Fox resigns; top aide Anzeveno stepping down, too

Frank Anzeveno, outgoing House Speaker Gordon Fox's powerful chief of staff, visits Fox's home after an FBI raid March 21. (photo: WPRI 12)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – House Speaker Gordon Fox officially resigned on Monday, taking his powerful top aide with him, as the fallout continued from Friday’s stunning law-enforcement raids on the Providence Democrat’s home and State House office.

Fox made his resignation as speaker official in a one-sentence letter delivered Monday afternoon to the secretary of state’s office and the House clerk. The letter said the resignation is “effective immediately on this date.” Fox has said he plans to serve out the remainder of his term as the state representative from House District 4 on Providence’s East Side, which ends in December.

Hours before, Frank Anzeveno, who’s served as the powerful chief of staff to Rhode Island’s last three House speakers, announced he too is stepping down in the wake of his boss’s stunning fall from grace and the likely ascension of House Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello to the speaker’s chair.

Anzeveno revealed that Fox was already planning to step down after this legislative session, and said he had been planning to do the same. “In light of recent events at the State House, time has accelerated,” Anzeveno said in a statement. “I cleaned out my office over the weekend in anticipation that a new speaker needs to bring in his own staff.”

The moves by Fox and Anzeveno were the latest developments in a whirlwind four-day drama that began Friday when law-enforcement officers raided Fox’s home and office, forcing the speaker to announce his resignation on Saturday. The raids kicked off a frantic all-weekend campaign by rival factions to lock up support for a new speaker before a planned vote on Tuesday.

Mattiello, D-Cranston, announced after a legislative caucus Sunday evening that he had the support of 41 of his colleagues, more than the 38 necessary to become speaker. By Monday morning, Mattiello said his support had grown to at least 48 of the 75 House lawmakers, including five of the six House Republicans. (The GOP holdout is state Rep. Patricia Morgan, R-West Warwick.)

It takes a simple majority of all 75 House members – 38 votes – to elect a speaker. The actual vote is expected to take place when the House reconvenes Tuesday for the first time since the raids targeting Fox. State Rep. Michael Marcello, the candidate for speaker being pushed by Mattiello’s rivals, indicated Sunday night his supporters weren’t giving up.

Anzeveno, a 55-year-old former state representative from North Providence, has been one of the most powerful behind-the-scenes State House powerbrokers for more than 12 years. He’s served since July 2001 as chief of staff to House Speakers John Harwood, William Murphy and now Fox, making him the top aide to arguably the most powerful political leader in the state.

But Anzeveno has also been a controversial figure, particularly in recent years when some Democratic lawmakers privately argued he was wielding too much power and working to undermine them politically, and Mattiello had signaled he would likely bring in someone new.

“Frank Anzeveno, and a team of people that work for him who have been a disease in the State House, will not be there very, very soon, and that alone will change this state more than anything else could,” state Rep. Spencer Dickinson, D-South Kingstown, told WPRI.com on Monday.

Dickinson said his confidence that Mattiello would replace Anzeveno is a key reason he backed the majority leader for speaker.

Three sources familiar with the matter told WPRI.com Mattiello is seriously considering Leo Skenyon, clerk of the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal, as his chief of staff. Skenyon is an old Rhode Island political hand but was criticized for his management of the traffic court in the 1990s and later filed for personal bankruptcy, according to published reports.

Mattiello’s choice to be his new majority leader is state Rep. John DeSimone, D-Providence. Among those who said they would support Mattiello were Republican state Reps. Doreen Costa of North Kingstown and Joe Trillo of Warwick.

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

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.

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.

A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha’s office said Monday all records related to the search are sealed.

Here is the full text of Anzeveno’s statement, which was released Monday afternoon:

“Privately, I have known for a while that Gordon Fox would not be running for another term. He did not want to announce that decision so that the focus would be on the many challenging issues before the House of Representatives. With this knowledge and consultation with my family, I made the decision to leave at the end of this session in June. I had previously been in contact with the Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island and the Joint Committee on Legislative Services to make an informed decision.

“In light of recent events at the Statehouse, time has accelerated. I cleaned out my office over the weekend in anticipation that a new Speaker needs to bring in his own staff.

“It has been an honor for me to have witnessed the hard work, dedication and commitment that our public officials, as well as the loyal and conscientious staff, bring to the Statehouse every day. I will always respect the House of Representatives and wish them the best in tackling the difficult issues before them.”

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

Susan Campbell and Dan McGowan contributed to this report.

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