Political Chaos: Almost Everything in RI Has Changed in the Past 48 Hours

Thursday, April 26, 2018


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Top L to R clockwise Chafee, Raimondo, Brown, and Mattiello

If you thought you had a beat on elections in Rhode Island in 2018, the last 48 hours have changed almost everything in the big races to come this year.

A slew of players have traded positions, and the implications stretch from Warwick City Hall to Providence City Hall, to the State House and the United States Capitol.

Major Political Moves

On Tuesday morning, GoLocal broke the story that Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian is resigning to assume the position as head of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) — a move initiated mutually by Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo and Republican Avedisian.  That one job change created a ripple effect that may end up looking like a tsunami.

Avedisian’s move is just one of the factors that sparked the chaotic implosion that has resulted in political turmoil. 

If you thought U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's re-election was a given -- not so fast. Conventional thinking was that Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza was looking at a fairly clear path to re-election. Well, that may not be true either. 



Related Slideshow: Political Chaos: Almost Everything in RI Has Changed in the Past 48 Hours - April, 2018

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Tuesday, 6:00 AM

IMPLICATIONS: A solid candidate can beat Elorza. 

A new poll conducted among likely Democratic Providence voters shows that despite only one announced opponent, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza faces significant challenges to re-election.

The poll was conducted by John Zogby Strategies — Zogby has been one of the top pollsters over the past three decades. The poll was commissioned by State Representative John Lombardi’s campaign.

Elorza defeated the late Vincent “Buddy” Cianci 53 percent to 44 percent in 2014. It was Cianci’s first loss in seven tries for Mayor, and many considered the 2014 election to be a referendum on Cianci, who died in January of 2016. 

The poll explored a primary between the five candidates who have publicly voiced interest in running for Mayor of Providence in 2018.

In a hypothetical five-way campaign between Elorza, Lombardi, former educator Robert DeRobbio, East Side businessman and former candidate Lorne Adrain, and the only announced challenger, community activist Kobi Dennis found that Elorza only scores 36 percent of the vote.

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Tuesday, 2:55 PM

IMPLICATION: Sets off a battle for Warwick City Hall. The loss of Avedisian in Warwick is a blow to Fung's campaign.

GoLocal learned that on Wednesday the Board of the RI Public Transit Authority is scheduled to vote on the appointment of Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian as the  Chief Executive Officer of the transit authority.

He has served as Mayor of Warwick since 2000. The Republican is 53 years old.

Avedisian has deep experience with RIPTA having served as the Chair of the Board for years. He resigned in May of 2016. At the time he told GoLocal in an interview, "My term was up and I didn't want to make another four-year commitment and I thought it was a good time," Avedisian told GoLocal. "I've spoken with the Governor about it."

Avedisian added he had stayed on longer than he had expected.

"I'd gone with the purpose of staying one year, and it ended up being five," said Avedisian.  "As for who might be the next Chair, that's up to the board, generally with input from the Governor.  There are four seats currently up on the board."

Political Implications

The departure of Avedisian will be a blow to fellow Republican and close ally Cranston Mayor Fung. If Fung becomes the GOP nominee in 2018, it is critical he deliver big numbers in both Cranston and Warwick to win the General Election.

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Wednesday, 5:30 AM

IMPLICATION: Brown's claim he is a Progressive has a lot of holes.

A GoLocal investigation into Matt Brown's non-profit finds that his salary and benefits are more than 10 percent of the organization's total budget.  For more than a decade, former Rhode Island Secretary of State Matt Brown was missing from Rhode Island politics — he was running a non-profit group called Global Zero — an organization whose tagline reads “a world without nuclear weapons.”

Brown’s Global Zero budget was approximately $2 million per year between 2014 and 2016, and Brown’s compensation was nearly $300,000. In 2016, Brown was paid $271,700 in salary and an additional $27,438 in non-taxable income for a total of $299,138.

The non-profit trade publication, The Non-Profit Times, writes that for organizations with operating budgets between $1 million and $2.5 million, the average CEO salary is $103,704.

The Houston Chronicle offered similar statistics via a separate study of non-profits. The data showed that those at small charities, with expenses of less than $3.5 million per year, "made a median salary of $95,481.”

In repeated requests for comment regarding the aberration between Brown's salary and the organization’s annual budget size, Brown refused to comment and his spokesman repeatedly forwarded information about the organization’s purpose.

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Wednesday 9:35 AM

IMPLICATIONS: Problems are piling up for Mattiello -- Montanaro's tuition controversy, Cotugno's hiring, and now Board of Elections order.

The Rhode Island Republican Party calls on Rhode Island Democratic Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello to "give up the gavel," after the Board of Elections ordered Mattiello to repay $72,067.80, which the BOE says was the amount spent by leadership's PAC above what the state campaign-contribution limits allow to help his re-election campaign in 2016. 

The Board also revealed the involvement of Mattiello’s campaign aides with a Shawna Lawton, which prompted a warning, and their refusal to comply with subpoenas. 

Mattiello won his re-election campaign in 2016 over Republican challenger Steve Frias in mail ballots. 

“I am pleased this issue has been resolved.  I regret that my campaign inadvertently made some mistakes.  I accept the warning from the Board of Elections and will fully repay from my campaign account what is owed to the PAC account," said Mattiello in a statement. "To assure those mistakes are not repeated, right after the 2016 election I hired a CPA with expertise in campaign finance to handle all of the finances.”

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Wednesday 10:00 AM

IMPLICATION: Brown will make Raimondo spend heavily to win the primary. Is it enough for the GOP candidate?

Former Rhode Island Secretary of State Matt Brown announced on Wednesday morning that he will run for governor and seek the Democratic nomination. Previously, he said he would be running as an independent.

“There is growing energy and eagerness within the Democratic Party for change. I’ve seen it all across the state. I look forward to joining forces with people in every city and town in Rhode Island to push for change that better reflects our values, to create an economy that works for everyone - not just big corporations, big banks and the wealthiest few - and to be bold in the face of big problems,” said Brown.

GoLocalProv Reports

As GoLocalProv reported on Monday, Brown took hundreds of thousands from some of the wealthiest people in the state. Brown when announcing that he was exploring a run for governor that he would take on the most powerful interests. 

A look at Brown’s record as a candidate and during his tenure as Rhode Island Secretary of State finds that few of Brown’s donors were small donor progressives — in large part, they were Rhode Island's most wealthy and most powerful.

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Wednesday 11:06 AM

IMPLICATION: Whitehouse's worst nightmare. Instantly a competitive race. 

Former United States Senator and Governor of RI Lincoln Chafee tells GoLocalProv that he will challenge Sheldon Whitehouse in the Democratic primary for United States Senate in September.

The race will be a rematch of the 2006 race when Whitehouse beat the then sitting and then-Republican Chafee.

Chafee told GoLocal in a phone interview that there are critical issues facing America and Rhode Island that need addressing.

Chafee was looking to run for Governor and then announced this week that he would not challenge Raimondo.

A Chafee - Whitehouse rematch could be epic and could be a multi-million spend between the two candidates.

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Wednesday 4:40 PM

IMPLICATION: Morgan trying to gain traction. More anti-Mattiello momentum.

Patricia Morgan is calling for the resignation of Speaker Nicholas Mattiello after the Board of Elections ordered Mattiello to repay $72,067.80, which the BOE says was the amount spent by leadership's PAC above what the state campaign-contribution limits allow to help his re-election campaign in 2016. 

Morgan’s call for Mattiello’s resignation comes after the Rhode Island Republican Party called for him to resign.

“After reading the Rhode Island BOE’s damning report, it is clear that Speaker Mattiello showed incredibly poor judgment and, more likely, knowingly broke the law in a desperate attempt to save his political career. The $72,067.80 that Mattiello spent was used to pay for voter contact, including his workers who visited nursing homes and senior centers to gather absentee ballots – if not for this expenditure, it is doubtful Mattiello would have won the election. I am calling on Mattiello to resign as Speaker, as he has lost all public trust and his behavior has perverted our democratic election system,” said Morgan.


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