Rep. Costantino resigns from Mattiello leadership team; Cassar running for speaker

Politics

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A veteran state representative has resigned as a member of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s leadership team, but he isn’t ready to spell out why.

State Rep. Greg Costantino, a Lincoln Democrat, told 12 News he sent a letter to Mattiello on Thursday saying he had stepped down as a deputy majority leader effective immediately. He was one of 16 representatives with that title.

“At this time, for me, I just thought it was the right thing to do,” Costantino said. “That’s it. At a later date I’ll make a statement, but for today I just felt — it’s been on my mind and I decided to pull the trigger.”

Pressed about the timing just one week before Election Day, Costantino said, “I’m looking back and I just felt it was something I needed to do.”

Costantino, 60, was first elected in 2012 and is one of the more conservative-leaning members of the House Democratic caucus. He is running unopposed for re-election next week in House District 44.

Mattiello spokesperson Larry Berman said the speaker was “not surprised” by Costantino’s move, tying it to former Mattiello adviser Jeff Britt, who went on trial earlier this month for alleged illegal activity during the speaker’s 2016 re-election campaign.

Constantino “is very close to Jeff Britt and they are in constant communication,” Berman said. “This is simply designed to generate a news story. Jeff is up to his old political tricks in Rhode Island politics.”

Mattiello is in a competitive race to hold onto his seat in House District 15 for the third election cycle in a row, this time against Republican Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, a first-time candidate and the wife of Cranston Mayor Allan Fung.

Also on Thursday, freshman state Rep. Liana Cassar formally threw her hat in the ring to run for House speaker after next week’s election. The Barrington Democrat had already expressed interest in running as an alternative to Mattiello, who has been speaker since 2014.

“This legislative session, you have a choice,” Cassar wrote in a letter to colleagues. “I ask you to stand with me in developing a leadership team that values the talents and ideas of all of us and allows us to walk into the chamber inspired about the work we are doing for the people of Rhode Island.”

In response, Berman said, “Speaker Mattiello is in constant communication with his House colleagues and his support is very strong.”

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.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

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