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RI POLITICS

Diossa calls for Pryor to step down as Commerce secretary

The state treasurer candidate claims his opponent has “clung to power” in an attempt to influence Tidewater Landing negotiations. Pryor responded: “I’m glad I’m being welcomed onto the campaign trail so eagerly.”

A rendering of the proposed soccer stadium that would be part of the Tidewater Landing project in Pawtucket.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — State treasurer candidate James A. Diossa on Wednesday called for Stefan Pryor to immediately step down as Rhode Island’s commerce secretary, saying his expected opponent in the treasurer’s race is using his state position for “future political gain.”

Former Central Falls Mayor James A. Diossa.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

When Pryor announced on May 24 that he planned to run for state treasurer, he said he planned to transition out of his Commerce position within two weeks. But Diossa noted that Pryor is still the Commerce secretary, nearly three weeks later.

Diossa claimed that Pryor has “recklessly clung to power” at Commerce in order to participate in the ongoing negotiations over the Tidewater Landing project, which includes a proposed soccer stadium in Pawtucket.

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In a statement, Diossa said Pryor’s continued presence puts the Tidewater negotiations “at risk” and that it is “of the highest ethical and legal importance that Mr. Pryor immediately resign as secretary of commerce while negotiations continue.”

Diossa noted that Pawtucket Mayor Donald R. Grebien has endorsed him for treasurer. But he did not mention in his statement that his fiancee, state Senator Sandra Cano, a Pawtucket Democrat, works as commerce director for the city of Pawtucket, or that she played an integral role in the tax incremental financing legislation that is being used for the Tidewater Landing project.

In response, Pryor dismissed Diossa’s claims. “I’m glad I’m being welcomed onto the campaign trail so eagerly,” he said. “Everyone knows I’m transitioning from my current job shortly. Can’t wait to hit the ground full force.”

Rhode Island Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor.Gretchen Ertl/The Boston Globe

The Tidewater Landing project is well over-budget due to inflation and increased construction costs. The project was supposed to fill the economic development void left by the 2021 departure of the Pawtucket Red Sox for Worcester.

Governor Daniel J. McKee’s administration said there was an agreement in principle between the state, Pawtucket, and developer Fortuitous Partners to shift $20 million in state funding to support building the 10,000-seat stadium itself. That money had previously been approved for a later stage of project, which includes housing, commercial, and retail space near the stadium.

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But during a meeting on Tuesday, board members of the Commerce Corporation, the state’s economic development agency chaired by McKee, questioned whether moving those funds to the stadium would result in only a stadium — and nothing else — getting built.

In his statement, Diossa called the Tidewater Landing development “a special, once-in-a-generation project for all of Rhode Island.”

“Rhode Islanders, particularly in our urban centers, deserve to benefit from investment in great public spaces, housing, and family entertainment,” he said. “We need to capitalize on opportunities like Tidewater Landing to grow our economy and enhance our quality of life, rather than shrink from the stage due to political fear.”

Diossa argued that the plan contains “significant taxpayer protections,” and the public investment is built on revenue bonds that won’t place taxpayers on the hook. “The economics are strong here, the taxpayer protections are stronger, and this opportunity for Rhode Island and the City of Pawtucket cannot be missed,” he said.

Diossa claimed that one board member, Donna Sams, “expressed frustration about having been kept in the dark until such a late stage.” But Sams disagreed, saying in a statement that she did not have a problem with Pryor’s involvement, and that she was not consulted by the Diossa campaign on the use of her name or the interpretation of her questions.

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“I would never rush Stefan’s departure,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “I have worked with him over the course of his tenure and have found him to be proactive in providing information and, in general, an outstanding public official.”

Karl Wadensten, another Commerce board member and the president and CEO of VIBCO Vibrators, also stood up for Pryor in an emailed statement.

“Stefan Pryor has been working tirelessly and selflessly for our board, for Pawtucket, and for our state,” Wadensten said. “To say otherwise is disingenuous. In fact I was one of the people who encouraged Stefan to stay in his position in order to get us to this point in process, and I thank Stefan for doing so.”

Both Diossa and Pryor are Democrats. Republican James L. Lathrop, the North Kingstown finance director, is also running for treasurer. They are vying to replace term-limited General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, a Democrat who is running for the 2nd Congressional District seat.

Brian Amaral of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.