PROVIDENCE — Two legislators have emerged as candidates to replace Gordon Fox in arguably the most powerful position in Rhode Island government, and their viability was to be tested late Sunday when House members were set to meet to discuss who has the votes to assume the speakership.
The caucus came a day after Fox relinquished the House speakership following twin raids at his State House office and home as part of a criminal investigation.
Officials will not say what, or whom, they are investigating.
House majority leader Nicholas Mattiello and Representative Michael Marcello, both Democrats, have each said they have enough votes to become House speaker. Mattiello called for a meeting of all House members Sunday night to declare whom they intend to support ahead of a formal vote expected Tuesday.
Mattiello, Fox’s top deputy, on Sunday reiterated his assertion that he has more than the 38 votes necessary to win the speakership, though he would not specify how many.
He said of Marcello’s camp: ‘‘They will not have a majority — not even close.’’
Marcello told WPRI-TV late Saturday: ‘‘We have the votes.’’
In a close race, support from members of the small Republican caucus could be key. Representative Joseph Trillo, the House minority whip, said late Sunday morning that the six Republicans in the 75-member chamber want to vote as a bloc but have not decided whom to support. He said both candidates are courting them for votes.
‘‘Some of us want to go one way, and some of us want to go another way,’’ he told the Associated Press. ‘‘It’s very, very fluid.’’
The Friday raids on Fox’s office and home came amid a joint investigation by the US attorney’s office, FBI, IRS, and State Police. Boxes of evidence were carried off after agents spent hours at Fox’s home and office Friday. Officials will not say whom or what they are investigating.
Fox, a 52-year-old Providence Democrat who became the nation’s first openly gay House speaker in 2010, said in an e-mailed statement Saturday that he plans to serve the rest of his term, which runs through the end of the year. But, he said: ‘‘My personal focus going forward will be on my family and dealing with the investigation.’’
‘‘Because of the respect I have for all members of the House of Representatives, I am resigning as speaker,’’ Fox said. ‘‘The process of governing must continue and the transition of leadership must be conducted in an orderly manner.’’
Fox did not address whether he is the target of the investigation, what authorities are probing or even whether he has hired a lawyer.
A new speaker must be elected in an open session, and Mattiello said he expects that to occur Tuesday, when the House returns.