PROVIDENCE — While the governor’s race will be Rhode Island’s marquee contest in 2022, a growing number of potential candidates are considering a run for the treasurer’s office, which in recent years has served as a launching pad for gubernatorial candidates.
The Globe has learned that five Democrats are potential candidates for the treasurer’s seat: State Senate Finance Chairman Ryan W. Pearson, Rhode Island Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor, former Central Falls Mayor James A. Diossa, state Representative Scott A. Slater, and Nicholas A. Autiello II, who was a special adviser to the former governor Gina M. Raimondo.
Republicans, meanwhile, have a potential candidate in former Cranston Mayor Allan W. Fung, who lost the last two gubernatorial races to Raimondo.
The current general treasurer, Democrat Seth Magaziner, is term limited and has amassed $1.3 million in his campaign account as he prepares for an expected run for governor. His predecessor, Raimondo, served as governor before becoming US Secretary of Commerce in March. And her predecessor as treasurer, Frank T. Caprio, ran for governor in 2010.
“It’s not always a stepping stone, but clearly it can be,” Providence College political science Joseph Cammarano said of the treasurer’s position. “It’s fertile ground for competent people to make a difference in the state and raise their visibility and stature.”
Also, in a state as small as Rhode Island, a lot of families have a vested interest in the treasurer’s office and how it manages the state pension system, Cammarano said. “It really is a high visibility position across a wide array of voters,” he said. But it can attract a narrower pool of candidates because it requires a technical understanding of finances, he said.
Cammarano said that of all the potential candidates identified so far, Fung has the highest name recognition at this point. But the state has not had a Republican treasurer since Nancy J. Mayer served from 1993 to 1999.
Fung, 51, was mayor of Cranston from 2009 to 2020, serving as the state’s first Chinese-American mayor. He was the Republican nominee for governor in 2014 and 2018, and he now is a partner in the Pannone Lopes Devereaux & O’Gara law firm.
Before becoming mayor, he worked as government relations and legal counsel for MetLife, and he was a state special assistant attorney general. He graduated from Rhode Island College and Suffolk University Law School.
Fung raised no money during the first quarter of this year, and now has $19,205 in his campaign account, according to the state Board of Elections.
Pearson, 32, is a Cumberland Democrat who became Senate Finance Committee chairman in January. He has been a state senator since 2013 and previously served on the Cumberland school committee. He works as vice president of consumer lending at Citizens bank. He graduated from Providence College and attended American University in Washington, D.C., while working as a staff member in the US Senate.
Pearson told the Globe that he has not decided whether he will run for treasurer yet, but he hopes to make a decision by year’s end. “I have enjoyed all the time I’ve had in the Senate,” he said, “but it is something I am considering.”
Pearson raised about $6,000 in the first quarter of this year, bringing his campaign account to $62,719.
Pryor, 49, of Providence, became Rhode Island’s first Secretary of Commerce in 2015, when he was appointed by Raimondo. From 2011-2015, he was Connecticut’s education commissioner. From 2006-2011, he was deputy mayor and director of economic and housing development for the City of Newark, N.J., when now-Senator Cory Booker was mayor. And he was president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. He earned undergraduate and law degrees from Yale University.
Pryor has not opened a campaign account.
Diossa, 35, served as mayor of Central Falls from 2013 to 2020, becoming the youngest mayor in the state’s history and the city’s first Latino mayor. He now works as senior adviser at Brown University’s Policy Lab. He had been considered one of the main contenders to succeed then-lieutenant governor Daniel J. McKee once McKee became governor, but McKee chose then-Providence City Council President Sabina Matos for the job. Before becoming mayor, Diossa served on the Central Falls City Council. He graduated from Becker College.
Diossa raised about $9,000 in the first quarter of this year, bringing his campaign account to $11,484.
Slater, 46, a Providence Democrat, has represented House District 10 since 2010. He is a deputy majority leader and first vice chairman of the House Finance Committee. He is co-chairman of the Legislative Oversight Commission of the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act, named after his late father, and he recently introduced legislation that would legalize recreational marijuana while requiring expungement of marijuana-related convictions. He works as a budget analyst for the City of Providence. He graduated from Bryant University.
Slater raised no money in the first quarter of this year, and has $11,880 in his campaign account.
Autiello, 30, of Providence, served as a special adviser in Raimondo’s Executive Office of Commerce. He now works as director of SMI Financial Services at the Sustainable Markets Initiative, which was founded by Prince Charles, the prince of Wales, “to lead and accelerate the world’s transition to a sustainable future.” In 2018, Autiello finished third in a Democratic primary for the District 5 Senate seat now held by Senator Samuel W. Bell. He graduated from Florida International University and received a master’s degree from the London School of Economic and Political Science.
Autiello raised no money in the first quarter of this year, and has no money in his campaign account.
Robert A. Walsh Jr., executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island, said Fung would stand “a good chance” in the treasurer’s race because of his high name recognition, but he said, “I don’t know if he can win a Republican primary.”
Walsh said Pearson benefits from being a banker and Senate Finance chair, and having the most campaign cash. So he might be smart to raise funds early, hoping to clear the field, but Walsh said the fund-raising threshold for a treasurer’s race is not nearly as high as for the governor’s race, for instance.
Regarding the potential for a Pryor candidacy, Walsh said, “I can’t think of a non-native Cabinet member going for statewide office,” and “I don’t know who his army is.” But he said one intriguing question is who Raimondo would support, or if she’d support anyone now that she’s in Biden’s Cabinet.
Walsh said Diossa has name recognition as a former mayor, and he could benefit from Latino support. But he said the most interesting thing is that Diossa now appears to be looking at the treasurer’s office rather than the lieutenant governor’s job.
If Slater jumps in, the race could include a senator and a representative, and Walsh said, “Anyone who has actually held elected office has a leg up in this.” Plus, Slater’s father was well respected, he said.
Autiello might generate some support in the Providence area, Walsh said. But he said, “He’s better off with Prince Charles Lombardi of North Providence than with Prince Charles of Wales.”