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The R.I. Senate District 1 race is getting crowded

The Rhode Island State House.Kylie Cooper for The Boston Globe

Four Democrats and one Republican have declared their candidacies for the state Senate District 1 seat left vacant by the death of Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, a Providence Democrat.

More candidates could jump into the race before today’s 4 p.m. deadline. So Rhode Island is bound to see another hotly contested election in addition to the First Congressional District contest.

Providence College political science Professor Adam S. Myers noted that Senate District 1 includes the State House. “That district holds the seat of power for the state,” he said. “So it’s fitting that candidates are coming out of the woodwork to run there.”


The four Democrats who declared their candidacies Thursday are: state Representative Nathan Biah; Jake Bissaillon, chief of staff to Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio; Mario Mancebo, who has run for state Senate twice before; and Michelle Rivera, policy director at Progreso Latino.

The Republican is Niyoka Powell, second vice chairwoman of the Rhode Island GOP.

Biah, a Liberian refugee and Providence high school principal, had originally declared his candidacy in the First Congressional District race, which has drawn a field of 12 Democrats and two Republicans. But on June 5, Biah announced he would run for the state Senate seat instead.

Bissaillon will benefit from the support of Ruggerio, a North Providence Democrat who has already made a $1,000 donation to his campaign. Former Providence City Council member Terrence M. “Terry” Hassett had said he intended to run for the Senate seat, but he has since pulled out and endorsed Bissaillon.

Mancebo ran in a Senate District 6 Democratic primary in 2010, losing to then-senator Harold M. Metts, 71 percent to 29 percent. And he faced Metts again in 2014, losing 74 percent to 26 percent.

Powell, who came to the United States from Jamaica at a young age and has worked in psychology at Butler Hospital, challenged Goodwin for the Senate District 1 seat last year, running as an independent and losing 81 percent to 19 percent.


Rivera, Bissaillon, and Powell previously responded to Globe questions about their stances on abortion coverage, gun legislation, the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, and iGaming.

Myers said the Senate District 1 has fairly large Black and Latino populations. “It’s a racially diverse, working-class urban district -- the kind of district where Democrats overwhelmingly have an advantage,” he said. So he expects the winner is likely to emerge from the Democratic primary.

Special elections such as this often have low turnout, Myers said. But he pointed out that four of the district’s 13 precincts are in the First Congressional District, which will see increased voter interest this year. Those four precincts accounted for 57 percent of the district’s votes in the 2022 governor’s race.

”So that would suggest it’s not going to be a garden-variety special election for a Senate district,” Myers said. “More than half of the people in the district could be mobilized to vote in this special election by the congressional race.”

While congressional candidates must collect 500 signatures to make the ballot, state Senate candidates need only 100 signatures, which are due Aug. 8. Early in-person voting for the primary begins Aug. 16. The primary takes place Sept. 5, and the special election is Nov. 7.

Myers noted that Goodwin served in the Senate for 36 years before she died in April at age 58 after a long battle with cancer. And he said, “Based on the long tenure of their predecessor, whoever is elected to state Senate District 1 stands the possibility of being in that position for decades to come.”


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 email Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at Follow him @FitzProv.