Despite speculation that he may be selected as the new lieutenant governor, Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena told the Sun Rise this week that he doesn't have interest in the position.
Polisena has for years been a close friend of current Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, whose seat will become vacant upon his elevation to governor when Gina Raimondo – if confirmed by the U.S. Senate – departs for Washington, D.C., to lead the federal Department of Commerce under President-elect Joe Biden.
As of now, McKee will have the authority to fill the lieutenant governor’s seat through appointment, although the General Assembly may take steps to alter the process.
Polisena’s name has been floated for the job in recent months in anticipation of Raimondo being nominated for a cabinet post. However, he said Monday morning that he’s told McKee he doesn’t want to be considered.
“About four weeks ago we talked about a replacement if he moved up and he had asked me, and I told him that I wasn’t interested at this point in time,” Polisena said. “I don’t want to leave in the middle of my term here. There’s a lot more that I’ve got to do. I told him I would help in any way possible, and that’s when he said, ‘Would you be a member of my transition team?’ I said absolutely. I look forward to obviously helping him out there. He’s highly qualified, but this isn’t a one-person job.”
Polisena instead endorsed former Central Falls Mayor James Diossa for lieutenant governor. He spoke glowingly of Diossa, saying he would be an “excellent pick” and adding he has spoken to seven or eight other town leaders who concurred.
He even said that he wouldn’t run against Diossa for the seat when it comes up for election in 2022.
“He’s a friend and I feel confident in his abilities,” Polisena said. “I’m coming out publicly for Mayor Diossa, I think he would make a great lieutenant governor, only because he’s got experience in running municipal government. It’s not a position for someone to start learning, [and] he’s eminently qualified and he’s a smart young man. He’s the future of our state, when it comes to politics and running government. He’s very bright, very articulate, he ran Central Falls and he left Central Falls in a better position than when he took over.”
Polisena initially told McKee he would think about the position, before talking with his wife and ultimately deciding it wasn’t in his best interest. He said he still has “a lot that I want to do” in Johnston, and that he wants to help his son, Town Council Vice President Joseph Polisena Jr., with some of the projects he is looking to bring to town.
“I want to make sure that I’m here to help he and the other council members. I love doing this, being the mayor of Johnston,” Polisena said. “I spoke to my wife about it and she said, ‘Do you really want to do that?’ I’m looking forward to some day my son having grandchildren, and when you’re lieutenant governor, you’re [working] all day. You go from Westerly to Woonsocket, Barrington to Burrillville, you’re all over the state, campaigning and doing the people’s business. I don’t know if I want to do that at this point in time.”
He did offer his services to McKee’s transition team, bringing his background as a nurse and firefighter as the new governor inherits the coronavirus pandemic and impending mass vaccination.
Polisena said he has faith in McKee because of his past experience as the former mayor of Cumberland, and that “he’s going to remember that it’s the mayors and town administrators and town managers that make up the state.”
“I hate to sound corny, but all politics is local, so he understands whatever cuts they make in the General Assembly, it’s passed on, it’s basically disseminated to the cities and towns,” Polisena said. “Obviously he ran a business, he’s been the lieutenant governor. Dan is a quick study. He’s a quick learner, quick study, so he’ll have no problem handling the pandemic, he’ll have no problem taking care of the budget, so I have faith and trust in him.”
As far as the outgoing governor heading to D.C., Polisena said he wasn’t surprised to hear of Raimondo’s nomination. She had been discussed for other cabinet positions, but Polisena said he believes Commerce was the right choice.
“I think it’s good for the state that we have someone from our little Rhode Island, the smallest state in the union, going to a major cabinet position,” he said. “My opinion was they were definitely going to pluck her because of the talents that she has. Health and Human Services really isn’t in her wheelhouse, as much as Commerce is. She’s an intelligent person and creating jobs like she did in this state and putting people to work, that’s in her wheelhouse.”