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Leaders Call for More Diversity in Raimondo Administration

Tuesday, February 03, 2015


Governor Gina Raimondo

Members of Rhode Island's African-American community are questioning the number of minorities in Governor Gina Raimondo's administration -- and are calling for increased diversity.

"Looking at the list of names of the 30 or so people in her office, I don't know all her staff and I can't go by names, but I know [GoLocal] looked at the issue of women, and I think we need to do the same with the African-American and minority communities," said Jim Vincent, President of the NAACP Providence Branch. 

Vincent noted that Raimondo has appointed former Treasury staffer Melba DePena as the new Director of Human Services and Sidney McCleary, most recently the Deputy Commissioner of Environmental Quality in Connecticut, to the Department of Business Regulation.  

"Sandra Powell is no longer at the Department of Human Services.  Of all the positions, we had to replace a woman of color with another? There couldn't be room for both?  Sandra grew up here, went to Classical, was raised by a single mom, is a Princeton graduate," said Vincent.  "We need to see more like her in government, not less."

"I hear that he's a bright guy," said Vincent of McCleary.  "He's the third African-American to head up DBR mind you, after [Governor] Almond, and [Governor] DiPrete administrations.  So that's two people of color in a state that's approaching 25%, 30% minority population?  Again, I don't know the total composition of the staff, but I expected more diversity with [Raimondo's] administration."

Historical Perspective

Jim Vincent

Vincent pointed to a previous administration's appointments as a comparison.

"[Former Governor Donald] Carcieri had three people if color in his cabinet...Keith Stokes at EDC , Sandra Powell at Department of Labor, and Patricia Martinez at DCYF," said Vincent. "Having people of color in cabinet or high level positions sends a strong signal to communities of color that inclusion is a high priority. In a state as diverse as Rhode Island, that message is extremely important."

Brown University graduate Dr. Jeffrey Williams, who is the Pastor at the The King's Cathedral in Providence, spoke to the issue of diversity in both state -- and city -- government.  

"I'm very fond of the Governor, but that does not mean we can't push and hold people accountable," said Williams.  "I think she's a maverick, and the right person to move the state's economic agenda forward.  But when your Chief of staff, Deputy Chiefs of Staff, and top level staff comprise a relatively homogeneous group of people, it shows as a state we tend to be paternalistic."

"I would encourage people who haven't to see Selma," continued Williams.  "It brings up a very important point.  African-American individuals are no longer trying to find a seat at the counter, now we're trying to find a seat at the table that makes a difference. McCleary is brilliant, he'll do well, but no one here knows him.  You don't get points for that.  We're still trying to find that seat."

"I get it, you get elected, you're going to find people that you know, and I get that, but when you're Governor -- or Mayor -- of all the people, there needs to be a gut-check on a certain level," said Williams.  "I'm getting older, this isn't about me, it's about the next generation."

The Governor's office responded to the issue of diversity in the administration.  

"As the first female Governor of Rhode Island, she knows the importance of breaking down barriers to leadership roles and recognizes that more diversity in government makes the state stronger. It’s incredibly important to her to reflect this within her own team. Nearly 60% of her staff are women, including her Chief Legal Counsel, Director of Appointments, and Director of Communications, and she has chosen many women for her Cabinet," said Marie Aberger, press secretary for Raimondo. 

“As the Governor looks to move Rhode Island forward, she knows hearing from all viewpoints will be paramount to success. This is why her staff includes not just diversity of gender and race, but also diversity of age, experience, and sexual orientation. In addition, we have both native Rhode Islander’s and those new to the state," continued Aberger.  "We are always working to do more to be better leaders in the state. More importantly, we recognize diversity lends to better decision-making. As the Governor continues to expand her team through her staff, Cabinet, and Commissioners, this will remain a priority.”

Larger Picture

Dr. Jeffrey Williams

"I think that the Governor is trying.  Melba's great, and I feel that she's helping with diversity," said community activist Leah Williams Metts.  "But to get those jobs, you often have to go through a lot of interviews.  In the minority community, we often work two and half jobs.  How do you take that time off?  I'm not sure how many minorities are asking, or even looking.  Is it because they don't think they'll get the job to begin with?  I'd like to see more attention paid to this, and how we're reaching out to minorities."

Vincent countered for the top level positions, they were often hand-picked appointments, however.  

"I do want to be fair, but not so fair as to give this a hall pass," said Vincent. "If it's two out of ten or a dozen or more senior level cabinet level positions, what about the rest of the staff?  I think its important that we look not only at composition, but salaries."

Vincent noted that he would be meeting with the Governor's administration soon to talk about issues including the states board and commissions. 

"To the credit of the Governor's folks, they're trying to reach out to diversify the ranks of the board and commissions, but 99% of those are non-paying boards," said Dr. Williams.  "That's disappointing. There's an overall malaise in the ethnic communities."


Related Slideshow: 10 Questions Raimondo Has to Answer as Governor

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Moving the needle?

Forbes recently ranked Rhode Island 5th worst in the country for business environment -- a not uncommon position for the Ocean State in recent years.  Forbes placed RI as high as 20th for quality of life -- but #49 for "regulatory environment."

How soon can Governor-elect Raimondo improve Rhode Island's basement-level assessment and make it more competitive -- and what will she have to do to make that happen?  Addressing the sales tax? Estate tax?  Look to Raimondo's State of the State address -- and first budget proposal -- for signs as to how the direction the new Governor plans on taking the state.  

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Gambling hole?

As GoLocal's Stephen Beale pointed out, RI has no plan to deal with $307,000,000 shortfall, when casinos in MA are operational, and RI's third largest source of revenue -- gaming and the Division of Lottery -- will take a huge hit.  "A consultant's report showed Rhode Island losing $108.8 million a year in casino gaming revenue by 2017. And that was a best case scenario. The worst case had the state bleeding $158.4 million by 2017," wrote Beale.

How will Governor-elect Raimondo deal with the 800-pound gorilla in the room?  Newport Grand failed in its bid for table games on the ballot in November.  Will Raimondo let the General Assembly continue to prop up the ailing slots parlor?

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RhodeMap RI?

The previously little-known economic development plan under the State's Division of Planning -- made possible by a federal HUD grant -- has heated up in a big way as opponents are voicing their concerns as to the scope and reach of the plan, if incorporated into the state's broader economic plan.  

Will Governor-elect Raimondo get behind RhodeMap RI's vision fully, and how would she address detractors who don't appear to be going away at any point soon?  Given that there will most likely need to be legislative components to implement the plan, watch to see where Raimondo's leadership is on this issue. 

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Marijuana legalization?

Some of the air came out of the marijuana legalization balloon when former Speaker of the House Gordon Fox stepped down last year, and the notably more conservative Speaker Nicholas Mattiello took the helm, making the prospect of a marijuana legalization bill appear dim, at best.  

The Daily Chronic reported that the Democratic gubernatorial candidates indicated during the campaign that they were "monitoring the effects of regulation and taxation in Colorado and Washington."  Raimondo's certainly given no indication she'd be inclined to consider a tax-and-legalize measure, but as gaming revenues start to taper off, will marijuana discussion ramp up as a new revenue option?  

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Union relations?

While Raimondo appointed five transition team members with big banking ties, she also appointed two union heads -- Pat Quinn with SEIU 1199 and Michael Sabitoni with the RI Building and Construction Trades Council.  

While Raimondo managed to secure union endorsements following a primary that saw them go primarily to opponents Angel Taveras and Clay Pell, the legacy of her pension reform still looms large (remember AFSCME famously hired Forbes' Edward Siedle to investigate Raimondo's handling of the state pension fund, namely her move into hedge funds).  How will Raimondo negotiate with public sector unions given a past history? 

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Pension Lawsuit?

What will come of the pension reform lawsuit?  While it was quiet leading up to the election following the failed settlement earlier in the year, watch to see the next steps from Raimondo -- and newly elected Treasurer Seth Magaziner (who appointed a fairly union-friendly transition team) to see what attempts may arise to reach a new settlement -- and what implications that may mean for Raimondo, the architect of the landmark 2011 pension overhaul. Depending on the outcome, watch to see how Raimondo's political star rises -- or falls -- from the outcome of the suit -- and how Raimondo addresses the financial implications if a mediated settlement is achieved.  

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Budget proposal?

All eyes will be on Raimondo's first budget proposal in January.  What will her priorities be?  Will there be bold moves to improve the state's business climate? Education, infrastructure, tax code -- how will Raimondo choose to tackle the state's biggest issues?  And will the Democratic leadership agree with her agenda?

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General Assembly?

For the first time since 1991 -- when Governor Bruce Sundlun took office -- a Democrat will be embarking on a gubernatorial administration, and Raimondo will be working with a Democratic legislature.  What will Raimondo's working relationship be with Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Paiva-Weed?  Will the General Assembly be in lockstep with a Raimondo agenda -- if not, what will the points of contention be?  And with a democratic lock on power, what will the Republicans be able to accomplish?  

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Mandate issue?

Winning the general election to become Rhode Island's first female Governor with 40% of the vote, Raimondo follows in the footsteps of Governor Lincoln Chafee with winning with less that 50% of the vote.  Raimondo however has the advantage over her predecessor by being elected as a Democrat, allowing her to work with leadership in the General Assembly.  However, with 40% of the vote, how will the public who didn't vote for her view here policies and proposals?  Will Raimondo have to win over the public, or will Raimondo take her support from the business community and forge a path regardless?

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While General Treasurer, Raimondo came under fire for lack of transparency for the lack of disclosure of hedge fund fees paid for the state's retirement investments, punctuated by Attorney General Peter Kilmartin ruling that Raimondo could keep certain details of the state's investments from the press.   Forbes' Edward Siedle wrote, Does [Kilmartin] seriously believe that hedge and private equity billionaires entrusted with state workers retirement savings should be shielded from scrutiny regarding potential violations of law?
While Raimondo will no longer be calling the shots as the head of the State Investment Commission, all eyes will be her decisions in the Governor's office.  How transparent with the Raimondo administration be with the press-- and the public?


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