PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — State Rep. Deb Ruggiero announced Monday she’s running for lieutenant governor, signaling the Democratic Party will have a multiway primary for the state’s No. 2 job even with an appointed incumbent in the race.

Ruggiero, a seven-term lawmaker from Jamestown, kicked off her candidacy in a video posted online. The 64-year-old prominently displayed the words “integrity, honesty, trust” on her campaign logo.

Describing herself as “a lifelong Rhode Islander” and “a proud Democrat,” Ruggiero said, “I believe Rhode Island is a special place where innovation and creativity thrive.” She added, “The office of lieutenant governor has so much potential. You deserve a champion, and I’ll be that champion.”

Ruggiero described her priorities as “the four E’s” — the economy, education, the environment, and elders. But she made clear in her video that senior citizens, a key voting bloc, top the list.

“Most importantly,” she said, “we need to do more for our seniors. We need more investment in home health care so our parents can age in place.”

In the House, Ruggiero has championed technology, support for small businesses, and environmental protection. She has been a longtime advocate of broadband investment, and recently had a public fight with Cox Communications after she criticized the company for an alleged lack of investment on Aquidneck Island.

A graduate of Boston College, Ruggiero would also be the first openly gay person to hold statewide office in Rhode Island. She owns DR Communications LLC, an advertising and marketing firm whose clients include the Tarbox car dealership, Roger Williams Park Zoo, and St. Mary Academy-Bay View.

Ruggiero’s decision to run indicates her campaign team sees a path to wrest the Democratic nomination from Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, who was named to the job by Gov. Dan McKee last year when he vacated the position to succeed Gina Raimondo. At the time, Matos was president of the Providence City Council.

While Rhode Island has no official way for a governor and lieutenant governor to run as a joint ticket, Matos has been a loyal supporter of McKee, frequently joining him at news conferences and other events. Though McKee is running an independent re-election campaign, his office sometimes refers to itself as “the McKee-Matos administration.”

Matos has not yet kicked off her own re-election bid.

Already challenging Matos is state Sen. Cynthia Mendes, an East Providence Democrat who is running a joint campaign with gubernatorial candidate Matt Brown, a former secretary of state. The pair have argued Rhode Island government needs a radical shakeup, and are campaigning on a progressive policy platform.

Jeann Lugo, a Providence police officer, is seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor. He faces fellow Republican Paul Pence Jr., who is making a second run at the job after receiving 29% of the vote as the GOP nominee in 2018.

The value of the lieutenant governor’s office has long been a subject of debate in Rhode Island politics. The office has a budget of over $1 million a year and eight full-time jobs, but few statutory responsibilities. The late Robert Healey famously campaigned for lieutenant governor on a platform of abolishing the position altogether.

Yet McKee’s ascension to the governor’s office has illustrated the potential consequences of voters’ pick for the position. McKee narrowly won renomination in the 2018 Democratic primary against progressive challenger Aaron Regunberg, a contest that wound up indirectly choosing Rhode Island’s next governor.

Matos had a large financial advantage over her two rivals at the end of 2021. She had $309,000 in her campaign account as of Dec. 31, compared with $56,000 for Ruggiero and $53,000 for Mendes.

Ruggerio’s campaign manager is Anthony Cherry, and she has hired consulting firm The JCN Group, led by veteran political operatives Joe Caiazzo and Nick Clemons.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook