Paiva Weed: I’m leaving the Senate for top hospital association job

Ruggerio, long-serving North Providence Democrat, expected to succeed her

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed confirmed Wednesday she is leaving her post to become president of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island, with Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio viewed as her likely successor.

The Newport Democrat fought back tears as she adjourned the Senate for a final time and then held a news conference to announce she would start her new job May 1. Many of Paiva Weed’s colleagues stood behind her as she announced her plans.

“Over the next few days, I will transition out of my Senate duties and responsibilities,” Paiva Weed said. The Senate Democrats will hold a caucus Thursday afternoon to elect a new leadership team.

Eyewitness News first reported Tuesday afternoon that Paiva Weed was said to be a finalist for the Hospital Association job. A special election will be held for the seat Paiva Weed leaves vacant in District 13.

The Senate leadership offices on the third floor of the State House were busy Wednesday. Ruggerio, the leading contender to succeed Paiva Weed, was seen meeting with a parade of senators as he worked to lock up the votes to take control.

Ruggerio told Eyewitness News later Wednesday he was confident he had the votes to become Senate president, and said he is supporting Judiciary Committee Chairman Michael McCaffrey as his majority leader. He also said he expects the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat, Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, to remain in that post.

Paiva Weed, 57, was first elected to the Senate in 1992 and became its first female leader in November 2008, when she succeeded Joseph Montalbano after he unexpectedly lost re-election. She is known at the State House as a policy wonk who is particularly interested in social services and education, two issues she singled out during her news conference.

“Change is never easy,” Paiva Weed said. “I live around the corner from my parents. I’ve never left Newport.” She described her proudest accomplishment as increasing access to health care for children.

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo issued a statement praising Paiva Weed for her years of public service. “Rhode Island is a stronger, better state because of Teresa,” Raimondo said.

The Hospital Association of Rhode Island sent a press release to announce it has hired Paiva Weed while she was still holding the press conference. The position opened after Michael Souza left to the organization to lead Landmark Medical Center.

“The HARI Board of Trustees is proud to have Teresa Paiva Weed lead the organization,” Dr. Christopher Lehrach, chair of the HARI Board of Trustees, said in a statement. “Teresa has spent more than two decades advocating for Rhode Islanders as a state senator. We believe her skills, insight and dedication to our state make her the ideal candidate as we work to ensure access to affordable, quality healthcare for all Rhode Islanders.”

The replacement of Paiva Weed with Ruggerio could shift State House politics significantly.

Ruggerio, a 68-year-old North Providence Democrat, is the longest-serving member of the General Assembly, having first been elected in 1980. He is a longtime top official with the powerful Laborers International Union of North America, and has been a staunch supporter of government infrastructure projects that mean jobs for Laborers members.

Paiva Weed has forged a close working relationship with Raimondo, and the pair have sometimes aligned against House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston. While Ruggerio has also appeared to get along well with Raimondo – and she, too, is allied with the Laborers – he and Mattiello could see eye to eye more often than the speaker and Paiva Weed do.

“My priorities are and remain workforce development, job development and economic development,” Ruggerio told Eyewitness News. “I feel that we have a lot of land in this state for development, in the Newport area, in the East Providence area, and in the Providence area, and I think that’s ripe for development and ripe for bringing companies in, and increasing work opportunities for the citizens of the state.”

After emerging from a brief meeting with Ruggerio, Sen. James Seveney said he would support him to become president “without any qualification.” Seveney, D-Portsmouth, described Ruggerio as “honest” and “straightforward,” and said he expected him to be able to bridge “the differing opinions” among different senators.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram