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Russell Moore: Fox’s Departure Shouldn’t Overshadow Achievements

Monday, March 24, 2014


Make no mistake about it: Friday was a bad day for Rhode Island.

When federal agents stormed the statehouse and raided the House Speaker Gordon Fox's office in what was apparently a search for evidence, we all ended up a little bit worse off--regardless of the political fallout or who gets to call the shots on an ongoing basis.

Let's face it: the turn of events that followed was nothing if not predictable. The whole House of Representatives kicked into succession mode--some overtly, others covertly. They had to. Legislation and state business as a whole must continue. Keep in mind: the House is smack in the middle of their mid-season business. This isn't January where there isn't much going on yet.

No one can blame the ambitious folks who moved quickly to consolidate support in an effort to become the next statehouse top dog. If they didn't get their ducks in a row quickly, their opponents certainly would have. It's called game theory.

With respect to Fox, call me crazy, but it really does rub me the wrong way that the FBI can merely begin gathering information on a public official and that forces him to resign from office. I totally understand why he needed to resign, as FBI agents raiding your office does cloud your ability to lead, but the federal government with that kind of power does have a chilling affect.

Let's keep in mind, Fox hasn't even been charged with a crime, let alone been proven guilty of anything. Last I heard, The American Way is presume a citizen innocent until proven guilty. Fox should be given the same exact benefit of the doubt and presumption of innocence that every single other citizen of the country is entitled.

Regardless of what happens going forward, what's sad about the latest turn of events is that it will, in all likelihood, overshadow what really should have been considered a successful political legacy by observers.

Fox certainly wasn't a perfect Speaker of the House, but I'd argue that he was good. Under Fox's leadership, the legislature passed a fair and equitable school funding formula. The legislature passed pension reform, shaving $4 billion off of the pension fund's unfunded liability and in the process making the system more affordable for taxpayers and more secure for current and future retirees. And the state joined the rest of New England in making gay marriage a reality in Rhode Island--an issue that is the civil rights issue of our era. (Let's also not forget that he killed Governor Lincoln Chafee's regressive and economy killing sales tax hikes.)

Every single one of those issues was thought to be a political non-starter at one time or another. But Fox knew how to build consenus for the issues he cared about. It got things done.

The best way to know that Gordon Fox was a political moderate was the fact that he was always subject to criticism from both sides of the aisle. The conservatives would have you believe he was Bernie Sanders. The liberals (progressives) would portray him as if he were somehow our own Barry Goldwater. When you're getting criticized by purists from both ideologies, you're probably doing something right.

As someone who has observed the political process in Rhode Island for about a decade now, I can say for certain that it's pretty easy to stand on either side of the political spectrum, whether it be a conservative or a liberal (progressive), and refuse to compromise or listen to your adversaries. You'll never actually accomplish anything, but at least you'll still have your purity. That and $2 dollars will get you a large Del's lemonade.

It's not as glamorous to be a consensus builder like Fox. And those who do tend to tick off their colleagues on both sides of the political aisle. But here's the thing: they actually get things accomplished.

Gordon Fox sure did.

A native Rhode Islander, Russell J. Moore is a graduate of Providence College and St. Raphael Academy. He worked as a news reporter for 7 years (2004-2010), 5 of which with The Warwick Beacon, focusing on government. He continues to keep a close eye on the inner workings of Rhode Islands state and local governments.


Related Slideshow: Rhode Island’s History of Political Corruption

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Buddy Cianci

Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci resigned as Providence Mayor in 1984 after pleading nolo contendere to charges of assaulting a Bristol man with a lit cigarette, ashtray, and fireplace log. Cianci believed the man to be involved in an affair with his wife. 

Cianci did not serve time in prison, but received a 5-year suspended sentence. He was replaced by Joseph R. Paolino, Jr. in a special election. 

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Joseph Bevilacqua

Joseph Bevilacqua was RI Speaker of the House from 1969 to 1975, and was appointed as Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court in 1976.  It was alleged that Bevilacqua had connections to organized crime throughout his political career.  

According to a 1989 article that appeared in The New York Times at the time of his death:

The series of events that finally brought Mr. Bevilacqua down began at the end of 1984... stating that reporters and state police officers had observed Mr. Bevilacqua repeatedly visiting the homes of underworld figures.

The state police alleged that Mr. Bevilacqua had also visited a Smithfield motel, owned by men linked to gambling and drugs...

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Thomas Fay

Thomas Fay, the successor to Bevilacqua as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, resigned in 1993, and was later found guilty on three misdemeanor counts of directing arbitration work to a partner in his real estate firm, Lincoln Center Properties.  

Fay was also alleged to use court employees, offices, and other resources for the purposes of the real estate firm.  Fay, along with court administrator and former Speaker of the House, Matthew "Mattie" Smith were alleged to have used court secretaries to conduct business for Lincoln, for which Fay and Smith were business partners. 

Fay was fined $3,000 and placed on one year probation. He could have been sentenced for up to three years in prison. 

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Brian J. Sarault

Former Pawtucket Mayor Brian J. Sarault was sentenced in 1992 to more than 5 years in prison, after pleading guilty to a charge of racketeering.  

Sarault was arrested by state police and FBI agents at Pawtucket City Hall in 1991, who alleged that the mayor had attempted to extort $3,000 from former RI State Rep. Robert Weygand as a kickback from awarding city contracts.

Weygand, after alerting federal authorities to the extortion attempt, wore a concealed recording device to a meeting where he delivered $1,750 to Sarault.

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Edward DiPrete

Edward DiPrete became the first Rhode Island Governor to be serve time in prison after pleading guilty in 1998 to multiple charges of corruption.

He admitted to accepting bribes and extorting money from contractors, and accepted a plea bargain which included a one-year prison sentence.

DiPrete served as Governor from 1985-1991, losing his 1990 re-election campaign to Bruce Sundlun.

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Plunder Dome

Cianci was forced to resign from the Mayor’s office a second time in 2002 after being convicted on one several charges levied against him in the scandal popularly known as “Operation Plunder Dome.” 

The one guilty charge—racketeering conspiracy--led to a five-year sentence in federal prison. Cianci was acquitted on all other charges, which included bribery, extortion, and mail fraud.

While it was alleged that City Hall had been soliciting bribes since Cianci’s 1991 return to office, much of the case revolved around a video showing a Cianci aide, Frank Corrente, accepting a $1,000 bribe from businessman Antonio Freitas. Freitas had also recorded more than 100 conversations with city officials.

Operation Plunder Dome began in 1998, and became public when the FBI executed a search warrant of City Hall in April 1999. 

Cianci Aide Frank Corrente, Tax Board Chairman Joseph Pannone, Tax Board Vice Chairman David C. Ead, Deputy tax assessor Rosemary Glancy were among the nine individuals convicted in the scandal. 

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N. Providence Councilmen

Three North Providence City Councilmen were convicted in 2011 on charges relating to a scheme to extort bribes in exchange for favorable council votes. In all, the councilmen sought more than $100,000 in bribes.

Councilmen Raimond A. Zambarano, Joseph Burchfield, and Raymond L. Douglas III were sentenced to prison terms of 71 months, 64 months, and 78 months, respectively. 

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Charles Moreau

Central Falls Mayor Charles Moreau resigned in 2012 before pleading guilty to federal corruption charges. 

Moreau admitted that he had give contractor Michael Bouthillette a no-bid contract to board up vacant homes in exchange for having a boiler installed in his home. 

He was freed from prison in February 2014, less than one year into a 24 month prison term, after his original sentence was vacated in exchange for a guilty plea on a bribery charge.  He was credited with tim served, placed on three years probation, and given 300 hours of community service.

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Joe Almeida

State Representative Joseph S. Almeida was arrested and charged on February 10, 2015 for allegedly misappropriating $6,122.03 in campaign contributions for his personal use. Following his arrest, he resigned his position as House Democratic Whip, but remains a member of the Rhode Island General Assembly.

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Gordon Fox

The Rhode Island State Police and FBI raided and sealed off the State House office of Speaker of the House Gordon Fox on March 21--marking the first time an office in the building has ever been raided. 

Fox pled guilty to 3 criminal counts on March 3, 2015 - accepting a bribe, wire fraud, and filing a false tax return. The plea deal reached with the US Attorney's office calls for 3 years in federal prison, but Fox will be officially sentenced on June 11.


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