- Associated Press - Thursday, December 25, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The most expensive governor’s race in Rhode Island history and a Statehouse raid that led to the fall from power of House Speaker Gordon Fox topped the news in Rhode Island in 2014.

Other stories that made the list were the failed campaign by former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci to win back his old job, a circus accident that injured eight acrobats in a hair-hanging act and the state’s lagging economy.

A look back at Rhode Island’s biggest stories in 2014:

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GOVERNOR’S RACE

Democrat Gina Raimondo became the first woman elected Rhode Island governor, coming out on top of a crowded field that included two well-known mayors and Clay Pell, husband of Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan and grandson of the late Sen. Claiborne Pell. Raimondo handily defeated Pell and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras in the primary, but her margin against Republican Cranston Mayor Allan Fung was just 4.5 percentage points. Fung made the surprising revelation early in his campaign that he had accidentally killed someone in an automobile accident when he was in college, but the news did not hurt him in his primary race against Moderate Party founder Ken Block.

Notable quote: “Hi, neighbor! Have a ‘Gansett,” Raimondo TV ad that touted her work as a venture capitalist helping to revive the Narragansett Beer brand.

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STATEHOUSE RAID

Authorities have still released few details about raids by the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and Rhode Island State Police on Fox’s home and Statehouse office. The raids March 21 prompted Fox to step down from his leadership post the following day. Days later, Cranston Democrat Nicholas Mattiello was elected to succeed him. Fox remained in the House but did not run for re-election. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office said this month that they continue to review and analyze the information gathered during the raids but would not comment further. Fox later filed paperwork showing he had received a previously unreported $10,000 personal loan from a registered lobbyist.

Notable quote: “Because of the respect I have for all members of the House of Representatives, I am resigning as Speaker,” Fox, March 22, in an email announcing he would leave his leadership post.

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CIANCI’S COMEBACK BID

Cianci shook up the race for mayor when he decided to take a leave from his radio talk show host job at WPRO-AM to run for his old job, which he was forced to leave twice because of felonies. He spent more than four years in prison for corruption but nevertheless had a huge base of support in the city after holding office for 21 years. Two candidates dropped out before the September primary, both citing the need to keep Cianci from winning. Cianci was hammered on ethics during the campaign by Democrat Jorge Elorza, who ultimately won. Elorza racked up support from unusual corners, including President Barack Obama making a rare endorsement in municipal politics, and his Republican opponent, Dan Harrop, who voted for Elorza after donating $1,000 to his campaign.

Notable quote: “I felt I had some unfinished business,” Cianci, June 25, on announcing he would run again for mayor.

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CIRCUS ACCIDENT

Eight acrobats suspended by their hair had just begun to perform at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus on May 4 when a clip that held up a chandelier-like contraption snapped, sending them plummeting to the floor. Nearly 4,000 people witnessed the accident at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, including many children. The women were badly injured, breaking bones, receiving concussions or injuring their spinal cords. Months later, some still could not walk and several said they were considering a lawsuit. Federal workplace safety investigators cited the company for a serious safety violation, though the circus’ parent company is contesting the citation.

Notable quote: “We heard just a big crack, huge noise, and then we were just plummeting to the ground,” hair-hanging acrobat Samantha Pitard, May 7, in an interview three days after the accident.

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THE ECONOMY

The state’s economy continued to lag in 2014. Rhode Island had a 7.1 percent unemployment rate in November. The state Department of Labor and Training said Thursday the rate fell three-tenths of 1 percentage point from October but remained well above the national rate of 5.8 percent. Andrew Schiff, CEO of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, said in November it’s feeding nearly double the number of people each month compared with seven years ago, but food donations have dropped significantly. The economy was the top issue in the governor’s race, and Raimondo has said her top priority coming into office is creating jobs. Despite all the bad news, economists have said there are some bright spots, including job gains and increases in retail sales that show the economy is on its way to recovering.

Notable quote: “We were hoping to see much more improvement for the people we serve. At this point, six years after the recession, you’d figure we would. But that day has not come yet,” Schiff, Sept. 18, on U.S. Census Bureau figures that showed about 5,500 more people were living in poverty in Rhode Island in 2013 compared to the previous year.

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