Opponent slams Mattiello for keeping Carnevale in leadership

Rep. John Carnevale, left, and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, right.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Republican challenger Steven Frias attacked Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Matttiello on Tuesday for failing to strip an embattled lawmaker of a high-ranking post on the General Assembly’s most powerful committee.

State Rep. John Carnevale, D-Providence, is under fire in the wake of a Target 12 investigation that raised questions about whether he lives in his district. The Providence Board of Canvassers has voted to examine the issue, and the Rhode Island State Police confirmed Monday that they are also pursuing an investigation into Carnevale.

Soon after the Target 12 report aired, however, Mattiello said he spoke to Carnevale and received assurances that he lives in his district. The speaker declined to remove Carnevale from his position as vice-chair of the powerful House Finance Committee, saying the Providence lawmaker has done a good job in that role.

Steven Frias
Steven Frias

“The Carnevale scandal is an embarrassment, but Mattiello’s response to it is inexplicable,” Frias, who confirmed last week he would seek to oust Mattiello from his seat in Cranston’s House District 15, said in a statement.

“Over the last two years, whenever it became clear that a member of the House leadership team was being investigated by law enforcement, such as former Speaker Gordon Fox, former Deputy Majority Whip Joseph Almeida, and former House Finance Chairman Raymond Gallison, the legislator lost his leadership post,” he said. “Although Carnevale is currently being investigated by the state police, Speaker Mattiello refuses to remove him from his position on House Finance.”

With the House out of session, it’s not clear whether Mattiello could formally strip Carnevale of his vice-chairmanship without bringing lawmakers back to the chamber. He noted earlier this month that it was already nearly the end of the session when the Carnevale investigation broke, and indicated he plans to vet committee leadership more carefully in January if he wins re-election.

Frias isn’t the only candidate challenging Mattiello – a second Republican, Shawna Lawton, also jumped into the race for House District 15 this week. In another sign the speaker is taking the opponents seriously, he announced Tuesday that veteran public-relations professional Patti Doyle will serve as his spokeswoman for the campaign.

Asked about Frias’s statements on Carnevale, Doyle said in an email: “It’s more appropriate to allow the State Police and Board of Canvassers to do their job.”

After learning that Mattiello had hired Doyle, who worked on last year’s unsuccessful campaign to build a new PawSox stadium in Providence, Frias said: “I am looking forward to debating the speaker and Ms. Doyle on why it was a bad idea to spend millions in taxpayer money on a new stadium for the PawSox.”

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes The Saturday Morning Post and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

Tim White contributed to this report.

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