PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — R.I. Convention Center Authority Chairman Bernard “Bernie” Buonanno Jr., whose daughter challenged Gov. Dan McKee in last year’s election, said Thursday he has retired after the governor asked for his departure through an intermediary.
Buonanno — whose quasi-public agency oversees the R.I. Convention Center, the Amica Mutual Pavilion and the Veterans Memorial Auditorium — confirmed he announced his resignation to his board on Thursday, months before the scheduled end of this term in June.
“The governor wants to put his own people in, and I didn’t fight it,” Buonanno said, adding that he’s proud of the 21 years he spent helping to lead the downtown Providence facility.
Asked what the governor told him specifically, Buonanno said the request was made through the agency’s vice chairman, Rhode Island AFL-CIO President George Nee, and McKee never contacted him directly. The request came in December, he said, roughly a month after McKee won re-election.
“George is a good friend of mine — he’s the vice chair — and he said [McKee] would like me to resign,” Buonanno said.
McKee narrowly survived a challenge from Buonanno’s daughter, former CVS executive Helena Buonanno Foulkes, in last September’s Democratic gubernatorial primary. McKee received 33%, while Foulkes received 30% following a late surge in support.
The final weeks of the race became contentious, with Foulkes sharply criticizing McKee over his stewardship of the state since taking over from Gina Raimondo, and McKee’s campaign criticizing her over CVS’s role in the opioid crisis while she was an executive there.
The governor’s office and Nee didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Buonanno, who built a successful career in investment banking, was appointed to the Convention Center Authority by then-Providence Mayor David Cicilline when the facility was owned by the city and still known as the Providence Civic Center.
Gov. Gina Raimondo went on to name him chairman in 2015 after it became the Convention Center.
“I’ve enjoyed it,” Buonanno said. “We accomplished a lot.”
Eli Sherman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.
Tim White contributed to this report.