After a weekend of intense lobbying for the votes to succeed former House Speaker Gordon Fox, one challenger, Representative Michael Marcello (D-Scituate), vowed Monday morning to take the fight to the House floor, even as House Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello (D-Cranston) claimed to be consolidating his support.
"Going all the way," Marcello told RIPR Monday morning. "We need to let people know who is reform and real change and who is with the status quo."
A vote to succeed Fox -- who resigned Saturday -- is expected Tuesday, in the first House session since the FBI, IRS, and state police raided Fox's East Side home and Statehouse office Friday. The reason for the investigation remains unknown.
Mattiello, who has served as Fox's deputy since Fox ascended to the speakership in 2010, asserted Sunday he has the votes to win an election to succeed Fox. Emerging Sunday evening from the second closed caucus since Friday at the Orms Street Marriott, Mattiello told reporters he was "pleased with the results of this evening's caucus and I'm very humbled by the support I received from the House of Representatives." Mattiello claims support from 39 Democrats -- 36 who were present and three who offered signed statements, he says -- and two Republicans, Reps Joe Trillo and Doreen Costa. "I expect those numbers to increase, but they've already solidly committed to support me Tuesday in the election for speaker of the House."
Later Sunday night, Mattiello's camp was claiming support from 41 Democrats and 5 Republicans.
In a phone interview following the caucus, Marcello says though he has 33 supporters to succeed Fox, the the outcome of the battle isn't a done deal. "As a sitting majority leader, if there are only the votes of 39 Democrats [for Mattiello], it's troubling -- he should be up in the 50s," Marcello says. "I still think the voting process is still fluid. I think the final vote that matters is on Tuesday."
Marcello was more expansive than Mattiello in drawing a contrast with his rival. Asked about their key differences, Mattiello told reporters, "You guys figure that out" before adding, "Mike Marcello is a fine gentleman. I believe I'm the right person to serve the House of Representatives and the State of Rhode Island at this time." Mattiello calls himself "a pro-business legislator," and said, "That's not going to change. I believe we have to move our economy forward."
Marcello described himself as a supporter of reform on issues such as the master lever and open government. "Nick Mattiello has been a part of the leadership team which delivered what we're dealing with now -- you know, bills at the last moment, budgets passed through, flip-flop on tolls, flip-flop on other issues," Marcello says. "Based upon our vote, a preliminary vote of 33 [supporters], there are now more than 25 percent of current Democratic [state reps] who are calling for dramatic reform, and this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, due to the very unfortunate circumstances with the now ex-speaker. This is one shot where we can really bring real change. And I think I'm leading a group that wants to do that, and Nick is leading the group that is status quo."
In one difference, Mattiello wouldn't specify whether he would replace Fox's chief of staff, Frank Anzeveno, a powerful inside player in state politics, if he wins the speakership. Marcello says he would replace Anzeveno.
Fox, 52. who has served in the House since first winning election as a rep in 1992, announced Saturday he was resigning his leadership post and will not seek re-election in November. The news came one day after Fox's East Side home and Statehouse office were raided.
Fox's resignation set off a pitched battle between the two factions that coalesced behind the more conservative Mattiello and the more liberal Marcello. Both men work as lawyers.
Mattiello rose to power with Fox as a protege of Fox's predecessor, former speaker William Murphy of West Warwick. Murphy declined comment Sunday on whether he had helped Mattiello to attract support for the speakership.
Ironically, Mattiello's choice to succeed him as majority leader, longtime Providence Representative John DeSimone, challenged Murphy for the speaker's job in 2005, attracting the support at the time of former Republican governor Don Carcieri. Marcello's choice for majority leader is Deputy Majority Whip Christopher Blazejewski of Providence.
Mattiello touted DeSimone as a factor in helping to put his own support over the top. While deal-making is a way of life at the Statehouse, the Cranston Democrat denied that he dealt other promises or inducements to cultivate backing from reps.
As speaker pro tempore, state Representative Elaine Coderre (D-Pawtucket), the dean of the House, will guide the House when it holds its session Tuesday -- the first since the investigation of Fox's office and home broke into public view Friday.
This post has been updated.