PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — R.I. Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor announced Tuesday he is entering the Democratic primary for general treasurer, ending months of speculation about his potential candidacy and setting up a clash with former Central Falls Mayor James Diossa.

Pryor, who has served as commerce secretary since 2015, said he sees an opportunity for the next treasurer to expand the office’s focus to promote economic development, support small businesses, and help families navigate the banking system.

“It’s critical that we continue to ensure a secure retirement for our public employees, and that we strengthen our state’s financial footing,” Pryor told 12 News. “Fortunately, recent treasurers have helped to stabilize our pension fund and our finances. I will continue to focus with intensity on these critical functions of the treasurer’s office, but given that progress, there’s an opportunity to do even more.”

He cited two examples of policy areas where he would focus if elected. One is developing new policies to help individuals access financial services after escaping domestic violence, which would be built on the office’s role administering the Crime Victim Compensation Program. Another is using the treasurer’s position on the Rhode Island Housing board to push for more affordable housing development.

Citing a Moody’s analysis that shows Rhode Island’s economy recovering faster from the pandemic than the rest of the Northeast, Pryor said, “With the experience of working under two governors of our state in helping us emerge from the COVID-related downturn, I would aim to utilize the office of the treasurer to sustain and even grow our economic momentum.”

A news release said Pryor plans to file his official campaign paperwork with the R.I. Board of Elections later this week, and he will “transition out of his Commerce position within the next two weeks.” He also pledged not to accept “any contributions from in-state Rhode Island donors” while he is still secretary. (Another former Raimondo cabinet member, Brett Smiley, paid an ethics fine for doing so.)

A spokesperson for McKee declined to say who would succeed Pryor as commerce secretary, saying only that the pair “are committed to ensuring a smooth transition over the coming weeks.”

Pryor, a Providence resident, has been laying the groundwork to run for many months. He purchased the URL “PryorForRI.com” last August, and at the time was already working with the firm Reservoir Strategies, co-founded by Gina Raimondo’s former finance director.

He declined to say whether he has discussed his campaign with Raimondo — who first made her mark by spearheading the 2011 pension overhaul while serving as treasurer — or if he expected her to headline a fundraiser for him, as she is next month to aid Smiley’s bid for Providence mayor.

“I’m going to keep my private conversations with some of the people I value most private,” Pryor said. “But I have consulted my mentors and the people I look up to most in my life as I’ve made this decision.”

He also declined to share the names of campaign staff or consultants, saying the arrangements are still being finalized since he has not yet filed with the Board of Elections. And he said he would reveal initial endorsements “in the near future.”

Diossa was the first Democrat to enter the treasurer’s race when he announced last year — and up until now he was still the only member of his party running, as other Democrats such as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ryan Pearson opted against entering the primary.

Diossa has used that time to raise money, with $156,000 in his campaign account as of March 31, and rack up endorsements from a lengthening list of elected officials including McKee.

“We welcome any candidate into the race, it’s the nature of the democratic process, but James has already been in this race for seven months and over that time has become the clear consensus candidate,” Robert Craven Jr., Diossa’s campaign manager, said in a statement.

“It’s disappointing that another candidate is trying to divide the party on the same day the Republican candidate is set to kick off his campaign,” Craven added.

The incumbent general treasurer, Democrat Seth Magaziner, is barred by term limits from running again and is now a candidate to succeed retiring Congressman Jim Langevin. Asked whether Magaziner will endorse in the primary to replace him, a spokesperson indicated he plans to stay out of it, saying he “will support the Democratic nominee in the race for general treasurer.”

Pryor was brought to Rhode Island by Raimondo, a fellow Yale Law graduate, and became one of her most visible advisers over six years leading the R.I. Commerce Corp. He was the architect of the corporate subsidy programs she used to lure businesses to Rhode Island, and played a central role in negotiations over high-profile projects such as the PawSox stadium, the Pawtucket soccer stadium currently under construction and the Superman building rehab project.

“Serving as Rhode Island’s secretary of commerce for the past seven years has been a true privilege,” Pryor said Tuesday. “I thank both Governors Raimondo and McKee for the opportunity.”

Before coming to Rhode Island, Pryor served as Connecticut’s education commissioner. He had previously worked for Cory Booker during his time as mayor of Newark, New Jersey, and prior to that he led the quasi-public agency which led the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan after the Sept. 11 attacks.

There has also been State House speculation about a potential comeback bid by former General Treasurer Frank Caprio, a Democrat who served from 2006 until 2010, when he left the job to make an unsuccessful run for governor. Caprio ran again in 2014 but lost the primary to Magaziner.

Caprio has not responded to a request for comment about his interest in a run.

Former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung had been expected to seek the Republican nomination for treasurer this year but changed plans to run for Langevin’s seat when the latter unexpectedly announced his retirement.

Republican James Lathrop, who is currently the town finance director in North Kingstown, filed to seek the treasurer’s office earlier this month. Lathrop is scheduled to hold a kickoff event Tuesday afternoon at Kinney Bungalow at Sunset Farm in Narragansett.

“The treasurer’s office needs an experienced, accomplished financial professional,” Lathrop writes on his campaign website. “Not another politician.”

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