Rep. Frank Ferri may run for lieutenant governor

State Rep. Frank Ferri, D-Warwick, speaks during an interview in 2013.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Democratic primary for lieutenant governor of Rhode Island could soon have a third candidate in the hunt.

State Rep. Frank Ferri, D-Warwick, confirmed Tuesday he may jump into the race for the state’s second-highest job against the two Democrats who’ve already kicked off their campaigns, Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee and Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis.

“I’ve been greatly encouraged and humbled by those who’ve approached me about exploring a run for lieutenant governor,” Ferri said in a statement. Incumbent Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Robert, a Democrat, is barred by term limits from seeking re-election.

Ferri, 60, represents Rhode Island House District 22. He was first elected in a November 2007 special election called to fill the seat of former Rep. Peter Ginaitt. Ferri has owned Town Hall Lanes, a bowling alley in Johnston, for more than 25 years.

Ferri is perhaps most closely associated with the long campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island, which ended successfully a year ago. Ferri and his husband, Anthony Caparco, had a wedding ceremony in Warwick on the day gay nuptials became legal, though they’d already wed in Canada years before.

“There’s a lot at stake for Rhode Island in this coming election,” Ferri said. “Our next lieutenant governor must be a strong advocate for entrepreneurs and job creators; protect the critical health care reforms shepherded by Lt. Governor Roberts, and speak truth to power when government isn’t acting in the best interest of all Rhode Islanders.”

“I wouldn’t be considering this position if I didn’t think I could make a difference, and so Tony and I will continue to explore this unique opportunity to serve over the coming days and weeks,” he said. “We look forward to making a formal announcement at the appropriate time.”

Ferri would start the lieutenant governor’s race at a big financial disadvantage compared with his two rivals. As of March 31, McKee’s campaign had $201,869 on hand and Mollis’s campaign had $58,846; Ferri’s campaign account had less than $2,000 in it.

“I think first off he’s a little bit behind the eight-ball in the sense that he’s way behind with raising money – already it’s May and he only has a couple thousand dollars in his campaign war chest,” WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming said Tuesday.

“On the other hand, the two other announced candidates do not have huge amounts of money, so it’s an amount of money where he has the opportunity to catch up,” he said.

Fleming also said progressive leaders of Ferri’s stripe have a history of doing well in Democratic primaries in Rhode Island, pointing to previous victories by politicians such as Congressman David Cicilline and gubernatorial hopeful Myrth York in races where they were widely seen as more liberal than their opponents.

“Ferri is very progressive – I think he’ll draw a lot of progressive support, progressive money, early on, which will help his campaign war chest, and I think he’ll have a base of support with the progressive vote,” Fleming said.

No Republican candidate has publicly announced an intention to seek the lieutenant governor’s office.

Robert Paquin, the Rhode Island Republican Party’s executive director, told WPRI.com on Tuesday that a “strong candidate with previous experience” will announce he or she is running next month. Catherine Terry Taylor, who nearly defeated Mollis for secretary of state in 2010, has expressed interest in running for higher office again this year. She is currently director of the R.I. Division of Elderly Affairs.

The primary is Sept. 9, and the general election is Nov. 4.

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

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