Mattiello says 46 will vote to make him speaker

(photo: WPRI 12)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — House Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello announced after a closed-door caucus of lawmakers Sunday evening that he has the support of at least 46 of his colleagues to become speaker in the wake of Gordon Fox’s unexpected resignation.

Mattiello, D-Cranston, told reporters that a test vote inside the caucus showed 39 Democrats and two Republicans “have solidly committed to support me on Tuesday in the election for speaker,” which would be more than the 38 necessary to win. The majority leader, who was Fox’s top deputy, organized the 5 p.m. caucus at the Marriott hotel on Orms Street in Providence.

A short time later, Mattiello told WPRI.com the number of lawmakers supporting him had risen to 41 Democrats and five Republicans, for 46 total. The majority leader also said he expected the number will rise further on Monday.

Mattiello’s initial Republican backers were state Reps. Joseph Trillo, R-Warwick, and Doreen Costa, R-North Kingstown, who’d been heavily courted by Mattiello’s rival, state Rep. Michael Marcello.

“I could not support the progressive movement on the other side, and that is solely how I made my decision,” Costa told WPRI.com, referring to some of the liberal lawmakers aligned with Marcello. “It had nothing to do with backing the unions. I cannot support the progressive agenda.”

Costa said of Mattiello: “He’s not progressive. He’s not one of the progressive Democrats.”

After the caucus, Marcello said he’d been told only 38 of the 41 lawmakers whom Mattiello said would vote for him were actually in the room, with three of the votes being cast by proxy, and indicated he and his allies would not give up their own campaign to run the House.

“More than one-third of the chamber is on the record wanting dramatic reform,” Marcello, D-Scituate, told WPRI.com. “There’s still two days left. I think there’s still a lot of time, and a lot of room for movement.”

Mattiello said he made no specific commitments to lawmakers in exchange for their support other than designating state Rep. John DeSimone, D-Providence, as his choice to be the new majority leader. When asked whether he will replace former state Rep. Frank Anzeveno as the speaker’s powerful chief of staff, Mattiello said: “Stay tuned.” Anzeveno has been in that job since July 2001.

With a job at stake that’s often described as the most powerful one in Rhode Island politics, both sides spent Sunday scrambling to cobble together coalitions, and multiple insiders described the situation as “fluid.”

It takes a simple majority of all 75 House members – 38 votes – to elect a speaker. The actual vote is expected to take place Tuesday, the first time the House will reconvene since Friday’s stunning raids on Fox’s home and State House office. He announced his resignation as speaker on Saturday, and is unlikely to vote Tuesday.

“I didn’t expect to be here so soon,” Mattiello said after the caucus. “It’s been a whirlwind. But I plan on looking at all aspects of the House.”

State Rep. Peter Martin, D-Newport, said he’s supporting Mattiello because he’s done a good job as leader. “I think this will make the smoothest transition for the House of Representatives,” Martin said before entering the caucus Sunday. “It’s not time for a revolt, or not time for a quick change of direction.”

“We do pretty well,” Martin added.

Marcello says his team would include him as speaker; Deputy Majority Whip Christopher Blazejewski, D-Providence, as majority leader; and House Majority Whip Stephen Ucci, D-Johnston, continuing in his current role. State Rep. Helio Melo, D-East Providence, would also remain in place as chairman of the powerful House Finance Committee.

While Mattiello has cast himself as someone who will ensure a smooth transition for the House as power passes from one leader to another, Marcello has said he is seeking to represent those “who believe that the state and the General Assembly needs dramatic change.”

Mattiello, 50, has long been seen as a frontrunner in the once-quiet campaign to succeed Fox whenever the speaker eventually left office. A lawyer by profession, he was first elected to the House in 2006 and became majority leader in February 2010 when Fox became speaker, as part of a compromise brokered by then-Speaker William Murphy.

Marcello, 45, first expressed interest in running for speaker Friday afternoon before quietly starting to put together the necessary votes. Also a lawyer, he was first elected to the House in 2008 after serving eight years on the Scituate Town Council. He currently chairs the House Oversight Committee and is a member of the Judiciary and Rules Committees.

It’s still unknown exactly why investigators from the Rhode Island State Police, FBI and IRS executed search warrants Friday at Fox’s third-floor State House office and his home on Gorton Street on Providence’s East Side. Uniformed and non-uniformed personnel carried a significant number of boxes and other materials out of both locations. Fox has declined to comment on the investigation.

Faye Zuckerman, a spokeswoman for Gov. Lincoln Chafee, said Saturday the governor is “is confident that the members of the House of Representatives will continue the job they were elected to do during this session,” adding: “He looks forward to working with the new speaker.” Chafee is currently in Montana for meetings of the Democratic Governors Association.

Ted Nesi ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

Neil Remiesiewicz contributed to this report.

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