PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Daniel J. McKee was sworn in as the 76th governor of Rhode Island on Tuesday, taking the helm for at least the next two years as the state continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic and readies its economy for the 2020s.
McKee — a 69-year-old Democrat who had been in his second term as lieutenant governor — took the oath of office after fellow Democrat Gina Raimondo resigned due to her confirmation earlier in the day as President Biden’s commerce secretary.
Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea administered the oath of office to McKee in the State Room at the State House. His wife, Susan, was by his side, along with his daughter, Kara, and son, Matthew. He placed his hand on his family’s Bible.
After taking the oath, McKee signed an executive order he said bound his administration “to the highest standards of integrity and ethical co
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McKee did not take any questions following the ceremony, but posed for pictures with Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and House Majority Leader Chris Blazejewski, who are fellow Democrats. He then returned to the governor’s office suite with his staff.
A 12 News reporter was ordered to leave the State House by Capitol Police shortly before the ceremony began, after being told that press was not allowed inside, although reporters have been routinely allowed in throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Leaving the State House about two hours later, McKee told reporters waiting outside that he plans to focus his immediate efforts on vaccine distribution.
“I just had a few meetings upstairs on vaccination and getting the teachers vaccinated,” McKee said, before getting into a car driven by his new Rhode Island State Police detail, standard protection for governors.
McKee’s first meetings Wednesday morning will be with staff and cabinet members. A public schedule put out by his office Tuesday night includes two visits to vaccine clinics, a meeting at a Providence church about vaccine hesitancy and an executive-order signing ceremony.
McKee plans to hold a formal inauguration ceremony at noon Sunday at the State House.
McKee is the first lieutenant governor to take office partway through an elected governor’s term since 1950, when then-Gov. John Pastore stepped aside after his election to the U.S. Senate.
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A former Cumberland mayor whose family owns a heating oil company, McKee is known for strongly encouraging state government to support small businesses and to partner with municipal leaders. He is also the state’s most prominent advocate of charter schools.
In a joint statement, Ruggerio and House Speaker Joe Shekarchi said they looked forward to working with McKee in the coming months “to address the many challenges facing our state.”
“He has been a consistent and strong voice on behalf of Rhode Island’s hard-hit small business community,” the two Democratic legislative leaders said. “He brings a valuable perspective as a former municipal leader, which will be important as we work collaboratively to rebuild our state.”
The first challenge McKee faces is right around the corner: he is required to submit a budget proposal for the 2021-22 fiscal year to the General Assembly by March 11. He will need to close a deficit estimated at roughly $329 million, though President Biden’s coronavirus relief bill could cover that sum in full if it passes as written.
McKee has already signaled his intention to run for a full four-year term in his own right next year. Gorbea, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza are among those who are considering challenging him in the 2022 Democratic primary.
“I think that voters are entitled to have choices, whether it be in the primary or the general election,” Gorbea said on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers last month.
McKee also announced his senior staff Tuesday. His current chief of staff — Tony Silva, a former Cumberland police chief and R.I. Division of Motor Vehicles director — will serve in the same position in the governor’s office.
“I am fortunate to have recruited a highly professional team of individuals who are talented, experienced, encompass diverse perspectives and who share a passion for public service,” McKee said in a statement. “In the months ahead, they will help me achieve my goals of ending the pandemic, revitalizing our economy, supporting our communities and returning Rhode Island to a state of normalcy.”
The other announced members of the new governor’s senior staff include:
- Christopher Abhulime, Deputy Chief of Staff
- Antonio Afonso, Senior Deputy Chief of Staff
- Kim Ahern, Policy Director and Senior Counsel
- Suzanne Augenstein, Director of Executive Operations
- Guerline Aurelus, Director of Constituent Services
- David Barricelli Jr., Constituent Services Associate
- Jonathan Bissonnette, Staff Writer and Content Manager
- Joseph Casoli, Governor’s Office Liaison
- Cheyenne Cazeault, Policy Advisor
- Alana Cerrone-O’Hare, Press Secretary
- Eileen Cheng, Deputy Counsel
- Tara Chicharro, Special Assistant to the Deputy Chief of Staff
- Rosa DeCastillo, Director of Community Affairs and Outreach
- Ronald Desiderato, Special Assistant to the Governor
- Tabatha Dube, Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff
- Craig Dwyer, Manager of Appointments
- Christopher Farrell, Senior Advisor to the Governor
- Paulette Hamilton, Director of Municipal Affairs
- Kevin Horan, Director of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs
- Corey Jones, Policy Advisor
- Lexi Kriss, Deputy Director of Communications
- Christine Lopes Metcalfe, Senior Advisor to the Governor on Education
- Brenna McCabe, Senior Advisor to the Governor
- Meredith McKenna, Legal Administrator
- Thomas Mullaney, Senior Advisor
- Andrea Palagi, Director of Communications
- Joseph Polisena Jr., Deputy Counsel on Policy
- Claire Richards, Executive Counsel
- Becky Rodrigues, Office Manager
- Victoria Scott, Policy Advisor
- Anthony Silva, Chief of Staff
- Joy Vaudreuil, Director of Scheduling
- Americo Vota, Deputy Director of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs
Ted Nesi (email@example.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, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram
Brandon Truitt and Rob Nesbitt contributed to this report.