NEWS

Political Winds: Raimondo, McKee pledge 'smooth transition'

Posted 1/20/21

By DANIEL KITTREDGE Appearing before the media for the first time since being announced as President-elect Joe Biden's pick for Secretary of Commerce - and joined by the man who will become her successor, Lt. Gov. Dan McKee - Gov. Gina Raimondo on Jan.

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Political Winds: Raimondo, McKee pledge 'smooth transition'

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Appearing before the media for the first time since being announced as President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for Secretary of Commerce – and joined by the man who will become her successor, Lt. Gov. Dan McKee – Gov. Gina Raimondo on Jan. 13 said Rhode Island is “on a good path” in its continued fight against the coronavirus.

The governor left the briefing without taking questions from reporters, the first time she has done so since the onset of the pandemic. During her remarks, she said last week’s event was the 125th media briefing she has held during the crisis.

Little in the way of new developments emerged during the briefing. Raimondo announced that existing state COVID-19 guidelines have been extended for another month, through mid-February, and said that starting next week, officials will provide two weekly updates on the pandemic response – one specific to vaccinations, the other more general.

She began by addressing her impending departure for a new role in Washington, D.C., pending confirmation by the U.S. Senate. After declaring her commitment to her current job just weeks ago, when her name was being floated for other cabinet-level positions, she said she felt compelled to answer Biden’s call regarding the Commerce post at a moment when the nation is facing both public health and economic crises.

“The truthful answer is, I have never pictured myself in Washington. I have loved every minute of being your governor. It’s the greatest honor I have had in my life … Rhode Island is and always will be my home,” she said.

She added: “The truth of it is, we’re in a situation as a nation that none of us ever imagined … So when the president-elect called and asked me to serve and really lean into this work … I felt that I had to say yes, and it will my great honor to serve the American people and continue to serve the people of Rhode Island in my new role.”

Senate confirmation, Raimondo said, “isn’t going to happen overnight,” and she plans to remain in office “until the moment I am confirmed.”

In a state that elects its governor and lieutenant governor separately rather than as a single ticket, the relationship between Raimondo and McKee has appeared distant for much of the governor’s term – and particularly in the last year.

On Wednesday, though, Raimondo offered McKee a vote of confidence and sought to assure Rhode Islanders of a “seamless transition.” She praised McKee’s willingness to keep the state’s COVID-19 response team in place and said Rhode Island has a “well-oiled machine of a COVID operation” in place.

“I want the people of Rhode Island to know that there will be no disruption in our COVID response. We will not miss a beat … I have every confidence in [McKee] and know that he is ready to step up on day one,” she said.

McKee struck an appreciative tone while reiterating the governor’s message. He went so far as to credit the governor and her staff for their communication with him and his office.

“The governor has done a great job for the state of Rhode Island and has worked very hard to keep us safe … For me, I’m in a good spot because your staff have been incredible communicating with me and my office for six years,” he said. “And over the last 10 months, that communication has increased.”

McKee called it a “source of pride for everyone who lives in the state of Rhode Island” for the governor to be nominated for a cabinet post and appear alongside the incoming president, as Raimondo did late last week in Delaware.

Citing his past service as mayor of Cumberland, McKee said he is familiar with the “dynamics” and “challenges” of an executive-level transition.

“There’s only room for one governor at a time,” he said.

McKee made mention of the state’s frontline health care workers and small business community, the latter of which has been a major focus of his during the pandemic. He pledged an administration that “listens and works hand in hand with our partners in all 39 cities and towns,” and also said he has had initial discussions with the General Assembly’s top leaders.

McKee and Raimondo left the stage at The Vets in Providence together, leaving Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott to handle the remainder of the briefing.

Raimondo took no questions from the media during her exit and has not spoken with the media in the days since. It is unclear whether her lack of availability comes at the request of the Biden team.

McKee did meet reporters outside the building on Jan. 13, and he held another media availability on the morning of Jan. 14 at Chelo’s on Post Road in Warwick.

GOP lawmakers call on Raimondo to set ‘date certain’ for departure

While Gov. Gina Raimondo has said she intends to remain on the job until she is confirmed as the new federal Secretary of Commerce in the Biden administration, Republican lawmakers in the General Assembly are calling on her to “establish a near-term date certain to step down” as part of the transition in state leadership.

“Given the magnitude of the health, economic and social crises Rhode Island grapples with, we must have a defined leadership timetable, so that we may all plan accordingly,” a Tuesday letter from GOP lawmakers reads. “Our head of state must not be contingent upon action from a seldom-functional United States Senate, or else the Ocean State will be rudderless between administrations.”

It continues: “The Lieutenant Governor will ultimately be responsible for these crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, our estimated $500 Million deficit in the next fiscal year, and deep tears in our social fabric. Accordingly, the ascension of the Lieutenant Governor to the Office of Governor should commence as soon as reasonably possible so that the individuals and policies that will ultimately see us through these crises may be implemented forthwith.”

The letter adds: “Lastly, no human should, or could be expected to, manage these state-level crises, while at the same time preparing to guide our national and international economic policy. Immense are the weights of these individual offices, and combined, they are unmanageable. Our nation and world need you focused on the great undertakings that await you as Secretary of Commerce, not pulled away by your responsibilities as Governor.”

The letter is signed by House Minority Leader Blake A. Filippi, House Minority Whip Michael W. Chippendale and Reps. Brian C. Newberry, David Place, George Nardone, Robert Quattrocchi, Justin Price and Sherry Roberts.

Fenton-Fung sworn in

Republican Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung has been officially sworn in as the new state representative in House District 15.

Fenton-Fung, who defeated former House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello in November, had been set to join the new session of the General Assembly earlier this month. But a positive COVID-19 test for her husband, former Mayor Allan Fung, delayed those plans, with the new representative opting not to attend the legislative inauguration out of “extreme caution.” Fenton-Fung had tested positive for, and recovered from, the coronavirus in the spring of 2020.

In a tweet on Jan. 13, Fenton-Fung announced she had been sworn in virtually by Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea while working a shift at Rhode Island Hospital.

“In full on 2021 fashion I took the oath of office surrounded by my hospital family while my husband remains in isolation … Time to knock heads together & fix this state!” Fenton-Fung wrote on Twitter.

Democratic City Committee announces new leadership

The Cranston Democratic City Committee has formally announced the election of its new leadership team.

As previously reported, Maria Bucci, a former member of the City Council and the party’s 2020 nominee for mayor, has been elected to succeed Michael Sepe as the committee’s chair. She is the first woman to hold the position in the committee’s history.

Former council members Richard Santamaria and Paula McFarland will serve as the first and second vice chairs, respectively.

Robert Santurri Jr. will serve as recording secretary, while Dylan Zelazo, a 2020 candidate for a citywide council seat, will serve as correspondence secretary. Eileen Sweeney will serve as the committee’s treasurer.

“It is a terrific honor to have been selected by the City Committee and I am excited to bring fresh ideas as we create a new chapter together,” Bucci said in a statement. “There was unbelievable energy from Democrats that came out to vote this past election, and one of the most common questions I heard when knocking on doors was that I want to get involved with the Democratic Party. So I want to make it clear that our doors are open and we highly encourage anyone who wants to get involved.”

Sepe, who led the committee for more than two decades before opting not to seek a new term, said in the statement: “I think the City Committee is in good hands and Maria will do a great job as Chair. I’m proud of my 24 years as Chair. I think we had a lot of excellent victories and even when we came up short I thought it was hard fought.”

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