PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Outgoing R.I. Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott is seriously discussing whether to jump into the Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District, according to multiple sources familiar with the conversations.
Alexander-Scott, who has never sought public office, announced her resignation earlier this month and is in her last week leading the department. Sources said she has been getting encouragement to run from individuals in Rhode Island and Washington.
The health director would start a campaign with high name recognition after nearly two years leading Rhode Island’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, but she would also be wading into campaign politics for the first time. Her timeline for a decision is unclear.
In a statement Monday afternoon, Alexander-Scott declined to confirm or deny her interest in the congressional seat, saying her focus is on the transition at the Health Department.
“I’m currently weighing a number of different options for after I step away from the department that would allow me to continue working to give all people and all communities an equal opportunity to be healthy and thrive,” she said.
Under the terms of her resignation deal, Alexander-Scott is slated to step down as director later this week, take a month off using comp time, and then serve as a consultant to the Health Department for three months in March, April and May.
A copy of Alexander-Scott’s two-page agreement with the state shows she will be paid $46,000 a month for her services, or $138,000 for all three months. She can cancel the contract early without penalty, while the state would need to pay her the full three-month total in order to end the agreement.
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Efforts to recruit Alexander-Scott into the 2nd District primary are the latest shoe to drop since Congressman Jim Langevin unexpectedly announced his retirement last Tuesday, sending top Democrats into a frenzy of activity as they seek to find a top-tier replacement to hold the seat.
“There is no question behind the scenes it’s crazy, because all of these possible candidates are talking to special-interest groups, talking with their constituents, to see if they have a base of support,” said 12 News political analyst Joe Fleming.
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed confirmed he’s talked with potential Democratic 2nd District candidates, but described the conversations as “exploratory” so far.
General Treasurer Seth Magaziner confirmed Sunday he is considering abandoning his bid for governor to seek the 2nd District seat instead, while another gubernatorial candidate — former CVS executive Helena Foulkes — ruled out a switch.
On Monday afternoon, former state Rep. Ed Pacheco became the second Democrat to formally launch a campaign for the 2nd District seat, releasing a nearly four-minute announcement video. He joins Omar Bah, founder of the Refugee Dream Center, who announced his candidacy on Saturday.
Pacheco, who represented Burrillville in the R.I. House of Representatives in the 2000s but now lives in Warwick, has worked in recent years as a senior administrator at Rhode Island College. He used the video to share his story of being raised by a single mother and winning elected office at a young age.
“We can work to lift millions of children out of poverty; establish universal pre-K; loan forgiveness to help younger generations escape crushing debt; create good-paying jobs by supporting the ‘blue’ and ‘green’ economy; fight for social justice; and support every American’s right to vote,” Pacheco said in the video.
Pacheco’s campaign said former Providence Mayor Angel Taveras will serve as its honorary chairperson, and released a list of more than 50 others who are supporting his candidacy, including state Rep. Grace Diaz, vice-chair of the R.I. Democratic Party, and multiple municipal Democratic committee chairs.
State Sen. Joshua Miller said Sunday night he is still seriously considering getting into the Democratic primary, as are a number of other state lawmakers.
Republicans are hopeful they will have a shot at wresting the seat from the Democrats this fall due to the 2nd District’s more moderate lean compared with the 1st District, as well as voter frustration with the Biden administration.
State Sen. Jessica de la Cruz said Sunday she has decided to seek the GOP nomination for the seat, while former state Rep. Bob Lancia was already running as a Republican before Langevin’s retirement announcement. Former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung is also weighing a GOP campaign.
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 and Facebook