Inquiring minds in the state public defenders office and beyond are wondering just what kind of game Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, is playing with Governor Lincoln Chafee’s nomination of Mary S. McElroy to be the state’s chief public defender.
McElroy has stellar credentials and 20 years experience in the public defender’s office. She would also be the first woman to hold the job.
Few people in state government have McElroy’s Democratic Party lineage. She is a Rhode Island native, Providence College graduate, and the daughter of Ed McElroy, a power in Democratic Party and organized labor circles for years. Ed McElroy started his career as a school teacher (Chafee was once one of his students) in Warwick public schools and he rose to become head of the state AFL-CIO. He capped his career with one of the most important posts in the U.S. labor movement – president of the American Federation of Teachers, the fourth largest union in the national AFL-CIO.
Chafee sent Mary McElroy’s nomination to the state Senate on March 14. (The post requires Senate confirmation). But Paiva Weed has yet to schedule a confirmation hearing for McElroy, according to her spokesman.
Paiva and Chafee have been jousting on a passel of issues, including marriage equality (Chafee supports it; Paiva Weed doesn’t) and establishment of the state’s Health Care Exchange. (Paiva Weed was slapped by the Newport Democratic Committee for her opposition to same-sex marriage). It looks to many State House observers that Paiva Weed is playing one of the oldest end-of-session State House games; holding up the governor’s appointment of McElroy in hopes that the Senate president can extract something from Chafee in return.
While this may look like entertainment and politics-as-usual to the Smith Hill insider crowd, it, of course, bodes ill for the state. And it shows nothing but hypocrisy on the part of Paiva Weed, who said when she won the Senate presidency that she would make promoting qualified women in state government a priority.
Maybe the Smith Hill crowd should take a hint from the rest of us: if you like games tune into the Celtics-Heat series but take your job seriously and do the right thing. Rhode Island would be astounded if lawmakers considered things on their merits.