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Carol Costa: Hamlet in the State House

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Shades of literature class immediately came to mind in the shadows and marbled halls of the Smith Hill dome this week. The wake of Gordon Fox’s resignation as Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives unleashed a Machiavellian drama, a Shakespearean tragedy, all smattered with the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche, as the politicians whose job it is to represent the people selected a new leader who is charged with speaking for all of RI.

The metaphors and similarities proved to be a lesson in literature, philosophy, civics and the process of political brawls, fragile coalitions and unlikely alliances as they unfolded in full view and in real time. The velvet curtains, pristine white marble, huge echoed halls and closed doors etched in gold leaf provided a majestic backdrop. The theatrical performances of the cast and understudies which swirled about Marcello and Mattiello; the 2 main characters proved the most interesting part of the drama. If you close your eyes you can almost see the angst ridden Hamlet dragging poor Polonius’s dead body around, as he feverishly seeks a hiding place for the corpse, as the ghosts of Speakers passed eerily loom.

“This above all: to thine own self be true.”-  Polonius

Clearly exposed in the wrangle for the top spot was a house fraught with gelatinous spines, ironically the building is so sturdy on the outside. Realistically and unfortunately that is the game of RI politics. As the camps gathered on Friday evening to plan and investigate coalitions in order to guide the leaderless house, developments and alliances were built swiftly and expertly reported by solid social media updates. The public was apprised of the dealings and the tone and tenor of the front runners. Twitter became a legitimate source of information for RI in this very fluid story. Many people met both Marcello and Mattiello via social media reporting.

The vote counts from each camp over the weekend proved to be as malleable the sense of commitment of those purportedly giving their “word”. So to those who kept their word from the beginning on either side of the fight I say,”well done.” To those who abandoned their word and commitment I say, “ I hope it was worth it.” I only hope you extracted legislation that will truly help the people of your districts. For those in the end who abstained, I can only say, “You just became totally irrelevant.”

Full disclosure, Mike Marcello and I are close friends, teammates in Scituate and of course I was pulling for him to ascend,as his dedication to his district and good government initiatives are well documented. I had moments of great hope that he would be delivered to to the speakership, and in my view the house and our state would better for it. After all, I stood shoulder to shoulder with Mike as we fought to bring a strong voice for all the people of our town and in the process brought reform, ethics and open government for all of its citizens. A man of integrity, I salute Mike’s effort and laud the 5 legislators; Joy Hearn, J. Patrick O’Neill, Greg Costantino, Linda Finn and John Lombardi who stood with him until the end,as they are men and women of character and backbone. I know, for them this election was never personal. Conversely, it was principled.

“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.” - Machiavelli

I know, like and respect Nick Mattiello and I wish him well as he takes the gavel. Let’s face it, we are all depending on this House and his leadership team to begin anew the task of governing and setting our state on a path to secure a future for us, our aged, our homeless, our business community and above all our children. I would be remiss if I did not point out some challenges for the new speaker. As Nick rightly points out jobs and the economy must be a priority but, ethics issues and they way business is conducted in the people’s house must also be a top tier issue. I am certain a multifaceted approach will be on the table. Nick has embraced a daunting task to reshape the House and I am confident he will do his very best to make the economy begin to recover trust in its methods. But, it is in his selections of leadership positions and key staff positions that will be a marker for the citizens to begin to evaluate the progress of his administration. As those key positions are not solidified as of yet the jury will be out until they begin work in earnest.

Ahh, here is the rub. As Hamlet demanded of Ophelia, “Get thee to a nunnery, go. Farewell.” Where will the women be? I will be looking long and hard at the elevation of women in that chamber. In order that the house reflect more accurately the people it represents women must be at the table and at the helm of powerful committees. Similarly, key staff positions long held by men must be afforded to smart and powerful RI women, regardless of stripe. Is the Speaker prepared to empower a strong women's legislative caucus in the house? I challenge the Speaker to these most important tasks. Good and equal governance depends on it.

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” - Nietzsche

What emerged from this week’s tumult is the outstanding performance of the press. GOLOCAL, WPRI, WPRO and The Providence Journal’s web based reporting was phenomenal. Ted Nesi, Katherine Gregg, Ready Edgar, Ed Fitzpatrick, Jared Pliner, Dan Mcgowan, Andrew Augustus and many others who were reporting live on Twitter, this was no small task, they ferreted out the stories, players, intel and tweeted updates on the ever-changing developments. In what would have ordinarily been a Friday news dump, these journalists kept RI on the pulse of the story. If not already, it would be very prudent to get on the Twitters, especially the new Speaker, and start following these fantastic reporters. I know these fierce journalists will plugged in and giving the public real time, quality reporting as the session unfolds. I wish the Speaker and his leadership team all the best as they embark on an arduous journey.

Carol Costa is a public relations and community outreach specialist; she has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager. Her work has been published in several local outlets including GoLocal, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.


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