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3 takeaways on last night’s special election in Providence

We now know who is likely to replace Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos on the Providence City Council

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Happy Wednesday and welcome to Rhode Map, your daily guide to everything happening in the Ocean State. I’m Dan McGowan and I’m still a fan of the speed humps all over Providence. Follow me on Twitter @DanMcGowan or send tips to Dan.McGowan@globe.com.

ICYMI: Rhode Island was up to 152,106 confirmed coronavirus cases on Tuesday, after adding 22 new cases. The most-recent overall daily test-positive rate was 0.4 percent. The state saw two new deaths, bringing the total to 2,719. There were 43 people in the hospital, and 574,846 residents were fully vaccinated.


We now know who is going to replace Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos on the Providence City Council.

Oscar Vargas, a state Senate aide who ran against Matos in 2018, narrowly defeated Doris De Los Santos in a special Democratic primary Tuesday, likely clinching the Ward 15 council seat because there are no other candidates running in the general election.

There were still a few votes to be counted, but Vargas held a 379-290 lead over De Los Santos, according to the Providence Board of Canvassers. The margin was more than enough for Vargas to declare victory.So what does it all mean? Here are a few quick takeaways.

A blow for Matos?

It’s no secret that Matos supported De Los Santos in the race, which is going to lead a lot of political insiders to declare that Governor Dan McKee got it wrong by picking Matos to be his lieutenant governor.  But if McKee is betting that big on the “Matos Machine” from Ward 15 to win statewide office, his strategy is probably flawed.

When you take a closer look at Tuesday’s results, you’ll see that Vargas brought in almost the exact same number of votes on Tuesday that he brought in when Matos crushed him in the 2018 primary. De Los Santos was a known commodity in Providence, having lost several other races over the last 15 years. People liked Vargas better. That’s all. It would have been a boost to Matos if De Los Santos pulled it off, but no one is going to remember this result next year.


Solid strategy from Vargas

In tiny turnout local elections, sometimes it’s important to not outthink the room. In a race where two-thirds of the vote came through mail ballots and emergency ballots, Vargas focused on mail ballots and emergency ballots. He worked closely with state Representative Ramon Perez and veteran Republican operative Dave Talan, who worked together to beat an incumbent last year with a similar strategy. They had a plan, and executed it flawlessly.

The future of the council

Vargas will only get one year on the council before his name is back on the ballot, so he’s not going to have a lot of time to make an impression. He’ll likely enjoy a friendly relationship with Council President John Igliozzi, but don’t forget that Igliozzi is term-limited. That’s why you’re going to see some of the more ambitious councilors – think Councilmen Jim TaylorJohn Goncalves, and Pedro Espinal – attempting to win Vargas over.

One other thing to remember: It’s a redistricting year. That means that if Vargas is worried about a potential opponent next year – keep an eye on Cassandra Inez taking another shot – he’ll have at least some say over how Ward 15 is redrawn.



⚓  My latest column: Governor Dan McKee needs to either have Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green’s back or let her move on. Read more.

⚓  All five statewide officeholders joined lawmakers and leading gun violence prevention advocates to call on the General Assembly to pass “common-sense gun legislation” before the legislative session ends. Read more.

⚓ Governor McKee on Tuesday said he is requesting a budget amendment of nearly $40 million because former governor Gina M. Raimondo’s administration provided him with inaccurate information and unrealistic assumptions about the state’s Eleanor Slater Hospital. Read more.

Dr. Javier Montañez has been named the interim superintendent of Providence schools. Read more.

⚓ If you’re an early bird, the peak viewing time in Rhode Island for the solar eclipse tomorrow is at 5:32 a.m. Read more.

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Politics: My colleague James Pindell writes Vice President Kamala Harris’ status as the de facto next Democratic presidential nominee is less sure now than it was even a year ago. Read more.

Health: New research suggests that Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine provides protection against worrisome virus variants — but perhaps not for the reasons researchers originally thought. Read more.

Outdoors: One silver lining from the pandemic: people seem to really like going outside. Read more.

Entertainment: The brilliant minds behind the “Thirty AF” Instagram account clearly deserve a Nobel Peace Prize. Read more.



Each day, Rhode Map offers a cheat sheet breaking down what’s happening in Rhode Island. Have an idea? E-mail us at RInews@globe.com.

⚓ BIRTHDAYS: Rhode Map readers, if you want a friend or family member to be recognized on Friday, send me an e-mail with their first and last name, and their age. If you want a shout out on the new Globe Rhode Island Facebook page, send along their Facebook handle as well.

⚓ The House Finance Committee will discuss Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s request to borrow up to $850 million and deposit it into the pension fund.

⚓ The Senate Education Committee has a lengthy agenda for its 5 p.m. meeting.

⚓ The Globe is hosting a virtual event at noon with author Sasha Issenberg on his new book, “The Engagement: America’s Quarter-Century Struggle Over Same-Sex Marriage.”

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Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.