John Perilli: Battle Heats Up to Succeed Fox in House District 4
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
It’s a wide-open contest––par for the course in politically-crowded Providence. As far as districts go, the Fourth is diverse both ethnically and economically, with all brackets represented up to and including the opulent strip along Blackstone Boulevard. Considering all the attention focused on the race, the winner could very well enjoy an accelerated climb into a position of power at the State House. In the coming months, three Democrats––and possibly others––will fight to settle who that will be.
Democrat Aaron Regunberg is a Brown University alumnus and an organizer with the Providence Student Union. Right out of the gate, this gives him an advantage: He will have a blazing ground game. In a district of only around 15,000 constituents, door-knocking and field work could swing a decisive couple hundred votes. Additionally, Regunberg knows the district well: He previously worked as the East Side Field Director for Mayor Angel Taveras in 2010 and as the campaign manager for Sen. Gayle Goldin in 2012, whose district overlaps with the Fourth.
“I have experience running grassroots campaigns,” Regunberg said, “I’m going to knock on every door, and talk to every voter myself.”
Like many East Side candidates, Regunberg takes a progressive stance on the major issues, but it is his public school activism that could differentiate him from his opponents, who are sympathetic to independent schools and the education reform movement. This is why Regunberg fell in behind Sen. Goldin, a public school advocate herself, and why he might do well to run on the issue: Goldin won all the precincts in the Fourth House District by a combined 56-44 in 2012. Regunberg also has the support of two East Side political fixtures: Rep. Edith Ajello and former Rep. Nick Tsiongas, who held the District 4 seat before Fox.
“I'm in this race because I know the difference it makes when the voices of our community are actually brought to the table and involved in policy-making,” said Regunberg. “That's why in 2010 I co-founded the Providence Student Union and have worked with young people to build it into a strong, youth-led organization that has made real changes in our schools.”
If Regunberg can prove his worth as a candidate despite his young age, he will be a force to be accounted for come the September 9 primary. And he’ll have plenty of resources to do the convincing with––he’s already sitting on $25,000 in campaign cash.
She’s also a Brown alum and a Providence native who runs the Rhode Island chapter of Teach for America (TFA), an organization that trains college students to teach in underserved schools for two years after graduation. This immediately sets her up as a foil to Regunberg: the leaders of Teach for America are widely viewed as pennant-bearers for the education reform movement. While participating in TFA doesn’t necessarily align an enterprising college graduate with the cause, Tow-Yick’s continued involvement more than indicates her allegiance.
She may be in luck: Education reform groups give generously, and if the campaign becomes a contest over the education issue, expect outside groups to jump in. However, Tow-Yick seems to be downplaying her affiliation with Teach for America, instead emphasizing her long-term residency in the district and her business credit. She holds an MBA from the highly-regarded Sloan School of Management at MIT.
Will Tow-Yick be able to run with her deep roots in the district to beat Regunberg’s organizing skill? And can she overcome the business credentials and campaign experience of the third Democrat in the race?
An experienced corporate attorney and former in-house counsel at Textron and GTech, Miriam Ross enters the race with support from the business community and deep fundraising potential.
“My background is grounded in economic development and working with small businesses,” said Ross. “I think what distinguishes me is the depth of experience I have working with businesses in the legislative process.”
In a state desperate for any comfort on the economic front, Ross’s commerce-centered message could find a wide appeal. She’s got the credit to back it up: She is the only female chair of the Rhode Island Small Business Economic Summit, put on annually by the Rhode Island Small Business Association.
She is also the only candidate in the race to have run for elected office before: In 2010, Ross unsuccessfully challenged Democratic incumbent Sen. Rhoda Perry as an Independent. Now, she’s running as a Democrat and hoping for a more successful second try at elected office.
“It’s not easy to put yourself out there and go door to door,” said Ross. “It was a valuable learning experience for me.”
Will this year’s statewide primary give Ross a chance to turn her fortunes around? Or will another powerful candidate come in and steal her thunder?
The X Factor: Maryellen Butke
One of the loudest silences so far in the District 4 race is the absence of Maryellen Butke, the former Senate candidate whom Gayle Goldin beat in the aforementioned 2012 primary. She is widely considered a strong contender for the open seat, but has remained mum about her intentions to run.
Butke, like Tow-Yick, comes from an education reform background. She was the Executive Director of RI-CAN, an education advocacy group which supports charter schools and school choice. The education issue proved to the pivotal wedge in her battle with Goldin in 2012, but she ultimately lost out. If she were to run for District 4, she could split votes with Tow-Yick, allowing Regunberg or Ross to sweep up. Will she stay out so the Education Reformers can have a united front?
The race is still fluid, and more candidates could drop in or out before the filing deadline on June 25. But have no doubt: This is a powerful seat at the State House. The race will be expensive and close. Mud and money will fly in equal measures, and the winner will have a first-class ticket punched for Smith Hill. Stay tuned.
Related Slideshow: The History of Gordon Fox: From Camp St. to Speaker to…
In 1992, Gordon Fox ran for (then) House District 5 seat replacing Dr. Nick Tsiongas.
Fox, an ally of then-Councilman Josh Fenton and former College Hill State Representative Ray Rickman, won the seat easily.
Gordon Fox (D) 2,253
Michael Mitchell (R) 525
Jay Enderle (I) 407
Murphy - Fox Team 2002
Fox and GTech and the Ethics Commission 2003
Speaker of the House
2007 - 2010
Fox and 38 Studios
Fox and Gay Marriage
Providence Economic Development Partnership
Raid and Resignation
On Friday, the State House office of Gordon Fox was raided by RI State Police in conjuction with FBI and IRS agents. This was the first time a State House office was ever raided by law enforcement officials.
By end of day Saturday, Fox had resigned, here is his statement:
Fox Pleads to three charges of bribery, wire fraud, and filing a false tax return on March 3, 2015.
The charges stem from former Speaker Fox’s theft of $108,000 donated by campaign supporters to pay for personal expenses; his acceptance of a $52,000 bribe to advocate and move for issuance of a liquor license for an East Side restaurant while serving as Vice-Chairman of the City of Providence Board of Licenses in 2008; and his failure to account for these illegal sources of income on his tax returns.
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