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Two East Side House Races Attract Some Attention

A look at the house races in Rhode Island

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Just about everywhere you look on today’s political landscape “change” is in the air.  Even in Rhode Island. How else can you explain, with every elected official supporting Hillary Clinton (and perhaps trying to stake out jobs and ambassadorships), Bernie Sanders won the primary by 12%?  There were major changes in our state legislature as well, including the ousting of the house majority leader.  

Voters are not happy. The governor’s approval ratings continue to slide as the issues keep coming: the lack of transparency in the whole 38 Studios fiasco, the colossal “Cooler & Warmer” disaster, the truck tolls, ethics, a mess of an education system that every politician for the last three decades has promised to fix but can’t, continuing due diligence problems at EDC, the pension mess… the list goes on.  The dissatisfaction extends to some of our state representatives and senators as well, although most people don’t know or barely know who represents them anymore.

Fortunately here on the East Side, given recent turnouts, we seem to take our elections a little more seriously than most. That said, there are only two significant local races this year though one in particular may prove to be quite interesting. In District 1, incumbent Edie Ajello has represented residents for over two decades and is considered one of the leaders of her party’s progressive wing. She is being challenged by Ray Mathieu, a respected (and now retired) leader of the local business community with over 40 years of management skills he hopes to utilize in a legislature that could certainly use his expertise. This is a race to watch. Meanwhile in District 2 (Fox Point), Chris Blazejewski, a rising star in the legislature with solid progressive credentials, is being challenged by Mark Teoli, a perennial candidate, who remains committed to the importance of having a two-party system in our state. 

District 1 – Edith Ajello (D) v Ray Mathieu (I)

Ray Mathieu

Ray Mathieu has an impeccable resume as a banker and businessman, culminating with 25 years as CFO of Providence Equity, one of the world’s premier private equity firms.  He is running as “RI’s Ray of Hope.” In addition to his obvious business acumen, he has shown strong civic leadership with RI Group Health Association (RIGHA), Wheeler School, the Children’s Museum, the Slater Technology Fund and the Business Development Company of RI, the URI Foundation, the Ocean State Higher Education Economic Development and Administrative Network (OSHEAN) and Preserve RI.

“Working downtown, I witnessed first-hand the dramatic decline of a city. I give Joe Paolino a lot of credit for stepping up, but he needs more support,” he says. “I watched the departure of strong local manufacturing while politicians invested in home run deals that struck out.”

“I’ve been knocking on doors in the district and the mood is not good. People want change and they like my 3E Agenda – Education, Economic Development and Ethics,” Mathieu explains. “The state must start to address regionalization and start to deliver real results on key issues that are not measured by how much money you spend, but by the returns that you produce.”

He is running to shake things up and to get new people into the legislature that really want to truly improve RI’s economy, create real jobs and improve schools. “We need people who aren’t beholden to lobbyists and want to see real change,” Mathieu states. “That’s my agenda.”

Mathieu lives on Wayland Avenue and is 69.

Edith Ajello

Edie Ajello is Rhode Island’s liberal lion. She was first elected in 1992 and has been a staunch leader in protecting civil liberties ever since.  

To date, work she’s done includes legislation to add gender identity to the state’s hate crimes law, co-sponsoring the first-in-the-nation Homeless Bill of Rights, co-sponsoring successful legislation that banned employers and schools from demanding access or passwords to the social media accounts of applicants as well as the Comprehensive Community–Police Relationship Act that is aimed at reducing racial profiling and warrantless searches of minors. Ajello has also sponsored legislation that bans law enforcement access to personal cell phone data or tracking without a warrant. She has the ACLU’s highest rating and Common Cause usually ranks her in its top 5. 

This session she co-sponsored legislation that ended restrictive covenants at the hospitals, which now allows doctors to take their patients with them if they want to leave a practice at the end of their contract. It allows for greater continuity of care and makes it more competitive for doctors.

As a staunch supporter of reproductive freedom, she serves on the Board of Directors for the Women’s Health and Education Fund. She also has a long history of service with various organizations including the RI Council on Alcohol and Other Substance Abuse and Volunteers in Providence Schools (now called Inspiring Minds) and 2 to 1, the Coalition to Preserve Choice.

Ajello lives on Benefit Street and is 72.

District 2 – Chris Blazejewski (D) v Mark Teoli (R)

Mark Teoli

Mark Teoli took early retirement from the telephone company and believes that in elections, especially local ones, people should always have a choice. He has run for this house seat before and also ran for city council. Teoli is passionate, often unfiltered and always straightforward. He is dealing with an unexpected health issue that will greatly restrict his ability to walk the district and actively campaign.  “Just the Brown [University] vote, because it’s a presidential year, virtually assures a Democratic victory, and half of these voters will be gone within a year and don’t care about local issues,” Teoli says. “Everywhere I go in the district, people aren’t happy, there’s no transparency, ethics are a joke. We need to rebuild local business, not keep throwing money at big companies who don’t need it.”  

He acknowledges that there are key local issues that, while they are not technically state issues, deserve leadership and support from their representative. “RIPTA (the Kennedy Plaza mess), throwing money at schools which aren’t safe, are horribly in disrepair and continue to produce poor results, the Gano Street off-ramp fix that got sacrificed for that ‘overpriced’ pedestrian bridge and the graffiti that’s all over the place. It’s terrible,” he states. While not expecting victory, Teoli is proud to do his part by running and hopefully drawing some attention to local issues. 

Teoli lives on Governor Street and is 56.

Chris Blazejewski 

Four-term incumbent, Chris Blazejewski became house majority whip last year and is now considered one of the two front-runners in the race to succeed John DeSimone as house majority leader should Speaker Nick Mattiello, as expected, prevail in his race. A Harvard Law School grad, he is considered a leader of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. He is thoughtful and articulate – a local lobbying heavyweight even termed him “the grown-up among the progressives” for his ability to work with the speaker’s more right-wing agenda while still maintaining his progressive perspective.

As Blazejewski puts it, he is “laser-focused on his own reelection and helping his colleagues in their races.” He won’t even engage in post-election speculation, although regardless of what happens, he will be a major player. With an astounding $75,000 in his campaign war chest, he will be around for a while.

His major legislative accomplishment since his last election was the enactment of the “Stay Invested in RI” program to promote economic development by getting local college graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, design and medicine up to four years of student loan debt relief if they choose to work in Rhode Island after graduation.

His focus has been on improving the funding formula for schools so the burden is reduced on property taxpayers, expanding green energy, working on enhancing our the economy and its tax structure while still championing affordable housing, civil rights and individual liberties. 

Blazejewski lives on Thayer Street and is 37.