PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gina M. Raimondo was sworn in as Rhode Island’s 75th governor on Tuesday, aiming to lead what she says will be a “comeback” for a state whose 1 million residents have been struggling with a weak economy and pervasive pessimism.
“The challenges that any governor inherits define the possibilities before them,” Raimondo said during her inauguration speech. “And how we solve intractable problems is limited only by our creativity and by our courage to tackle the most difficult challenges.”
Raimondo, 43, is the first woman to lead Rhode Island since its founding 378 years ago, and the first Democrat to win the office in 22 years. She started the day by attending morning Mass at her parish, St. Raymond’s on North Main Street in Providence, with her husband, Andy Moffit, and their two children, 10-year-old Ceci and 8-year-old Tommy.
Raimondo took the oath of office at noon during a ceremony on the South Portico of the State House and then planned to greet members of the public in a receiving line inside. Among those in attendance was Mass. Gov.-elect Charlie Baker, a Republican whose own inauguration is scheduled for Thursday.
- Watch: Live coverage of the inaugural starts at noon on WPRI 12 and WPRI.com
- More: Women governors through U.S. History
“Every decision we make must pass the test of whether or not it will create opportunity for Rhode Island families,” Raimondo said. “In everything we do, we must ask ourselves ‘how will this create good middle-class jobs?’ and then have the fortitude to act accordingly.”
In the weeks leading up to the inauguration, Raimondo and her aides have sought to draw attention to the various problems she’ll inherit, including a budget deficit estimated at roughly $200 million in her first year and set to grow from there; the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the country; and financial crises in various local jurisdictions.
In her speech, Raimondo warned that “there are even darker clouds on the horizon,” but said “it is time to stop our decline, and to ignite a Rhode Island comeback.”
“Let’s commit ourselves to eliminating our structural deficit over the next several years to put our state on sound footing, and to making the tough choices so that we will also be able to invest in job-creating priorities,” she said.
Stephen Neuman, Raimondo’s chief of staff and a former aide to Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, told WPRI.com Monday that “it’s important that people understand the situation she’s inheriting.”
“It’s not about our subjective gloss – I think the situation is objectively challenging, and very challenging,” Neuman said.
Neuman is part of a group of top aides recruited by Raimondo from inside and outside Rhode Island. Other key hires include Stefan Pryor, a former aide to then-Newark Mary Cory Booker, as the state’s first secretary of commerce; Michael DiBiase, who was former Gov. Lincoln Almond’s chief of staff, as director of the R.I. Department of Administration; and Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts as secretary of health and human services.
Neuman said to expect “a series of initiatives” from the Raimondo administration in the coming weeks “focused on expanding opportunity for Rhode Island families,” particularly through education, skills training, and improving the business climate.
“I don’t think there’s going to be some waving the wand, some magic bullet, that happens at any one point,” he said. “It’s going to be a series of one-foot-in-front-of-the-other strategic moves to try and dig out the state from the hole that it’s in.” He argued Raimondo has “the demonstrated ability to bring people together and forge some sort of consensus on a way to move forward.”
Surprises can also impact the early months of a new governor’s term. In 2003, Don Carcieri was tested by the Station nightclub fire tragedy. In 1991, Bruce Sundlun was forced to close the state’s credit unions hours after taking office. In 1973, Phil Noel was rocked when a prison riot was quickly followed by the U.S. Navy pullout.
Meanwhile, Raimondo isn’t the only newly elected Rhode Island leader taking office Tuesday.
Four of the state’s five top state offices are getting new occupants: Raimondo; Dan McKee, who succeeds Elizabeth Roberts as lieutenant governor; Nellie Gorbea, who succeeds Ralph Mollis as secretary of state; and Seth Magaziner, who succeeds Raimondo as general treasurer. Attorney General Peter Kilmartin is beginning his second term. All five are Democrats. The General Assembly’s 113 lawmakers will be sworn in at 4 p.m.
To mark the inaugural, a special WaterFire lighting will take place at 6 p.m. in Waterplace Park, during which the five general officers will host privately funded free celebrations at Waterplace Restaurant, Jacky’s Waterplace and Sushi Bar, Union Station Brewery, Cafe Nuovo and Bar Louie.
The inaugural festivities will continue Saturday, when Raimondo is hosting a State House open house that will feature free local food and musical performances from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Afterwards, the governor is hosting a family ice-skating outing at the rink in Providence.
A Raimondo spokeswoman said donations to her inauguration committee have been capped at $15,000 and a list of donors will be released this week.
Raimondo’s swearing-in caps a rapid ascent in Rhode Island politics that already has people whispering she could someday be a candidate for vice-president – or even president – if she succeeds as governor.
She was a first-time candidate when she won an easy race for general treasurer in 2010. Within a year she’d used that perch to push through the most sweeping overhaul of state pension benefits the country has ever seen. The law saved taxpayers roughly $4 billion, making her a national star but angering many public employees and retirees in the process. (A trial on the law’s constitutionality is set to start April 20.)
Raimondo handily defeated Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and political newcomer Clay Pell in last September’s Democratic primary for governor by campaigning with a single-minded focus on jobs and the economy. But she stumbled in the fall after her comments on abortion caused controversy, and though she defeated Republican Allan Fung and Moderate Bob Healey, she did so with only 41% of the vote.
A key reason for Raimondo’s success has been her extraordinary fundraising acumen, helped by the elite ties she fostered as an Ivy League graduate and a venture capitalist. An analysis by WPRI.com found more than $8 million was spent in 2013 and 2014 to win Raimondo the Democratic nomination and then the governor’s office.
Shortly before the inauguration, Raimondo’s office released this list of the staff members who will work for her in the governor’s office:
- Marie Aberger, Press Secretary
- Matthew Appenfeller, Director of Policy Development
- Eric Beane, Deputy Chief of Staff
- Matthew Bucci, Director of the Governor’s Office
- R. David Cruise, Legislative Director
- Meredith Curren, Director of Appointments
- Donna Dell’Aquila, Principal Project Manager/Executive Assistant
- Ron DeSiderato Jr., Special Assistant to the Governor
- Christine DiFillippo, Principal Project Manager/ Executive Assistant
- Jennifer Fonduer, Office Manager
- Joy Fox, Director of Communications
- Kevin Gallagher, Deputy Chief of Staff
- Matthew Golderese, Constituent Services Associate
- Kelly Harris, Scheduler
- Heather Hudson, Policy Advisor
- Andrea Iannazzi, Special Counsel
- Brad Inman, Director of Constituent Services
- Olubunmi Lewis, Protocol Manager
- Amy Moses, Deputy Counsel
- Jason Natareno, Special Assistant to the Governor
- Stephen Neuman, Chief of Staff
- Katie O’Hanlon, Communications Associate
- Ashley Gingerella O’Shea, Deputy Director of Communications
- Talia Policelli, Deputy Legislative Director
- Claire Richards, Executive Counsel
- Abby Swienton, Policy Advisor
- Emmanuel Traub, Constituent Services Associate
Aberger will not join the staff until the end of January, the statement said. The list does not include various cabinet directors Raimondo has also appointed.Ted Nesi ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesiAn earlier version of this story incorrectly said Raimondo is 42 years old; she is 43.Below, the mayors of Warwick, North Providence and Central Falls react to Raimondo’s inauguration: