PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee’s campaign has hired his former chief of staff, Tony Silva, who the Rhode Island attorney general rebuked last year for having “very poor judgment” when he attempted to exert influence over a private land deal involving his family.
The governor’s campaign, Friends of Dan McKee, issued a statement Thursday telling reporters Silva had been hired. The announcement comes after Silva was seen in a Boston Globe interview at Rhode Island T.F. Green accompanying the governor on a trip to Washington D.C. to meet with labor leaders last week.
When asked about it last Friday, McKee’s government spokesperson Matt Sheaff said Silva “was with the governor in a campaign capacity, unrelated to official state business.”
“As we announced, the governor travelled to DC for both official and personal meetings,” Sheaff wrote in a statement.
Campaign staffer Mike Trainor confirmed his campaign involvement a week later, saying Silva “has been hired to coordinate fundraising and political activity for the organization.” He’s also slated to join the governor on a trip to the Democratic Governors Association this week, he added.
The announcement marks the first time Silva has resurfaced onto the political scene in an official capacity since he stepped down as the governor’s chief of staff in August 2021. The resignation came amid mounting criticism that Silva tried to influence a land deal involving his family in Cumberland.
The controversy prompted McKee to ask R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha to investigate whether Silva broke any laws. Neronha found the former chief of staff repeatedly reached out to state regulators examining the deal. Silva also requested a meeting with Cumberland Mayor Jeff Mutter, who later said the town’s objection to the Silva family’s land deal “dominated the conversation.”
Neronha ultimately cleared Silva of any criminal wrongdoing in a 22-page report that concluded that “Rhode Island’s bribery and extortion laws require more.” But he went through great lengths to criticize Silva, saying he exercised, “very poor judgment in involving himself in a personal matter before a state regulatory agency while serving as a high-ranking state official, whether he had official authority over that state agency or not.”
“When high-ranking public officials like Mr. Silva, who by virtue of their public office have a voice or footprint that everyday Rhode Islanders do not, seek to capitalize on their insider access, Rhode Islanders lose,” Neronha wrote in a summary of his report. “They lose because the regulatory playing field is no longer even. They lose because the professionalism of a government agency is threatened. They lose because public confidence in government is undermined.”
Silva has pushed back on Neronha’s criticism, arguing he was “treated unfairly and with political motivation.”
“The mere suggestion by anyone that I had these conversations to gain an advantage is totally untrue and politically motivated,” he said in a statement after the report came out.
He did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Silva, who also served as McKee’s police chief when the governor was Cumberland mayor, has become increasingly visible at McKee campaign events over the past several months.
Campaign finance reports through the end of last year show he was last paid by the McKee campaign in June 2021. This year’s first quarter reports are due by the end of next month.
Eli Sherman (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.