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John Perilli: Peter Neronha, US Attorney & Rising Political Star?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

 

Rhode Island’s U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha could be a strong candidate for public office, believes John Perilli

He’s a no-nonsense public servant who has battled white-collar crime and rooted out corruption. He has the legal chops to govern, as well as the political experience and media savvy to run a winning campaign. He’s a powerful advocate with a gleaming resume, but also has deep roots in the Ocean State.

Is this someone you would vote for?

If so, you might want to start encouraging Peter Neronha, the sitting United States Attorney for the District of Rhode Island, to run for public office. Since being appointed to the office in 2009 by President Barack Obama, he has flown under the political radar while quietly amassing an impressive list of accomplishments. However, recent events such as the raid on Speaker Gordon Fox’s office, which the U.S. Attorney’s office helped lead, have put Neronha’s name on the map. Is Neronha bound for the ballot?

An Accomplished Attorney

The US Attorney’s office is a high-powered but humble institution. It regularly handles cases and settlements worth millions of dollars, but doesn’t boast much about them. During Neronha’s tenure, the office has won numerous such cases that you may never have heard of. Here is a taste:

• In 2011, Neronha led a federal investigation to illegal advertising practices by Google which ended with the internet juggernaut paying an historic $500 million settlement. Of that total, Rhode Island took nearly $250 million, not a small sum considering that Rhode Island’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget was $7.7 billion (or $7,700 million, for comparison).

• In 2012, Neronha’s office helped bring in former New England mob kingpin Anthony DiNunzio on charges of extortion.

• In 2013, the Rhode Island U.S. Attorney’s Office successfully indicted developer Richard Baccari on bribery charges, alleging that Baccari bought North Providence City Council votes with a $50,000 bribe.

Arresting mobsters, busting corruption, and bringing one of the largest companies in the world to its knees? These are the sorts of accomplishments most candidates would salivate over. But Neronha wasn’t done. Earlier this year, in a daring and dramatic stroke, Neronha’s office took a leading part in the raid on former Speaker Gordon Fox’s home and State House office.

Now I will say this: Gordon Fox is innocent until he is proven guilty of a crime in a court of law. And that’s if the investigation was even about him––even that much is so far unclear.

But it takes a certain kind of person to storm straight into the offices of arguably the most powerful politician in the state and just start taking evidence, even with a federal search warrant. Neronha had to have seen the public reaction coming, the tide of speculation, even the potential for a change in power, but he carried out the search anyway. It showed that Neronha has guts, and isn’t afraid to make difficult decisions that he deems to be necessary.

Is this not the same kind of guts it takes to govern?

Legal Precedent

Neronha certainly would not be the first U.S. Attorney to pursue public office. The ranks of American politics are peopled with former federal prosecutors. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D) of Connecticut. Governor Chris Christie (R) of New Jersey. Rhode Island’s own Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D).

The position grants a unique set of advantages when it comes to running for public office. For one, the U.S. Attorney’s office employs a large public-payroll staff, giving Neronha firsthand experience with the ins and outs of bureaucracy. Second, U.S. Attorneys are appointed by the President, allowing them to claim trust from a widely recognized political figure. Should Neronha choose to run as a Democrat, claiming Barack Obama as an ally could move votes.

Third, there is a statewide office practically waiting for a public-sector prosecutor to run for it: the office of Attorney General. Forty-three states have elected Attorneys General, and Rhode Island’s spot seems to have Neronha’s name on it if he wants to run. Senator Whitehouse was elected Rhode Island Attorney General after his tenure as U.S. Attorney. Is a similar path in the cards for Neronha?

A Prosecutor’s Trials

All this considered, though, running for elected office is never a guarantee. If Neronha is to run for statewide office, he will doubtless face many other aspirants trying to force their way through our quadrennial electoral bottleneck. And campaigns are brutal. Would Neronha rather protect his already positive legacy than risk being crushed into the mud?

Another challenge for Neronha will be his insidership. While public sector experience certainly helps, not all appointees make for good elected officials. Can Neronha prove to the public that he has the political skill to hold elected office, and is not just cashing in on connections?

Neronha will likely not be public about his future plans until his tenure as U.S. Attorney is over, but he is certainly someone to watch. He has batted away any queries about his political future, but then again, so did then Senator Barack Obama in 2005. The fact is that Neronha could put up quite a fight. If he can overcome the obstacles of insidership and play heavily on his role as a crime-fighting public servant, he would be hard to beat.

 

John Perilli is a native of Cumberland, RI and a junior at Brown University. He is the Communications Director for the Brown University Democrats and works for Magaziner for Treasurer. The opinions presented in this article do not represent those of the organizations of which John Perilli is a member. You can follow John on Twitter @JohnPerilli.

 

Related Slideshow: RI Candidates with the Most Social Media Reach

Prev Next

10. Lorne Adrain

Candidate for Mayor

Campaign Facebook Likes: 439
Campaign Twitter Followers: 208

Total: 647

How Social is the Adrain Campaign?

Talking about on Facebook: 78
Campaign Tweets: 26

Prev Next

9. Jorge Elorza

Candidate for Mayor

Campaign Facebook Likes: 1,287
Campaign Twitter Followers: 573

Total: 1,860

How Social is the Elorza Campaign?

Talking about on Facebook: 74
Campaign Tweets: 180

Prev Next

8. Brett Smiley

Candidate for Mayor

Campaign Facebook Likes: 1,461
Campaign Twitter Followers: 704

Total: 2,165

How Social is the Smiley Campaign?

Talking about on Facebook: 27
Campaign Tweets: 289

Prev Next

7. Michael Solomon

Candidate for Mayor

Campaign Facebook Likes: 1,341
Campaign Twitter Followers: 987

Total: 2,328

How Social is the Solomon Campaign?

Talking about on Facebook: 643
Campaign Tweets: 1,086

Prev Next

6. Daniel Harrop

Candidate for Mayor

Campaign Facebook Likes: 1,460
Campaign Twitter Followers: 1,100

Total: 2,560

How Social is the Harrop Campaign?

Talking about on Facebook: 34
Campaign Tweets: 862

Prev Next

5. Clay Pell

Candidate for Governor

Campaign Facebook Likes: 1,672
Campaign Twitter Followers: 1,077

Total: 2,749

How Social is the Pell Campaign?

Talking about on Facebook: 1,738
Campaign Tweets: 31

Prev Next

4. Allan Fung

Candidate for Governor

Campaign Facebook Likes: 2,176
Campaign Twitter Followers: 2,810

Total: 4,986

How Social is the Fung Campaign?

Talking about on Facebook: 146
Campaign Tweets: 1,154

Prev Next

3. Ken Block

Candidate for Governor

Campaign Facebook Likes: 4,516
Campaign Twitter Followers: 884

Total: 5,400

How Social is the Block Campaign?

Talking about on Facebook: 1,328
Campaign Tweets: 1,665

Prev Next

2. Angel Taveras

Candidate for Governor

Campaign Facebook Likes: 3,544
Campaign Twitter Followers: 3,209

Total: 6,753

How Social is the Taveras Campaign?

Talking about on Facebook: 51
Campaign Tweets: 325

Prev Next

1. Gina Raimondo

Candidate for Governor

Campaign Facebook Likes: 3,870
Campaign Twitter Followers: 3,965

Total: 7,835

How Social is the Raimondo Campaign?

Talking about on Facebook: 547
Campaign Tweets: 531

 
 

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