As Rhode Islanders awaited tip-off of the Providence College Friars’ NCAA tournament game against North Carolina, a different kind of March madness broke out at the State House on Friday.
In the hours after word broke that the office of Gordon Fox, speaker of the House of Representatives, was the focus of an hours-long search by state and federal investigators, two prominent Cranston officials became part of the storyline.
Mayor Allan Fung issued a statement calling on Fox, a Providence Democrat, to resign from the speaker’s post, while reports circulated indicating Democratic state Rep. Nicholas Mattiello – the current House majority leader and second-ranking member of the chamber – is preparing to step into the speaker’s role.
“I am calling on Speaker Fox to resign from the speakership while this investigation is pending,” reads the statement from Fung, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor. “It would be impossible for him to govern while being investigated by the FBI, the IRS, the U.S. Attorney, and the Rhode Island State Police.”
WPRI reported that state Rep. John Lombardi, a Providence
Democrat, has also called on Fox to step down.
Fung in his statement says the situation “shines light on the fact that too much power rests in the speakership,” and demonstrates the need for a constitutional convention to “put more power into the hands of the governor and the citizens of Rhode Island.”
Fung’s Republican primary opponent, Ken Block, issued a similar statement.
“It’s a sad day when Rhode Island State Police and federal law enforcement have to raid state offices,” he said. “The events of today serve as a strong reminder that the next governor must reform Rhode Island’s system of government and end the culture of back office deal making and one-party rule.”
Mattiello, in video posted by the Providence Journal, spoke of plans for a Friday night caucus among House Democrats in Providence. While he said he had no knowledge of what prompted the investigation of Fox’s office, he characterized the situation’s appearance as “very negative and concerning.”
Mattiello said with the House set to return to session early next week, the caucus is meant to discuss “how we move forward.”
“I want to make sure we’re ready to proceed forward on Tuesday,” he said.
Asked if he was prepared to take on the role of speaker, Mattiello replied: “Absolutely. If the need is there, I’m ready to step in, and I believe I will have the support.”