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One of Governor McKee’s top supporters is wavering

Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena.Kayana Szymczak/For ProPublica

Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena isn’t quite a free agent in the race for Rhode Island governor, but he’s not as enthusiastic about incumbent Governor Dan McKee as he was two months ago.

Polisena said Thursday that rather than taking a front-and-center approach as a lead cheerleader for McKee, he’s planning to focus on getting his son, Joseph Jr., elected as his successor in Johnston and helping other Democrats in town win their races.

”I’m not unendorsing him,” Polisena said of McKee, but he went on to acknowledge that he is displeased with some of McKee’s advisors pushing the governor to “move to the left” on certain issues.


Rhode Island’s political world has been abuzz all week that Polisena might actually support another candidate in the race, and several of them have been reaching out to the mayor. He maintains that he wants to focus on the local races, although he has also endorsed state Treasurer Seth Magaziner in Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District race, state Representative Gregg Amore for secretary of state, and former Central Falls mayor James Diossa for treasurer.

Polisena is one of the few municipal leaders in Rhode Island with a true political machine in his town, and statewide candidates understand that having his support can generate lots of votes.

The term-limited Polisena was a senior advisor on the McKee transition team last year when McKee became governor after Gina Raimondo joined the Biden administration, and he helped lead the search process for lieutenant governor. (Polisena supported Diossa for that job, but McKee selected Sabina Matos.)

Joseph Jr. has been planning a run for mayor for more than a year, but he is scheduled to formally launch his campaign on May 2 (keep an eye on who attends and doesn’t attend that event). He had been working as deputy counsel for the McKee administration and was planning to stay on the staff while he ran for mayor, but he recently left the job.


This story first appeared in Rhode Map, our free newsletter about Rhode Island that also contains information about local events, data about the coronavirus in the state, and more. If you’d like to receive it via e-mail Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.

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