Ruggerio, McCaffrey Poised To Take Leadership Of The State Senate

Mar 21, 2017

Ruggerio and Paiva Weed in the Senate president's office
Credit Ian Donnis / RIPR

Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio is expected to quickly succeed Teresa Paiva Weed as president of the state Senate, with Paiva Weed heading off to become president of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island, RIPR has learned.

With Ruggerio slated to call a caucus as soon as Wednesday or possibly later this week, Senate Judiciary Chairman Michael McCaffrey of Warwick is lined up to succeed him as majority leader.

Paiva Weed is holding a news conference at 4:30 Wednesday in the Senate Lounge to discuss her future.

The leadership of HARI is becoming vacant, effective March 24, since Michael Souza is leaving to become the CEO of Landmark Medical Center. Souza has been president of HARI since 2014. The delay in a formal announcement about Paiva Weed could be due to not-yet-resolved contract negotiations.

Lobbyist Stephen Alves, a former state Senate Finance Committee chairman from West Warwick, has bragged on the legislative fundraising circuit this week about helping to put together the job offer for Paiva Weed, a source with direct knowledge of one such conversation tells RIPR.

During a brief conversation Tuesday night, Alves said only that he had heard news reports about a looming job change involving the Senate president.

Alves' lobbying clients include Care New England, which is paying him $13,000 a month this year, and whose president, Dennis Keefe, is a board member of HARI. Keefe could not be immediately reached for comment.

Rhode Island's hospitals face a punishing landscape amid dramatic changes in healthcare.

Reports about Paiva Weed heading off to the HARI job moved through the Statehouse Tuesday. According to a source close to the situation, "She's the only legitimate candidate in the running."

State Senate spokesman Greg Pare said he had no news about a change in the Senate leadership.

HARI spokeswoman Amanda Barney said the organization's board has met in executive session to discuss new leadership. She said HARI was not yet ready to make a formal announcement.

But speculation has intensified for months that Paiva Weed would leave the Senate presidency -- a post she has held since 2009 -- in this legislative session. Multiple sources confirmed to RIPR her imminent change.

The biggest loser in all this may be Governor Gina Raimondo, since Paiva Weed has been Raimondo's biggest legislative cheerleader on issues including the governor's proposal to offer Rhode Islanders two years of free tuition at CCRI, RIC, or URI. Yet other sources dispute that view, since Ruggerio is closely associated with the Laborers union -- which has long been a stalwart Raimondo ally.

The change is expected to leave the General Assembly with a speaker from Cranston, a Senate president from Providence, and two majority leaders from Warwick.

It remains unclear for now if Paiva Weed would stay on as a rank-and-file member of her chamber after stepping down as president, as former Speaker William Murphy did when he left that leadership post mid-session in 2010.

The candidates expected to vie for the Judiciary Committee chairmanship include Sens. Erin Lynch-Prata of Warwick; Donna Nesselbush of Pawtucket; Stephen Archambault of Smithfield); Frank Lombardi of Cranston; and Billy Conley of East Providence. 

Ruggerio is the longest serving member of the Senate, having first won election in 1985, and he's previously told RIPR he'd like to serve as president if Paiva Weed moved on. He works as an administrator for the New England Laborers Labor Management Co-op Trust.

Paiva Weed has served in the Senate since 1992 and was the first female head of the chamber. Serving as president of the Hospital Association of RI jibes with her long-term interest in social issues.

Her supposed interest in becoming a judge has long been a source of speculation, although Paiva Weed has played down such talk.

This story has been updated.