represent the school department is completely ludicrous.”

Mancini said, “I think it is great that students are getting involved. It is one of the major reasons why I ran for office — to inspire others, particularly young people, to become involved in our democracy.” 

The Republican Party of Rhode Island has raised concerns about NKStudents4Candidates. These concerns were around confusion with the group’s connections to the school department and potential campaign finance issues or violations. Due to these concerns, the Republicans have threatened to file a complaint against the PAC to the state police. 

Some of the confusion and concern about the PAC is due to the organization initially using the school mascot of the Skipper, and the use of school Chromebooks and student email accounts to do work for their organization. These things have since been changed and dealt with by Students4Candidates by removing the Skipper from signs and their website. 

In the town council meeting on October 19, Councilman Kerry McKay expressed his dismay with Mancini’s involvement with the PAC and the PAC’s use of school assets. “Let us not forget his [Mancini’s] act of engagement with students, encouraging them to use school assets to promote a pro-Democratic website, calling themselves ‘Students4Candidates,’ and only supporting Democratic candidates, utilizing school computers and school logos. I don’t think this is allowed.”

Over the past few days and weeks, the co-founders of the PAC have had to deal with many struggles due to the controversy surrounding their organization. Vento said they have “heard some complaints about our organization from Town Council candidates we decided not to endorse. There have been false claims and misconceptions circulated about the legality of our organization. Nevertheless, we are continuing to do the job we have tasked ourselves with, and that is to focus on supporting candidates who will invest in us and the future of our town.”

The Republicans claim that the complaint was filed, but Vento says there is no concrete proof that it was ever sent to the state police. He said they knew no complaint was actually filed because “we would have received a notification from the Board of Elections or state police by now.”

Mancini stated his beliefs about the Republicans threatening the PAC are “in a word, childish. More importantly, it is a disservice to our community because they are denying voters information from which they can make informed decisions.” He later said that he believes the Republicans “should be encouraging students to participate, not filing frivolous complaints.”

Republicans Kerry McKay and Mary Brimer were contacted for an interview, but Brimer respectfully declined and McKay did not respond to the request. 

Councilman Kevin Maloney (Independent) commented in the October 19 council meeting that he has “always been for the kids and advocated for the schools and everything. The way that they’ve (Students4Candidates) chosen to endorse candidates without even asking questions and so forth, I just don’t understand it.”

The PAC was a hot topic during the 17-minute meeting. Republicans such as Kerry McKay and Mary Brimer made it clear that they have discomfort with Students4Candidates. 

Due to the numerous problems that the Republican party has with the student organization, many Republicans decided to not attend the North Kingstown High School Candidates’ Day on October 22. This Candidates’ Day was hosted by the Student Union, not NKStudents4Candidates.