By DANIEL KITTREDGE Cranston voters sent shockwaves across Rhode Island's political landscape on Nov. 3. On a big night for local Republicans, who maintained control of the mayor's office and City Council, the party also scored a major upset in what has
Cranston voters sent shockwaves across Rhode Island’s political landscape on Nov. 3.
On a big night for local Republicans, who maintained control of the mayor’s office and City Council, the party also scored a major upset in what has been the most closely watched contest in the Ocean State this campaign season.
Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, the wife of Mayor Allan Fung, defeated Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello for his District 15 seat, setting off a chain of events that has Warwick Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi poised to assume the General Assembly’s most powerful post in January.
“My husband’s legacy in Cranston lives on,” Fenton-Fung said in a Nov. 4 statement. “Fung times are here to stay.”
With major surges in early and mail voting this year, many observers had been anticipating the House District 15 race would not be called for hours, or even days, after the polls closed. Mattiello narrowly survived strong challenges from Republican Steve Frias in 2016 and 2018, and this year’s race was also largely expected to be close.
But once the Election Day votes were tallied, the Associated Press declared Fenton-Fung the victor – a call the news organization makes when it sees no path for the other candidate to prevail.
During an election night gathering of Republican candidates and supporters at the St. Mary’s Feast Society building in Knightsville, Fenton-Fung said she was not yet declaring victory given that early in-person votes and mail ballots had yet to be tallied. Mattiello, too, initially waited for more numbers, pushing back and then canceling a planned Zoom call with reporters.
Fenton-Fung won the Election Day vote by a count of 2,537-1,343 based on unofficial tallies. Mattiello topped Fenton-Fung among mail ballot voters by a margin of 1,288-1,160 as of Tuesday, but those numbers – which were also reported on election night – were not enough to bridge the gap.
Mattiello conceded defeat in the race through on the morning of Nov. 4.
Later that day, the early in-person votes were tallied at the Board of Elections headquarters, showing 1,033 more votes for Fenton-Fung and 684 for Mattiello. The final unofficial count stands at 4,730 votes for Fenton-Fung and 3,315 for the speaker – a 58.6-41 percent margin.
“Every warrior who enters the arena is to be commended. It is not for the faint of heart, and this battle was certainly bruising on both sides,” Fenton-Fung said in her statement issued following Mattiello’s concession. “I’d like to thank Nick Mattiello for being in that arena all these years.”
She added: “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 State House to knock heads together and get things done.”
Mattiello’s concession statement reads: “First, a sincere thank you to the residents of District 15 who have allowed me to serve as their representative for the last 14 years. To say it was an honor would be an understatement. 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. It’s been a good run.”
It continues: “To my family, close friends, associates and colleagues, thank you for your tireless efforts on my behalf, and for believing not only just in my candidacy, but in the work we have undertaken collaboratively day in and day out to advance the quality of life for the people of Cranston, and beyond. We have achieved much – I wish we could do even more. But I leave this race – and this position – with a heart full of gratitude.”
On the afternoon of Nov. 4, Fenton-Fung addressed members of the media at Brayton Park.
“People rejected the way that Speaker Mattiello was running the State House, ran his campaigns, and we were looking toward the future,” she said, adding: “Those type of messages, in a post-COVID era, are what people wanted to hear. They wanted to hear what we were doing in the next two years, next five years, and we talked about our plans and not about scandals, trying to explain away the scandals of the past.”
Fenton-Fung, 39, works as a physical therapist and has long been active in Republican politics. She met Fung at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, and the two married in 2016. She added Fung to her last name in late 2019, and earlier this year she tested positive for COVID-19.