CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, a prominent Republican activist and the wife of Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, has filed to run against Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello in November.
Mattiello — who is facing multiple political controversies including an ongoing grand jury investigation — has represented House District 15 in Western Cranston since 2006. The seat is one of the most Republican-friendly ones in Rhode Island.
“In response to a near tsunami of support in Cranston to end what has become the Mattiello horror show, this allows us to legally take the logical next steps to start fundraising and putting a winning team in place prior to formally launching a campaign,” Fenton-Fung said in a statement.
“We are extremely excited about what 2020 has in store, including ridding District 15 of the never-ending scandals that surround its state representative,” she said.
Fenton-Fung, 39, grew up on Aquidneck Island and works as a physical therapist at Rhode Island Hospital. She has cited the late state Sen. June Gibbs, a close friend of her mother’s, as a major influence on her decision to get into politics. She and Mayor Fung met at the 2012 Republican National Convention and married in 2016.
In a statement, Mattiello indicated he still plans to seek re-election, citing “my strong record of accomplishment and leadership for the district and the city of Cranston.” He highlighted his focus on economic development, the car tax phaseout, eliminating the income tax on Social Security, increasing education funding and opposing cuts to Cranston’s local aid.
“It’s a privilege to serve as an advocate for the city of Cranston in this fight, and unquestionably, my focus always has been and will continue to be on how I can best represent my constituents,” he said.
The move by Fenton-Fung marks the clearest sign yet of the breakdown in what for years had been cordial relations between Fung, Cranston’s most powerful Republican and a two-time candidate for governor, and Mattiello, the city’s most powerful Democrat and the state’s most powerful lawmaker.
Fung, who was first elected mayor in 2008, cannot seek another run again due to term limits and will leave office at the end of this year. Fenton-Fung had previously considered running to succeed her husband as mayor, but told WPRI 12 earlier this month her focus had shifted to challenging Mattiello amid a drumbeat of negative headlines about the speaker.
Steve Frias, the Republican who gave Mattiello serious but unsuccessful challenges in 2016 and 2018, indicated Monday he expects to support Fenton-Fung.
“Running against the speaker and nearly toppling him and his State House machine was an experience of a lifetime for me,” Frias said in a statement. “I will never forget the support I received from everyone who chose honesty over corruption. However, as I have stated previously, I was a reluctant candidate in both my races against the speaker, in particular the second time I ran.”
“I have been aware for some time of Mrs. Fung’s interest in running for the District 15 seat, and I have not discouraged her,” he continued. “Assuming the speaker even runs again, despite the swirl of scandal and possibility he may be indicted, I expect to be supporting Mrs. Fung over the speaker in November.”
Fenton-Fung responded, “Out of deep respect to our friend Steve, we had these conversations with him on more than one occasion in the autumn. He is a highly valued member of Team Fung, and even though I hope to get this through the uprights, I wouldn’t be in this position without his incredible work to this point.”
The anti-abortion group Rhode Island Right to Life, which has endorsed Mattiello in previous election cycles but broke with him last year when he allowed a new abortion rights law to pass, quickly tweeted its support for Fenton-Fung:
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook