McKee brings strong relationship with mayors, businesses

McKee brings strong relationship with mayors, businesses

CUMBERLAND – The mayors of northern Rhode Island have long shared a fraternity of sorts, frequently speaking as one on state funding issues and working together on consolidation and new initiatives.

When former Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee became the heir apparent to Gov. Gina Raimondo with her selection as secretary of commerce for President-elect Joe Biden last week, it marked the next chapter of a relationship that continued to flourish with McKee’s ascent to lieutenant governor and his emphasis on working with local municipal leaders and communities.

McKee’s pending leap to the governorship, giving him the coveted incumbency if and when he runs for re-election at the end of the term in two years, gives Cumberland a new level of clout at the Rhode Island Statehouse, where town residents and natives also now hold a number of other key positions. Sen. Ryan Pearson was reappointed this week as Senate Finance Committee chairman, Rep. Mia Ackerman was elected House deputy majority whip, Cumberland High School graduate and Providence Rep. Christopher Blazejewski is House majority leader, Rep. Alex Marszalkowki is vice chairman of the House Finance Committee, and Sen. Roger Picard was elected senate deputy president pro tempore.

Representatives for McKee told The Breeze his schedule was packed this week as he got up to speed on everything he’ll need to know as he ascends to the governorship. He’s made a pledge to keep the state’s current COVID response team in place, an effort he’s had to play catch-up on because he hadn’t been privy to day-to-day information during Raimondo’s term.

McKee’s ties to northern Rhode Island were clear in a list of people to possibly replace him as lieutenant governor. Former Central Falls Mayor James Diossa appeared to be the clear favorite for the job among fellow mayors, said North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi, who told The Breeze he himself had a chat with McKee a while back about the possibility of working alongside him as lieutenant governor, but he’s not interested today.

"I would be supportive of James Diossa,” said Lombardi, the president of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns. He said he’s proud and happy for his friend McKee, praising his work with mayors on numerous issues.

Rep. Karen Alzate, of Pawtucket, was among the members of the legislature urging the appointment of Diossa, as was Pawtucket Sen. Sandra Cano, who shares a long-term relationship and daughter with Diossa. Numerous other Latino elected officials in Pawtucket, Central Falls and Providence, among others, issued a letter of support for him this week.

Deputy House Speaker Charlene Lima was promising this week to introduce legislation to stop "the insider political jockeying” for lieutenant governor, saying Rhode Islanders should vote on McKee’s replacement instead of him getting to choose someone.

Former Cumberland Mayor Dave Iwuc, who previously defeated McKee for mayor before McKee retook the seat, was among those lobbying to be appointed as lieutenant governor.

Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, former Pawtucket Sen. Donna Nesselbush, Johnston Mayor Joe Polisena, Lisa Ranglin, head of the R.I. Black Business Association, and Sen. Louis DiPalma were among the names said to be under consideration for the lieutenant governor position as of press time.

Baldelli-Hunt said she received a call from a media outlet indicating that her name was mentioned as a potential replacement.

"I will tell you exactly what I told them, which is that I would entertain a conversation with the current lieutenant governor and move from there,” she said. "I have a very good working relationship with the lieutenant governor and even prior to this announcement of the governor leaving and him filling the remainder of her seat, he is someone I have regular conversation with."

Baldelli-Hunt said she had not spoken to McKee at the time the media call had come in, but “did give him a courtesy call once this was in the media." She said he did not give an indication when he planned to make an announcement regarding the lieutenant governor role.

Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien and others have been working with McKee on grants for small businesses, with the goal of saving small business being McKee’s primary point of emphasis during the pandemic. McKee hosted another virtual small business town hall on Tuesday, getting small businesses' questions answered live by representatives from various agencies.

“We’re making plans to kind of catch up and take over when that (Raimondo’s official appointment) actually happens,” McKee said. “We still don’t know the date that’s going to happen, but we’re working at it, we’re working hard at it to make sure that there’s a good smooth transition with the governor and her staff on behalf of the people who live in the state of Rhode Island.”

McKee, who has regularly advocated for getting assistance more quickly to small business owners to help them survive the pandemic, was due to share the stage with Raimondo at a joint press conference on Wednesday.

Note: Lauren Clem contributed to this story.