Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column for WPRI.com — as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi@wpri.com and follow me on Twitter and on Facebook.

1. So much for a quiet year in Rhode Island politics. David Cicilline took nearly everyone by surprise Tuesday morning with the stunning announcement that he is stepping down to succeed Neil Steinberg as leader of the Rhode Island Foundation. “I am certain that I am going to have a greater impact on helping Rhode Islanders as president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation,” as opposed to staying in the House, Cicilline told me on this week’s Newsmakers. (He’ll also triple his salary.) Rhode Island will now see its first special election for Congress since 1967, with the primary likely to take place in the late summer. 12 News political analyst Joe Fleming thinks turnout could be as low as 30,000 to 40,000 due to the unusual circumstances, advantaging candidates who have the resources to get out their voters or a strong base somewhere. “If you’re not that well-known — if you’re a state senator, a state representative — you have to spend a lot of money just to get known … and that’s very expensive,” Fleming said on Newsmakers. “We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you can’t raise that, you sort of get shut out.” Of course, that assumes at least one candidate will have a lot of cash. If not, he said, “then it’s a whole different story and it’s a whole free-for-all.” Groups like organized labor that are able to get a significant number of voters to the polls could also see their influence magnified in a special election.

2. Among the roughly two dozen potential 1st District candidates, no one is being watched more closely than Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos and former gubernatorial candidate Helena Foulkes. Both Democrats are deep in serious discussions about whether to run, though as of Friday afternoon neither one had told allies she is ready to pull the trigger. Matos would make history not only as the first female Democrat to represent Rhode Island in Congress but as an Afro-Latina, as well. She is receiving encouragement in and out of the state, and could be bolstered by the support of powerful national groups. Key questions for her include whether she can raise the money and if she wants the lifestyle change, especially when she only just won a full term in the No. 2 office. Foulkes’s stock is high after she placed a close second in last year’s gubernatorial primary, and the 1st District includes plenty of precincts where she topped Dan McKee. She’d also have no trouble raising the hundreds of thousands of dollars necessary. But does Foulkes actually want to be a member of Congress, and would other Democrats rally around her? (Foulkes and Matos both currently reside in the 2nd District, but Foulkes and her husband were already in the process of closing on a house in the 1st District before Cicilline’s announcement.) Another candidate getting some buzz is White House official and Pawtucket native Gabe Amo, who’s worked for a bunch of political heavyweights including Sheldon Whitehouse, Gina Raimondo, Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Amo has a compelling family story and fundraising potential, but would start with zero voter base, having never run for office. Then there is the lengthy list of state lawmakers, mayors and municipal officials who want to be considered. If past is prologue, most will end up taking a pass, particularly as they grapple with the fundraising requirements. Yet state Sen. Meghan Kallman likely spoke for more than one of those aspirants on Tuesday when she told our Steph Machado, “One of the reasons why I’m not intimidated by people who have more fundraising, who are wealthier than I am, is because I don’t believe we should live in a pay-to-play democracy.”

3. Hope springs eternal for the Rhode Island Republican Party, even though it’s now been 17 years since the last time the GOP won a federal or statewide race. The 1st Congressional District is an inauspicious place to reverse that trend; Joe Biden beat Donald Trump there by 29 points, more than double the president’s margin in the 2nd District, so hotly contested last fall. But Steve Frias, a local historian and the state’s Republican national committeeman, sees “a long-shot possibility” for a GOP victory due to the unusual dynamics of a special election. Republicans performed strongly in Rhode Island’s last two special elections for Congress: GOP nominee Jim DiPrete nearly beat Democrat Bob Tiernan in the 2nd District in 1967, and Republican Charles Risk scored a huge upset to win the 1st District at the height of FDR’s New Deal in 1935. More recently, Scott Brown managed to win Massachusetts’ U.S. Senate seat in the 2010 special election to replace Ted Kennedy. “So even in a district that went for Biden by 29 points, if all the stars line up a Republican could possibly pull this off,” Frias said. That firmament would need to include a weak Democratic nominee, a strong Republican with a moderate image, and abysmal turnout in Democratic areas. At this point, though, it’s not at all clear such a Republican will emerge. Aaron Guckian, who mounted a solid though unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor last year, is considering a campaign, as is Senate Minority Leader Jessica de la Cruz. The two Fungs — Allan and Barbara Ann — have also declined to rule out a run.

4. David Cicilline is 61 years old, a spring chicken by Capitol Hill standards, which raises the possibility his name may be on the ballot in Rhode Island again in the coming years. And while Cicilline downplayed that possibility when I spoke with him Tuesday, he certainly didn’t rule it out, either. Cicilline has long coveted one of Rhode Island’s two Senate seats, but there are no signs one of them will be available anytime soon — Sheldon Whitehouse is running again in 2024, and Jack Reed is planning to do the same in 2026. For Cicilline, biding his time in the House minority while waiting for one of them to retire must have been unappealing. Plus, the Rhode Island Foundation CEO job could certainly be its own springboard for a future Senate run — he’ll be spending the next few years handing out money statewide, maintaining elite relationships, and engaging in policy work, all with a high public profile. And whenever a Senate seat does open up, Cicilline would have a running start: he had $850,000 in his federal campaign account at the end of last year, money he can hold onto as long as he wants.

5. Former gubernatorial candidate Clay Pell is among those who briefly toyed with entering the 1st District race but decided against it. Pell’s reason: the 41-year-old recently accepted an appointment as the U.S. Coast Guard’s representative to the United Nations. “This is a dream come true for me in a lot of ways, and I’ve decided to serve the country at this really important time in international politics,” Pell told me.

6. Joe Shekarchi is headed to Washington — but not to represent the 1st Congressional District. (At least not yet; Shekarchi has been weighing whether he should jump into the race, though most expect he will stay on Smith Hill.) The speaker will be in D.C. next month for an annual fundraiser co-hosted by all four members of the congressional delegation. The event will take place the evening of March 8 at the Laborers’ International Union headquarters on 16th Street, with suggested contributions of $250 to $1,000. It’s being organized by Reservoir Strategies’ Talia Policelli, who first worked with Shekarchi when he managed Gina Raimondo’s 2010 bid for treasurer. Not that Shekarchi is exactly hurting for cash: he finished last year with $1.7 million in his campaign account, more than any other state-level Rhode Island politician.

7. And speaking of Speaker Shekarchi, he just got fresh reinforcement for his cautious comments about what will and won’t be possible when the final state budget is put together come spring. A new report shows state general revenue was running $63 million below forecast through January, about 2% below expectations. If that continues, lawmakers will be forced to pare back Governor McKee’s $13.7 billion budget plan rather than add to it.

8. Providence parents may sue over AIG’s decision to close an elementary school.

9. Jack Reed is due back in Rhode Island on Sunday after a whirlwind overseas trip that took him to Germany, India, Pakistan and Israel as part of a delegation led by Chuck Schumer; it was only the second time Schumer has ever gone abroad as part of a congressional delegation. Their first stop was at the high-level Munich Security Conference, where they conferred with other NATO officials. Speaking to reporters from Mumbai later in the week, Reed said he believes the next few months will be “critical” for the outcome of the war in Ukraine, now entering its second year. The Russians are amassing troops for a new offensive, but the Ukrainians are also preparing their own, he said, “and if this offensive is successful at breaking through the Russian lines and then exploiting that breakthrough and disrupting the Russian presence in Ukraine, that’s going to have huge ramifications for the future of this war.” If the coming Russian push fails, Reed thinks that Vladimir Putin could be forced to the negotiating table. “But,” he said, “one thing we do not want is the Russians saying ‘Time out’ so [they] can regroup and attack two or three years from now. We want a settlement in which Ukraine’s sovereignty is protected.”

10. Eye on Washington … Sheldon Whitehouse is keeping up his push for stricter ethics rules at the Supreme CourtSeth Magaziner is now poised to be Rhode Island’s senior congressman by his sixth month in office … New York’s Ritchie Torres will replace David Cicilline as co-chair of the Equality PAC, which backs LGBTQ congressional candidates … Jake Auchincloss (who, as it happens, is close to Torres) spent the week in Taiwan … Bill Keating is WCVB’s guest for “On the Record” this Sunday … Gina Raimondo got big headlines Thursday for a major speech laying out how she will implement the CHIPS Act … Warren Town Manager Kate Michaud will be on Capitol Hill next week to testify about climate change at one of Whitehouse’s first hearings as Budget Committee chairman.

11. The White House asked reporters to join a press call Thursday to tout new funding for the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI), an Obama-era program that provided $1.5 billion for states to dole out to small businesses. Congress has now revived SSBCI with a new infusion of $10 billion as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, and following Rhode Island’s approval to get $61.7 million of that money, Senator Whitehouse and Governor McKee joined the conference call to sing the program’s praises. While it didn’t get mentioned on the call, Rhode Island will hopefully see a better outcome with this round of SSBCI money than it did a decade ago. As Tim White reported back in 2014, an audit discovered state officials improperly awarded $2 million of the last round of cash to the startup accelerator Betaspring, and a 2017 report by the U.S. Treasury’s inspector general criticized state officials for misusing the money. The upshot: as punishment for the Betaspring snafu, the feds cancelled $2 million in previously promised funding for Rhode Island. This time around, the McKee administration is planning to break up the money by allotting $31.5 million to a venture-capital program; $26.9 million to a loan program; and $3 million to a capital-access program.

12. Judge Richard Licht has taken another step forward in his recovery after being hit by a vehicle outside the State House last week. “Our family remains incredibly grateful for the outpouring of support and prayers as Richard continues healing,” Licht’s family said in a statement Friday. “He will continue his recovery at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston and was moved there today. Richard is in good spirits and is so appreciative of the continued expressions of love and support from friends, colleagues, and the many people in Rhode Island and beyond who have reached out to us.”

13. My colleague Amanda Pitts profiles Sharon Harmon, the first Black colonel of the Rhode Island National Guard.

14. Attleboro voters go to the polls Tuesday for a special election to replace Paul Heroux as mayor following his election as Bristol County sheriff. There are four mayoral hopefuls — John Davis, Cathleen DeSimone, James DiLisio and Timothy Barone — and you can find out where they stand by reading their answers to our WPRI.com candidate questionnaire.

15. How happy were state officials about this headline in The New York Times on Thursday? “New York’s Wind Power Future Is Taking Shape. In Rhode Island.”

16. Nicholas Bagley argues a “procedure fetish” is tying American government in knots.

17. Steph Machado will be a guest on this weekend’s edition of “A Lively Experiment,” breaking down the latest on local and national politics along with host Jim Hummel and fellow panelists Dan McGowan and Ian Donnis. Tune in Sunday at noon on Rhode Island PBS or watch online here.

18. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — Congressman David Cicilline; a preview of the 1st District special election. Watch Sunday at 5:30 a.m. on WPRI 12 and 10 a.m. on Fox Providence, or listen on the radio Sunday at 6 p.m. on WPRO. You can also subscribe to Newsmakers as a podcast on iTunes (or wherever you get your podcasts). See you back here next Saturday morning.

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