By JOHN HOWELL Frustrated by the absence of direction on the administration of vaccines, Mayor Frank Picozzi called on Gov. Gina Raimondo not to wait until she is confirmed as Secretary of Commerce to turn the reins over to Lt. Dan McKee. "e;She should
Frustrated by the absence of direction on the administration of vaccines, Mayor Frank Picozzi called on Gov. Gina Raimondo not to wait until she is confirmed as Secretary of Commerce to turn the reins over to Lt. Dan McKee.
“She should step down,” he said Tuesday morning. “We need leadership. She’s not paying attention right now.”
Picozzi said he and leaders from other cities and towns have attended three Zoom meetings held by McKee and the Department of Health over distribution of the vaccine, and while there are lots of questions, there aren’t many answers.
Picozzi feels McKee is trying to do the job, however, “he has no control over it right now.”
Picozzi’s frustration dates back two weeks, when he was informed by the DOH that the state was scheduled to receive 4,000 doses of the vaccine and that the city would be required to vaccinate 800 residents 75 years old and older by that weekend. The mayor rallied his staff and key department directors and in less than 24 hours came up with a plan to have the elderly residents vaccinated on a first come, first served basis. Before moving ahead with a Red Alert notification and a press release for registrations, Picozzi wanted assurances the state had the vaccine and enough of it to administer the second dose.
The next morning, the DOH changed course and the city was allotted 390 doses, which were administered by Warwick volunteers last Wednesday from the Swift Community Center in East Greenwich.
At that time, Picozzi thought the governor should leave, although it looked like it could be a matter of days before the U.S. Senate would consider her confirmation.
“She’s made the decision. I don’t want to criticize, but she’s made the decision to be somewhere else. She should just turn the reins over instead of worrying about herself,” he said.
Because of the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump and a hold placed on the governor’s nomination by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, it now appears Raimondo’s confirmation could be delayed another 10 days, if not longer.
Picozzi is not the only municipal leader looking for direction.
Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena, who McKee named to head his vaccination advisory committee, said Tuesday that the lieutenant governor is “caught between a rock and a hard place.” He points out that a number of municipalities want to run their own vaccination clinics as opposed to the regional clinics – called MEDSPODs – that the Department of Health is pushing.
Polisena couldn’t say if Raimondo favors the regional plan or a mix of plans, but it is evident to him that “you can’t have two governors.”
As for Warwick, Picozzi questions whether the city could sustain the volunteer effort to extend its clinics beyond the 2,200 doses it is being allotted for seniors who are 75 years old or older. The first of the Warwick clinics will be held Monday at Veterans Middle School for 540 doses. The clinic will be repeated on three consecutive Mondays.
Speaker of the House K. Joseph Shekarchi refuted reports that the governor has checked out. He said Friday that while she is not running weekly updates now being conducted by the Department of Health on the pandemic, he talks with her regularly and sees her in the State House. Most recently, he said, their talks have focused on the fiscal year 2022 budget that the governor’s office was to have forwarded to the House by now, but has been postponed to next month because of the uncertainty of federal funding to states in response to the pandemic.
Asked to respond to Picozzi’s comments, Andrea Palagi, spokeswoman for McKee, issued the following statement: “We believe that there can only be one governor at a time, so we are wholly focused on ensuring a smooth transition. Right now, the Lt. Governor and his transition are preparing to lead the state’s vaccination efforts and to get shots in arms as quickly and safely as possible. Every day spent on the transition is another day spent preparing to hit the ground running on COVID-19 starting on day one.”
Audrey Lucas, spokeswoman for Gov. Raimondo, emailed the following statement: “Governor Raimondo is as engaged in Rhode Island’s day-to-day COVID response as she has been throughout this crisis. Governor Raimondo and her team are in daily communication with Lieutenant Governor McKee, Dr. Alexander-Scott, General Callahan, Secretary Pryor and other state officials leading Rhode Island’s pandemic response. Governor Raimondo continues to give guidance and direction to this team. During this period of transition, she and Lieutenant Governor McKee are closely coordinating on all COVID policy decisions.”