12 to Watch in 2012: J. Patrick O’Neill

Friday, December 30, 2011


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Is a leadership overthrow in the making? Patrick O'Neill.

It might be a little too inside-baseball for the average Rhode Islander, but anyone who loves local politics might want to monitor a situation brewing on Smith Hill in 2012.

The scuttlebutt is that House Majority WHIP J. Patrick O'Neill (D-District 59, Pawtucket), the ambitious 40-year-old lawyer, is laying the groundwork to overthrow House Speaker Gordon Fox in 2013 and this year will play a major role in determining whether he has the juice to make it happen. 

There were rumors that he would attempt to take out Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello (D- District 15, Cranston), but several political insiders have confirmed O'Neill has hit eyes set on the top spot. 

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O'Neill, who currently sits on the Judiciary Committee and the Rules Committee, is considered popular among conservative Democrats and is well-liked by the few Republicans in the House. It is believed that he already has a team of middle-of-the-road Dems in place that will support his candidacy if he were to make a run at Speaker. 

O'Neill has mostly kept a low profile during his four terms as a State Representative. In 2011, O'Neill led efforts to rearrange the jurisdictions of Rhode Island’s district courts and move the closing time for polls up to 8:00pm. In 2010, he sponsored legislation that prevents law enforcement agencies from using a quota system for traffic tickets. He currently has about $16,000 in his campaign account. 

Of course, O'Neill may have other options in the next year as well. The Pawtucket politician could also look into running for Mayor, although Don Grebien is currently viewed to be relatively popular and would likely be difficult to defeat next year. 

No matter what he decides, Rep. O'Neill is one state lawmaker worth keeping an eye on in 2012.


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