2017-03-30 / Around Town

Can Anyone Replace Paiva Weed’s Clout?

By Tom Walsh

Outgoing State Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed’s decision to resign after serving since 1993, including the past eight years as the chamber’s leader, leaves an important question unanswered for Newport’s city leaders.

How do they replace her clout, which helped the city obtain state funds and other advantages it might not have otherwise enjoyed?

“I think the loss hasn’t really sunk in completely,” said Joseph J. Nicholson Jr., Newport city manager.

Paiva Weed, 57, announced last week that she is leaving the Senate to become president of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island (HARI). She is expected to formally submit her resignation with the Secretary of State’s Office and with Newport and Jamestown canvassing officials on Thursday, March 30.

Under state law, special elections to fill vacant General Assembly seats are to be held not less than 70 or more than 90 days from the date of the vacancy. Paiva Weed said she doubted that her successor would be chosen and sworn in before the end of the current session. She also said that she hoped not to use schools that are still open as polling places.

“How to replace her? We need a different plan,” Nicholson said. “I guess we’ll have to work harder. Teresa effectively baked the cake for us.”

Although there can be no formal candidates for the Senate District 13 seat until Paiva Weed formally resigns, three Democrats have already indicated a desire to run for the seat.

Newport City Councilor John Florez, 45, told Newport This Week that he intends to enter the race. Dawn Euer, 37, a Providence-based lawyer, and David J. Allard, 35, a manager of the state’s Third Grade Reading Goal for the Department of Education, have also expressed interest.

“I have a great vision not just for Newport and Jamestown, but for the entire state of Rhode Island,” Florez said. “It’s a good business-economic vision.”

Florez advocates a “new legacy industries” involving “bio-tech, green infrastructure, and information technology.”

Euer said, “I’m a young woman and small business owner with a law practice that addresses the needs of small business owners and nonprofits. It’s important to have someone up there making policy decisions who has that perspective.”

Euer’s online profile describes her as a “dynamic strategic thinker with extensive experience mobilizing non-profits.” She said she has used her government relations, and law and policy background to win multiple campaigns.

Allard, who possesses an extensive education resume, said he would be “committed to making sure there are ample employment opportunities for our residents, particularly recent graduates,” and that he would work “to make sure we explore each and every opportunity for job preservation and growth.”

Allard describes himself as a “progressive advocate who has been fighting for causes that matter to Rhode Islanders for years.”

“I well remember the feeling of relocating to Rhode Island many, many years ago with the promise of a teaching job, and the sense of fulfillment and self-respect it afforded me,” he said.

Another name that has surfaced is Mike Smith, who ran as a Republican against Paiva Weed in 2014 and came unexpectedly close to a major upset. Two years ago, as an independent, he ran for the House against Newport Rep. Lauren Carson, D-Newport. Carson won that race comfortably.

“I’m still considering it,” he said. “But I haven’t made a decision yet. I’m letting the dust settle a little.”

If no Republican enters the race, Sav Rebecchi, an independent from Jamestown, said he would enter the race so that the election does not go uncontested. Rebecchi ran against Paiva Weed for Senate President last year.

“I'm hoping Smith will run as a Republican,” Rebecchi said, who pointed out that there were 300 uncontested seats in Rhode Island in the last election. “With Jamestown only 20 percent of the seat, Newporters will never elect someone from Jamestown. I want to see it be a real election.”

Nicholson described Paiva Weed’s departure as “a dramatic loss for us,” adding, “Everyone is exceedingly happy for Teresa. But she’s a tough act to follow.”

Paiva Weed’s accomplishments include the realignment of ramps leading motorists to the Newport Bridge, dramatic improvements at Fort Adams State Park, and restoration of the historic downtown opera house.

“It’s been a wonderful experience,” she said of her legislative tenure representing Newport and Jamestown.

When asked to name her proudest legislative accomplishments, she cited a number of achievements.

“Advocacy for higher education, investments in career training, habitat restoration after an oil spill to save endangered salt marshes, creation of RIte Care [Rhode Island’s Medicaid-managed care program for families with children, pregnant women, and those under 18],” she said. “With RIte Care, it’s not just the original creation of the program, but also being able to maintain it.”

She also mentioned the restoration of Fort Adams, establishing the Sail Newport headquarters in the park and restoring the Eisenhower House, which was used in the 1950s by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Asked whether she will miss the hectic pace of the State House during General Assembly sessions, Paiva Weed said, “[I will miss] the people, very much so, and also the variety of issues we learn about up there.”

But she also said that she relishes meeting the challenges for HARI that are posed by today’s health care industry.

She described patient safety as an important issue facing hospitals and other healthcare providers. “There is a lot of change taking place. I’m looking forward to meeting these challenges,” she said. “It’s been an honor to represent Newport and Jamestown at the State House. This is a new chapter in my life, and I’m looking forward to serving the community in a different way.”

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