Following the stunning developments that led to the resignation of Gordon Fox as Speaker of the state’s House of Representatives, a showdown over who will become the chamber’s next leader is set to culminate today.
State Reps. Nicholas Mattiello (D-Cranston) and Michael Marcello (D-Coventry) have positioned themselves for the top leadership post in the House since news broke Friday of searches by state and federal authorities at the office and home of Fox, a Providence Democrat. Fox formally resigned on Monday.
“I’m supporting Matteillo, his position is very similar to mine,” state Rep. Joseph McNamara said yesterday. McNamara said the state needs to focus on job development and training and that those supporting state Rep. Michael Marcello for leader represent a “more progressive wing of the [Democratic] party.”
Asked for an explanation, McNamara said Marcello’s group would focus on social services, rather than on job development and improving the business climate.
And McNamara sees Matteillo as coming out on top. He said Mattiello has 45 of the 38 votes needed to win the leadership post.
Also, he said, the group supporting Mattiello is bipartisan. He named Warwick state Rep. Joseph Trillo and North Kingstown Rep. Doreen Costa, both Republicans, as favoring Mattiello for speaker.
“This is a very important vote for the Warwick delegation. We want to have a very strong say in what goes on,” McNamara said. He added that Warwick support for Mattiello “would help us to have the greatest say in the House.”
Specifically, McNamara is interested in two pieces of legislation that would bring jobs to Rhode Island and Warwick.
McNamara is the sponsor of legislation that would eliminate medical operations from going through the lengthy and costly process of obtaining certificates of need from the Department of Health if 50 percent or more of their patients are from out of state. Dubbed the “medical tourism bill,” if approved, the legislation would open the way for the Laser Spine Institute to develop a center in Rhode Island. Reportedly, the company is looking at City Centre Warwick as a location.
McNamara is also working on legislation that would enable another company that deals in the disposal of medical waste to develop a site employing about 150 in Warwick. The company, he said, is looking to locate near the airport and UPS so as to receive shipments of byproducts from drugs used in chemotherapy for processing.
Warwick state Rep. Frank Ferri said yesterday he has worked a lot “with other progressive legislators, and when you have the same type of philosophy, you work together.” For that reason he is leaning toward Marcello as speaker.
“It has nothing to do with Nick Matiello personally,” said Ferri. “I hope whoever ends up being speaker, I want to end up working together.”
While noting that Fox initiated a process of opening government with video and audio recordings, he called the change in leadership an opportunity to make government more transparent, responsive and accountable.
“Everybody’s legislation is important,” he said. “This is an opportunity for a new way of sorts.”
Reasons for the sudden and surprise law enforcement action taken Friday remain unclear, but on Saturday Fox announced he would step down from the leadership post and not run for re-election.
The jockeying has included competing caucuses, including Sunday gatherings in Providence for Mattiello and in Johnston for Marcello. Thirty-eight votes are needed to become speaker.
Mattiello, current majority leader and the second-ranking member of the House, has expressed confidence that he has the support necessary to win the speaker’s role.
“I expect to be elected speaker of the House of Representatives [on Tuesday],” he told members of the media following the Sunday caucus.
Marcello, meanwhile, has questioned Mattiello’s publicly stated vote totals, and has pledged to take the matter to the House floor.
“This is going to be a very close vote, and we are ready to go,” he told WPRO on Monday.
The fight for the speaker’s gavel has shaped up as one between the progressive and more conservative factions of the House Democratic caucus, with Marcello framing his candidacy as one rooted in reform and Mattiello presenting himself as a force of stability.
Mattiello, 50, was elected to the House in 2006 and served as majority leader in 2010. Marcello, 45, was first elected as a representative in 2008 after spending eight years on the Scituate Town Council. Both men are attorneys by trade.
Regardless of who becomes speaker, there will be significant changes in the makeup of the state’s legislative leadership. Frank Anzeveno, Fox’s chief of staff, announced Monday that he had cleaned out his office and would be departing “in anticipation that a new speaker needs to bring in his own staff.”
Anzeveno, who has served as chief of staff for the last three speakers and drawn criticism from some lawmakers for the extent and nature of his influence, in his statement additionally asserts that Fox had previously decided not to seek a new term.
Mattiello has said his leadership team would include state Rep. John DeSimone of Providence as the new majority leader, while Marcello would move state Rep. Christopher Blazejewski (D-Providence) into that role and keep state Rep. Stephen Ucci (D-Johnston) as majority whip.
The expected vote on the new speaker will not be the only significant event at the capitol today. Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor and on Friday had called for Fox to resign as speaker, has planned a 3:30 p.m. gathering at the State House to “address the urgent need for structural reforms within Rhode Island state government and offer specific proposals in the wake of the resignation of House Speaker Gordon Fox.”
Fung, in his Friday statement calling on Fox to step down, said the situation “shines light on the fact that too much power rests in the speakership,” and demonstrates the need for a constitutional convention to “put more power into the hands of the governor and the citizens of Rhode Island.”
Fung’s Republican primary opponent, Ken Block, issued a similar statement on Friday, and planned to address the issue of government reform during a campaign event Monday night in Cranston.
“It’s a sad day when Rhode Island State Police and federal law enforcement have to raid state offices,” he said. “The events of today serve as a strong reminder that the next governor must reform Rhode Island’s system of government and end the culture of back office deal making and one-party rule.”