PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A newcomer to Rhode Island politics has filed paperwork to seek the Republican nomination for governor, as the GOP continues to search for a candidate for the state’s top job in this year’s election.
Ashley Kalus — who bought a home in Newport last year but previously lived in Illinois — filed a notice of organization with the R.I. Board of Elections on Monday afternoon under her married name, Ashley Weinzweig. She registered the URL “ashleykalus.com” on Dec. 6, domain records show, suggesting she would run for office using that surname. (Her website is not yet active.)
Kalus, 39, has not responded to requests for comment about a potential run since her name surfaced in a Providence Journal story last week, but buzz about her possible candidacy has been mounting this winter, as Republican leaders discussed the possibility of a dark-horse candidate for governor emerging from the business world.
Four Democrats have announced plans to challenge incumbent Gov. Dan McKee in the primary so far, but no Republicans are running yet. (McKee has not formally launched his re-election bid.)
R.I. Republican Party Chair Sue Cienki said she has been in touch with Kalus and thinks an announcement about her campaign is “forthcoming,” while emphasizing that Kalus is still in an “exploratory” phase.
“She’s talking to stakeholders, getting a sense of their feelings about the governor’s race, trying to garner some support,” Cienki said. “She’s very interested in the needs of Rhode Island, trying to turn the state around — getting kids back in school, parents working, small businesses thriving in the state.”
House Minority Leader Blake Filippi, the top Republican in the R.I. House of Representatives, said Kalus reached out to him in December to discuss the possibility of a run for office.
“She’s obviously an intelligent and driven person with an impressive record,” Filippi said. “Obviously, I’m going to support the Republican nominee, and we’ll have to see what the primary field looks like, if any, first.”
Kalus and her husband, Jeffrey Weinzweig, bought a house on Narragansett Avenue in Newport last May, property records show. She registered to vote in Newport on Jan. 18 through the Division of Mother Vehicles, and will become eligible to vote in the city on Feb. 17, according to the canvassing clerk.
Kalus does have a history in Republican politics. Her LinkedIn profile shows she worked on the successful 2014 campaign of former Illinois GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, then served as director of public engagement in his office during the first two years of his term. (Rauner, a moderate Republican, lost his re-election bid in 2018.)
LinkedIn and other sources show Kalus worked in the medical industry before and after her time with Rauner. After leaving the governor’s office, her profile shows she was CEO of a company called Adhereon, then an executive at Doctors Test Centers, which lists her husband as the owner on its website. He formed it at the start of the COVID-19 crisis to provide services such as testing, according to the website.
Doctors Test Centers registered to do business in Rhode Island in April 2021, listing its principal office in Chicago, and quickly landed two big pandemic-related contracts from the Department of Health. Kalus is listed as a manager of the Rhode Island-based arm of the business.
The first of the two state contracts, for vaccination services, is worth up to $3.49 million and runs from last April through March 31, 2021. The second contract, for management of testing sites, was valued at $7.9 million and ended last month, running from July 23 through Jan. 31.
Both contracts were signed by Kalus, listed as Doctors Test Centers’ chief operations officer. (The company’s name was also listed in state documents as “COVID Medical Solutions Illinois LLC.”)
Kalus attended the London School of Economics, Columbia University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, according to her LinkedIn profile. An article on the website 5 Star Wedding Directory indicates she and her husband got married in Morocco in 2009, and features a photo of the pair riding camels.
Another Republican — former R.I. Turnpike and Bridge Authority Chairman David Darlington — has also said he is considering a bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Filippi considered a run last year but opted against entering the race.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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
Eli Sherman (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.