Fight to Succeed Speaker Fox Goes Red Hot Following His Resignation

Mar 22, 2014

Fox at the rostrum earlier this legislative session.
Credit Ian Donnis / RIPR

UPDATE: 3:46 pm Sunday. Factions led by Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello and Michael Marcello are meeting today in an attempt to win enough votes for the speakership. Mattiello is holding a 5 pm caucus at the Providence Marriott on Orms Street. A vote to choose a successor to Gordon Fox could happen as soon as Tuesday. I'll have more details later. Follow me on Twitter for updates.


After more than 20 years in the House of Representatives, House Speaker Gordon Fox announced his resignation as speaker Saturday, one day after state and federal law enforcement officials raided his East Side home and Statehouse office. Meanwhile, the fight to succeed Fox kicked into high gear with separate factions vying for what is commonly called the most powerful office in state government.

Fox announced he was stepping down via a statement issued by PR man and communications consultant Bill Fischer shortly after 5 pm, saying that he wants to focus on his family and the investigation that became public Friday. Investigators have not specified the reason for the probe.

“The Rhode Island House of Representatives is an institution that I deeply respect and serving my constituents has been a major part of my life for the past 22 years," Fox said. "I will not let yesterday’s events distract my colleagues from addressing the challenges facing Rhode Island. Because of the respect I have for all members of the House of Representatives, I am resigning as Speaker. The process of governing must continue and the transition of leadership must be conducted in an orderly manner."

However, despite assertions by Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello (D-Cranston) that he has the votes to succeed Fox, there are signs of a growing leadership fight between Mattiello and other elements among the 69 Democrats in the 75-member House.

House Minority Whip Joseph Trillo (R-Warwick) says the six-member GOP caucus has met with three factions: one headed by the more socially conservative Mattiello; another that includes Deputy Whip Christopher Blazejewski (D-Providence), a liberal favorite; and a group of unaligned Democrats. Separately, Ethan Shorey tweeted about how Representative J. Patrick O'Neill (D-Pawtucket), who went from being a part of leadership to being a prominent dissident under Fox's speakership, said he was "working on a very solid team."

Shortly before 11 pm Saturday, Representative Cale Keable (D-Burrillville) said he was at Woonsocket City Hall with Mattiello, Mattiello's choice for majority leader, John DeSimone (D-Providence), Mayor Lisa Baldelli Hunt, a former rep herself, and that Woonsocket's House delegation was headed there for a meeting.

Meanwhile, Ted Nesi tweeted that Representative Michael Marcello (D-Scituate) is asserting he has the votes to be speaker, with Blazejewski as his majority leader, and Stephen Ucci (D-Johnston) and Helio Melo (D-East Providence) remaining, respectively, as majority whip and Finance chairman.

The possible influence of the tiny and typically inconsequential GOP caucus in the outcome was a reminder of former speaker John B. Harwood's rise to power in 1993, when Republican support pushed him over the top in a battle with the more liberal Russell Bramley.

Trillo says the GOP caucus remains undecided about which candidate it will support for the speakership, and he questions whether Mattiello has enough votes to win (a Democratic source echoed that sentiment more emphatically). Trillo says Republicans are looking for a speaker who will support some of the caucus' legislation on jobs and the economy.

Mattiello, who staged a caucus with about 25 reps Friday at the Providence Marriott, plans another such gathering for Sunday, although Keable was unsure of the timing; a vote to choose Fox's successor could be taken as soon as Tuesday.

For Fox, the end to his lengthy political career came quickly. He climbed the ladder in the House, serving as a rep, Finance chair, and majority leader, before becoming speaker in 2010, the first openly gay person to hold such a position the US. Fox helped champion the cause of same-sex marriage last year and he's been a strong supporter of social programs. Yet he's also twice paid fines to settle ethics cases over the last 10 years, and faced his toughest re-election fight in 2012, due to fallout from the state's losing investment in video game maker 38 Studios.

Fox flirted with a possible Providence mayoral run this year. As recently as Wednesday, one of his allies, deputy majority leader John Edwards (D-Tiverton), said on RIPR's Bonus Q+A that he expected Fox to seek another term as speaker in January 2015. Fox said in December that he planned to do just that.

In his statement, Fox said, “I want to thank my colleagues and loyal staff for all that we were able to accomplish together. I will continue to serve out the remainder of my term and represent my neighbors and constituents in District 4. That said, I do not intend to seek another term in the House.”

“My personal focus going forward will be on my family and dealing with the investigation. Because of the nature of this matter, I will not be commenting further.”