PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo announced major changes to her senior staff on Tuesday, and one of the moves is already raising concern among Senate leaders.
David Ortiz, who has been Raimondo’s senior adviser for the past year, will take the reins as the governor’s chief of staff, making him her most important aide. Ortiz will be the third person to hold that job for Raimondo, replacing Brett Smiley, who in turn replaced Steve Neuman in 2016.
Raimondo is tapping Smiley to become acting director of the R.I. Department of Administration. The department’s current director, Michael DiBiase, has held the job since Raimondo took office but is leaving in early January to take over the nonprofit policy research group the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council.
Raimondo also announced that former R.I. Senate Majority Leader Dan Connors, D-Cumberland, will start next week as her senior adviser. Two other former senators, Tom Coderre and David Cruise, also previously served in that role for Raimondo.
Ortiz, a former journalist, is a longtime political operative. He previously worked as a top staffer to former Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, then as communications director for General Treasurer Seth Magaziner. He joined Raimondo’s staff as her press secretary, then was one of her top campaign operatives before rejoining her staff after she won re-election.
In a news release, Raimondo spokesperson Josh Block said Ortiz would make $185,565 as chief of staff. Connors will be paid $166,653, and Smiley will earn $155,000 at DOA.
Smiley’s potential move to replace DiBiase has been rumored at the State House in recent weeks, but was complicated by resistance from the Senate Finance Committee, which would have to confirm him. Multiple members of the panel have expressed concern about a disputed allegation by a Twin River executive that Smiley threatened him over the IGT deal.
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio fired a warning shot at Raimondo on Tuesday afternoon over her decision to designate Smiley as the acting director rather than formally nominate him for Senate confirmation. He cited a statute that suggests the governor is required to submit Smiley’s name for confirmation within days of his formally taking the job in January.
“We would expect that in January the governor will submit a nominee for Director of Administration to the Senate for advice and consent, as required by law,” Ruggerio said in a statement. “We will give the governor’s appointment all due consideration at the appropriate time.”
Smiley, who previously worked for Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, is widely expected to make a second bid for the mayor’s job in 2022, and an aide to the governor suggested he did not want the position on a permanent basis anyway.
Connors was elected to the state Senate in 1996 at just 20 years old and was elevated to majority leader in 2008. He left the Senate in 2011 after not seeking re-election.
“It’s been exciting to watch Governor Raimondo bring meaningful change to Rhode Island over the last five years,” Connors said in a statement. “Because of her efforts, we’ve seen a new era of economic growth and mobility, and I’m thrilled to be a part of her team.”
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