The Origins of the Mother T Letter in RI

Local politicians' personal letters for candidacy are a distinct Rhode Island tradition during election season.

“My mother, Theresa…”

With those words began a uniquely Rhode Island political tradition, the “Mother T” letter. You may have received one this past primary season: a multi-page autobiographical letter introducing a candidate. If it was done right, you probably opened it thinking it was a wedding invitation or letter from a friend. It’s meant to be a personal touch that skirts politics and establishes an emotional connection between candidate and voter.

Legend says the letter earned its moniker from the very first one, written by a candidate who opened with a reference to his beloved mother. That’s not exactly true. The first was from Rhoda Perry in 1992, seeking her second term in state Senate against a little-known candidate named David Cicilline. At the urging of some progressive activists, she gambled on an idea that would test the limits of voters’ attention spans — and won big.

The next experiment with what was then known simply as “the long letter” came from Will Fitzpatrick, a first-time state rep candidate from Edgewood. It included the now-famous words that give the letter its name, but did not, contrary to belief, open with them. He defeated a seven-term incumbent.

Since then it has become a standard part of the Democratic playbook for local office and a distinctive tradition in a state where politics is always personal.