- Associated Press - Monday, March 24, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - In the scramble to fill a statehouse leadership vacuum after the abrupt resignation of Rhode Island’s House speaker, the chamber’s majority leader claimed to have even more support Monday to win the job, a day ahead of an expected vote, and spoke of changes he’d consider if elected.

The front-runner for the office, Cranston Democrat Nicholas Mattiello, said that, as of Monday morning, he had at least 48 votes in the race to succeed Gordon Fox, 10 more than is needed to win.

Fox, a Democrat from Providence who became the nation’s first openly gay House speaker in 2010, resigned the post Saturday, a day after his office and home were raided by agencies including the FBI, IRS and state police. On Monday, authorities still would not comment on what the criminal probe involves, or whom they are investigating. Fox’s lawyer, Albin Moser, also would not comment Monday.

A vote to replace Fox was expected Tuesday when the House reconvenes.

Mattiello said that if he wins, he will review the way the House operates from top to bottom, including all positions and all salaries. He said he would not “prejudge” any changes, which could include new committee chairmen.

“We all have persons that we have confidence in and that we’re comfortable working with,” he said. “I’m going to look at all of the committees, I’m going to look at the chairmanships of the committees and memberships of the committees, and see if I’m comfortable that the committees will operate efficiently under my leadership.”

Even if that was the case under Fox, who was one of the state’s most powerful politicians, Mattiello said, “They may not have the same allegiance to me.”

House Oversight Chairman Michael Marcello, a Democrat from Scituate, is also seeking the speakership, saying he is the candidate who represents real change. He claimed Sunday to have 33 votes, though he seems to have been counting some legislators who now say they are backing Mattiello. Marcello said Sunday he planned to take his bid “all the way to the House floor.”

Mattiello called Marcello a friend Monday but said he was disappointed in some of the statements Marcello’s camp has made in the race for speaker.

“I don’t believe I represent the status quo,” he said. “I believe I represent change. I am as frustrated with the slow-moving economy as anyone else. I’m first and foremost interested in the economy.”

Mattiello appeared to have the backing of at least five of the chamber’s six Republicans.

Rep. Art Handy, a Democrat from Cranston, said Monday that he’s supporting Marcello. He said Marcello’s coalition supports efforts to boost ethics oversight of lawmakers and make the legislative process more transparent and accountable.

“I’ve got respect for the folks who are supporting Leader Mattiello and I respect Leader Mattiello,” he said. “In the end, I’m trying to look further down the road and I picked the side that I thought would get the state moving in the best direction.”

Handy, who chairs the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, said he expects that those who support the losing candidate Tuesday may suffer political repercussions, such as finding themselves stripped of committee chairmanships.

“It’s a concern, but I assume that’s the sort of consequences that come from this,” he said. “I don’t expect otherwise.”


Associated Press writers David Klepper and Michelle R. Smith contributed to this report.

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