PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee plans to nominate Providence City Council President Sabina Matos to become the next lieutenant governor of Rhode Island, Target 12 has learned.
Matos, a Democrat who currently serves as president of the Providence City Council, would become the first person of color and second woman to serve in the state’s No. 2 job. The governor is scheduled to make the announcement Wednesday morning at the State House.
Two people familiar with the choice confirmed the pick to Target 12. Matos and the governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
The lieutenant governor’s position has remained unfilled since former Gov. Gina Raimondo left midterm earlier this month to become U.S. commerce secretary, and McKee ascended from lieutenant governor to the state’s top job. McKee had been in his second term as lieutenant governor.
Under Rhode Island law, McKee has the authority to choose his successor as lieutenant governor. Once he formally nominates Matos, she will need to win confirmation in the Rhode Island Senate. (A Senate spokesperson said there is currently no timeline for a confirmation vote.)
McKee, a Democrat, had been narrowing down a field of more than 80 applicants who sought his old job, which is usually filled in an election. He announced five finalists last week, including Matos, along with Rep. Grace Diaz, Sen. Louis DiPalma, former Central Falls Mayor James Diossa and Rhode Island Democratic Party treasurer Elizabeth Beretta-Perik.
Diaz and Beretta-Perik both confirmed to Target 12 they had been informed they had not been chosen by McKee. The other three either declined to comment or did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but Diossa later took to Twitter to offer his congratulations to Matos.
Matos was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to the United States in 1994. A graduate of Rhode Island College, the 47-year-old was first elected to the Providence City Council in 2010. She represents Ward 15, which includes the neighborhoods of Olneyville, Silver Lake and Valley.
In 2015, she became the first Latina elected to serve as the City Council’s president pro tempore. Four years later, she became the first Latina ever elected as the council’s president.
12 News political analyst Joe Fleming said the choice of Matos made a lot of sense politically for McKee, who is expected to face multiple Democratic primary challengers in next year’s election.
Under current Rhode Island law, the pair wouldn’t formally run as a ticket. But Matos told Target 12 earlier this week she would run for lieutenant governor in 2022, if picked, and would run with McKee if the law changes, which is something the governor and others have called for.
“Talking politically, she will help in 2022 when he’s running for governor,” 12 News political analyst Joe Fleming said Tuesday. “She will help him in Providence, especially if Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza runs for governor. She will help him with small businesses, which is already one of his strengths. And she’ll help him with minority communities across the state. There are a lot of positive factors there.”
Republican National Committeeman Steve Frias offered a less upbeat assessment, saying the choice of Matos would make little difference for McKee’s political future.
“What is more likely to help McKee win Democratic primary voters in Providence is not who he chose for lieutenant governor, but that he chose to side with Providence parents over the teachers union in the charter school debate,” Frias said in an email to reporters.
The Rhode Island lieutenant governor’s position has fewer responsibilities than the same job in many other states, since it’s no longer tied to the state Senate and has little authority over any policy decisions. But McKee’s recent ascension to the state’s top job shows its potential power.
The office comes with a roughly $1 million annual budget and a small staff. Matos is expected to run for a full term as lieutenant governor in her own right in the 2022 election.
Meanwhile at Providence City Hall, Matos’s likely departure from the City Council would leave the top leadership position and her council seat both vacant.
Typically the council president pro tempore would become acting president, but that position is vacant after Councilman Michael Correia resigned from leadership.
Instead, the council rules say Councilman John Igliozzi would temporarily ascend to acting council president because he is the longest-serving member of the council, until a majority of councilors elect a new president (Igliozzi is already seeking support from his colleagues to be elected council president.)
A special election would also be called to fill Matos’ Ward 15 seat.
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
Tim White and Kim Kalunian contributed to this report.