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McKay leaves state GOP for Washington

December 6, 2011

Special to the Standard

NORTH KINGSTOWN – Ken McKay IV, part of the North Kingstown furniture dynasty whose founder, Kenneth McKay, was a scion of local Republican politics, has resigned after eight months as chairman of the Rhode Island Republican Party.
The Poplar Point resident has been hired as senior adviser to Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson and is already in Washington, D.C., according to his brother Kerry.
McKay brings a wealth of experience to the job. He was campaign manager and chief of staff for former Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, later serving as chief of staff for Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele.
McKay's new employer, Johnson, who is in his first Congressional term, owns a plastics packaging company and is an avowed conservative. He is anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage and, as a candidate, spoke out against the proposed national health care program and awarding federal stimulus money.
An apologetic McKay sent an e-mail to Republican party leaders saying he was sorry to leave his post after such a short time but after much soul-searching he concluded he has to fight in “the battle of our time.”
His message insisted that his decision was not made lightly but “something I must do”.
Former State GOP chairman Giovanni Cicione, who is now running Brendan Doherty's Congressional campaign, says, “Having served for four years before Ken, I understand the challenges of the job. I had high expectations for him and he met them. He raised a lot of money – the first and hardest part of the job. He came in and was able to do strong fundraising right out of the box. He left us with $120,000 in the bank; that's a serious success story.”
He describes McKay as quiet. “He doesn't get excited, doesn't get in your face, but he's tough. When he knows what he wants, he's very diligent about getting it.”
Cicione adds that he admires McKay's dedication.
“He's been traveling back and forth, doing party work. The [new] job he has taken on is full-time and more.”
A special election to fill the top GOP slot is scheduled for Dec. 21. In the meantime, first vice-chairman Steven Frias is acting chairman.
Attempts to reach McKay in Washington were unsuccessful.

Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at


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