With Mattiello out, fight for House speaker at the Statehouse begins

Updated at 5:40 p.m. on Nov. 4

CRANSTON DEMOCRAT Rep. Nicholas A. Mattiello conceded to Republican challenger Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, beginning the fight for the next Speaker of the House. / / PBN FILE PHOTO/ARTISTIC IMAGES

CRANSTON – After 14 years of serving as Cranston’s District 15 state representative, House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello conceded defeat on Wednesday morning against Republican Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung. 

“While I wish last night’s outcome had been different, it in no way diminishes the privilege of serving in the House for so long,” Mattiello said in a statement sent to reporters. “It’s been a good run.” 

Fenton-Fung, the wife of Cranston Mayor Allan W. Fung, held 58.8% of the vote compared with Mattiello’s 40.8% as of late afternoon on Wednesday, according to the Rhode Island Board of Elections’ unofficial tally of mail ballots, Election Day votes at the polls and early-vote ballots. 

Rhode Island is largely a Democratic stronghold, but District 15 voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, and Mattiello won by just 85 votes over GOP candidate Steven Frias, who serves as R.I. national Republican committeeman

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“I’m obviously thrilled to wake up this morning and hit the ground running to help reform this state. To win this election, we formed a fantastic coalition here in District 15, and I’ll continue to bring that bipartisan nature up to the Statehouse to knock heads together and get things done,” said Fenton-Fung in a statement sent to reporters Wednesday morning. “My husband’s legacy in Cranston lives on. Fung times are here to stay.” 

Mattiello, a Democrat and attorney, used this cycle’s campaign to run on his incumbencyhighlighting his power as speaker and his ability to cut taxes for his constituents in House District 15He used citizen endorsements on mailers with the slogan“Promises Made. Promises Kept.” 

The official vote for House speaker traditionally takes place in January on the first day of the new legislative session. With Mattiello’s former position now vacant, House Democrats are eyeing two potential picks.  

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, and before Mattiello conceded, R.I. House Democrats were already eyeing his successor. House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi, D-Warwick, has been publicly endorsed by many, saying that he is inheriting the position as Mattiello’s No. 2.  

Shekarchi announced his candidacy for House speaker Wednesday, in a statement by his office. 

“At the urging of many of my House colleagues, I am running for Speaker and humbly ask for the chamber’s support. With the help of my fellow representatives, I am committed to bringing reform to the chamber and empowering its elected members,” said Shekarchi. “Together, we will tap into our colleagues’ ideas, talent and experience; work to help our economy and recover in a way that it works for all Rhode Islanders and protects our most vulnerable populations; and reform the way that business is done at the Statehouse.”

Shekarchi said he plans to nominate Rep. Christopher R. Blazejewski, D-Providence, to succeed his position as House majority leader.

“Working together, our shared goals are to ensure that business is performed in a professional, respectful manner, and to enact reforms so all members are part of the legislative process in an open, fair and transparent environment,” said Blazejewski in a statement of support for Shekarchi’s bid. 

Rep. Mia Ackerman, D-Cumberland, the chairwoman of the House Committee on Conduct, told a Providence Business News reporter that she supported the potential leadership team of Shekarchi and Blazejewski in the House.

“Joe has the skills to be the best speaker this state has ever known,” said Ackerman. “He is open to ideas and suggestions, he will meet with anyone and most importantly, he brings a new temperament to the House.”

However, Shekarchi’s potential path to becoming House speaker will not go uncontested.

Liz Gledhill, chair of the Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus, released a statement Wednesday of continued support of freshman Rep. Liana Cassar, D-Barrington, to fill the House speaker position.  

“The 2020 election results bring change to Rhode Island, and with these changes great possibilities. Back-door deals, strong-arming and cronyism have long been the way our Statehouse has been run. … Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung’s win in House District 15 echoes the sentiments of residents across Rhode Island: the reign of corrupt leadership in our Statehouse is over, and the time for women to lead is now,” read the statement. 

Alexa Gagosz is a PBN staff writer. Contact her at Gagosz@PBN.com. You may also follow her on Twitter at @AlexaGagosz

This story has been updated to include comment from Rep. Mia Ackerman, as well as voting percentages for each candidate to include early-vote ballots.

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