WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian is expected to step down from his longtime post as head of Rhode Island’s second-largest city to lead RIPTA, multiple sources tell Eyewitness News.
Avedisian’s potential departure for a state job has been a topic of discussion at the State House for months, but he has declined to discuss the conversations. The 53-year-old Republican did not answer the phone or respond to a message Tuesday.
RIPTA’s board is scheduled to discuss and possibly vote on the appointment of a new CEO at its meeting Wednesday, an agenda shows. A spokesman for Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo confirmed she has recommended Avedisian for the job.
A City Hall official told Eyewitness News that Avedisian is expected to stay in office long enough to avoid the cost to taxpayers of triggering a special election, which would likely put his official exit in late May. Democratic City Council President Joseph Solomon would take over as acting mayor, and a permanent successor would be chosen in the November election.
Avedisian has led Warwick since 2000, when he succeeded Lincoln Chafee, who had been appointed to fill his late father’s U.S. Senate seat the prior fall. He and Chafee have maintained a close relationship, and Avedisian endorsed the latter’s independent gubernatorial bid in 2010.
In a brief interview Tuesday, Chafee told Eyewitness News that Avedisian had broached the possibility of taking over RIPTA during a recent conversation. “He had talked to me just a few weeks ago about his interest in various positions, this being one,” Chafee said, adding that he had learned the appointment was likely through news reports.
Avedisian’s departure would make Solomon the first Democrat to serve as Warwick mayor in more than a quarter-century, since Charles Donovan left office at the end of 1992. Solomon was not immediately available for comment, but would be expected to run for the job this fall.
Avedisian previously served as RIPTA’s chairman from 2012, when he was appointed by Chafee, until 2016. He has also formed a warm relationship with Raimondo, and served on her transition team after she was elected treasurer in 2010.
“He was a great chair of the board,” Chafee said. “RIPTA had all sorts of issues when he came in, and he really turned it around. … He did a great job.”
Chafee added that he has no interest in running for mayor himself.
Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey also ruled out a run. “Categorically I am not running for mayor,” he said, adding, “Hopefully a Democrat takes over the corner office.” McCaffrey also said Avedisian has “served the city well” and “should be able to hit the ground running” at RIPTA.
Another potential candidate for mayor, House Majority Leader Joe Shekarchi, declined to comment on whether he would run. While he was previously seen as interested in the job, observers say he may now be more interested in eventually succeeding Nicholas Mattiello as House speaker.
State Rep. Joseph McNamara, a veteran Warwick Democrat, also ruled out a run for mayor but praised Avedisian.
“Mayor Avedisian has been a great mayor,” said McNamara, who is also chairman of the Rhode Island Democratic Party. “He is a tremendous asset to the city of Warwick. He was a great councilman. He’s dedicated several decades of public service to Warwick. He will be greatly missed on both sides of the aisle.”
Avedisian himself was often discussed as a potential candidate for higher office, and friends said he had a desire to run for Congress, noting his interest in foreign affairs. But he never pulled the trigger, electing to remain in Warwick, where he won re-election handily every two years.
RIPTA has been without a CEO since its previous chief executive, former R.I. State Police Lt. Col. Ray Studley, stepped down nearly a year ago. Avedisian hired Studley as his chief of staff in Warwick last fall.
The news was first reported by the website GoLocalProv.
Tim White contributed to this report.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Avedisian succeeded Chafee in 1999; an acting mayor served until Avedisian won the subsequent special election in 2000.