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The race is on in Rhode Island’s Senate District 1

Rhode Island state Senate District 1 candidates, from left to right, Michelle Rivera, Niyoka Powell, Jake Bissaillon, and Terrence M. Hassett.Handout

With Memorial Day behind us, the race to fill a vacant state Senate seat is beginning to heat up.

Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, a Providence Democrat, represented Senate District 1 for 36 years until she died on April 15 after a long battle with cancer. Now, three Democrats and one Republican say they are planning to run to represent the district, which includes Smith Hill and most of Providence’s north end.

The Democrats are Jake Bissaillon, chief of staff to Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio; Michelle Rivera, policy director at Progreso Latino; and Terrence M. Hassett, a former long-time Providence City Council member. The Republican is Niyoka Powell, second vice chairwoman of the Rhode Island GOP.


The Globe asked the four candidates to answer six questions. Here are their responses to two questions; they’re listed in alphabetical order and have been edited for space and clarity. You can read their responses to the four questions about specific legislation here.

What is the single most important issue facing Senate District 1 voters right now?

Bissaillon: Electing a state senator who will get big things done for the district. No one can come close to replacing Maryellen Goodwin, but the residents of District 1 cannot afford to elect someone who needs on-the-job training. As chief of staff to the Senate president, I have worked to get critical laws across the finish line: the Act on Climate, which aims to bring Rhode Island to net-zero emissions by 2050; the Let RI Vote Act, which expands voter access by creating a permanent early voting process and making it easier to vote by mail; and banning high-capacity magazines to prevent senseless violence.

Hassett: Education. It’s a sexy issue to speak about but more beneficial to present solutions to our educational system. It’s been rolling down the hill for many years. Why can’t we capture the deficiencies and apply the corrections? I think we can. I was appointed to the state Board of Regents for Education when I was 19 years old -- the youngest ever to be appointed and serve.


Powell: Lack of representation is the single most important issue facing Senate District 1 voters right now. There is no contact for us in the district currently since the unfortunate passing of our previous senator, and the election won’t be for another seven months, as expressed by constituents in the district.

Rivera: The cost of living. Many of my neighbors suffer from poverty, but even those who have made it to the middle class are still suffering. They’re still getting slammed with high utility bills, they’re still facing brutal rents and unaffordable home prices, and they’re still facing devastating healthcare costs. And so many people are worried about the proposed property tax hike.

Who do you admire most among Rhode Island political leaders, past or present, and why?

Bissaillon: Michael McCaffrey, the former Senate majority leader, will be officiating my wedding the Saturday after the primary. I asked him to because I deeply admire his loyalty and integrity. He’s also the best strategist I’ve ever met. Mike is the running back who takes a knee on the 1 yard line instead of running it into the end zone because he knows the only way the other team has a chance to win is if you give them the ball back.


Hassett: J. Joseph Garrahy (Democratic former Rhode Island governor). The best in my lifetime.

Powell: I don’t admire but respect Patricia Morgan (Republican state representative) for her ability to go against the grain and speak truth for the opposition. I enter this race because a new perspective and attention to the struggles of a disenfranchised community needs to be heard. Families are hurting. People are homeless. Children are being left behind. As a community, we need to represent ourselves and stand up for what we believe in. I believe in hard working families.

Rivera: I don’t have one clear figure I admire the most, but there are many people from the past of Rhode Island politics I admire. Maureen Maigret worked so hard to fight for our critical social programs in Rhode Island, both as director of elderly affairs and as a state representative. Phil West’s crusade for ethics and transparency mattered. We still have so much work to do to fight corruption. One of the first politicians I remember admiring was Jack Reed. And, of course, I admire Senator Goodwin. I remember that she was one of the few politicians who would ever visit Chad Brown, and I remember watching her fight for us on so many critical issues that affected those of us just struggling to get by. I want to carry on her legacy.

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


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at Follow him @FitzProv.