Smiley moves toward Providence mayoral run


Brett Smiley (file photo)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Brett Smiley, a former candidate for Providence mayor who currently serves as Gov. Gina Raimondo’s director of administration, is taking a step toward making a second run for mayor in 2022.

Smiley disclosed his plan to explore a mayoral run in a letter to the Rhode Island Ethics Commission, asking for an advisory opinion about whether he can begin raising money while serving in Raimondo’s cabinet.

“I am writing to request guidance on avoiding potential conflicts of interest arising from my employment for the State of Rhode Island and my interest to explore the possibility of running for mayor of the City of Providence,” Smiley wrote in the letter. “It is my desire to prevent any conflicts and avoid even the appearance of impropriety in my endeavor.”

Smiley, a Democrat who lives on the East Side of Providence, ran for mayor in 2014 but dropped out before the primary and endorsed Mayor Jorge Elorza, who went on to win the primary and the general election. (Elorza is now in his second term and cannot run again due to term limits.)

Elorza hired Smiley as the city’s chief operating officer in 2015 before Smiley moved to Raimondo’s office in 2016, serving as her chief of staff before being named earlier this year to lead the Department of Administration.

Smiley notes in his letter that Rhode Island law does permit a state employee to run for office. (Another possible mayoral candidate — Council President Sabina Matos — is also a state employee.) But he said he is “mindful” that in his cabinet position he makes decisions that affect other employees and state vendors.

Most recently, Smiley has been involved with disbursing coronavirus relief funds, and has been an on-again-off-again fixture on stage at Raimondo’s COVID-19 briefings.

He therefore pledges in the letter not to “solicit or accept campaign contributions from any state employee,” nor from any vendors who submit bids or have state contracts.

Smiley’s request is on the agenda for the Ethics Commission’s meeting next Tuesday.

Smiley’s campaign account is currently active but has a $0 balance, according to his most recently filed quarterly report with the Board of Elections.

In an email to 12 News Smiley said there is no timeline yet for when he would actually launch a campaign, but he said, “I don’t expect to officially launch a campaign until I’ve left state service.”

The race to succeed Elorza is expected to draw a wide field of candidates.

With nearly half the City Council also prohibited from running for re-election for the first time since term limits took effect, a number of councilors are also poised to consider a run. No candidates have formally announced their intentions yet, however.

Matos, who is term-limited, said a mayoral run is possible when asked about her intentions on an episode of Pulse of Providence earlier this month. She has $97,000 in her campaign account.

“I love the city work,” Matos said. “I’ve been asked before, ‘Why don’t you run for Senate, why don’t you run for state rep?’ I believe I’m not done with the work that I’m doing in the city.”

Other names often mentioned as potential mayoral contenders include City Councilors John Igliozzi, Nirva LaFortune and David Salvatore; community activist Kobi Dennis; state Rep. Grace Diaz; state Sen. Sam Bell; and Gonzalo Cuervo, chief of staff to Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea.

Steph Machado ( covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook

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