Frank Ricci recently had a whirlwind of a week on the political scene.
At first, he was the only Republican running for any local seat in Johnston, throwing his hat into the ring for a District 2 seat on the Town Council.
By mid-week, though, Ricci found himself in the race for a surprisingly open seat representing District 42 in the Rhode Island House of Representatives.
Stephen Ucci, who has represented the district since 2004, announced he would not be seeking reelection, and Ricci is looking to replace him.
“There is a new person that’s running for Rep. Ucci’s seat, [Edward T.] Cardillo [Jr.], and since Steve is not running I felt as though it would be a good opportunity for me to step into there because I think I’m more acclimated for state issues where I think I can do more good,” Ricci said during a phone interview last Friday.
Ricci – who had run family business Chewbarka since the 1980s before handing it over to his son – said that he would like to make educational and infrastructure improvements in the district if he were elected. Ricci, a Davies High School graduate, said that providing more vocational options in Johnston would be at the top of his priorities.
Superintendent of Schools Bernard DiLullo and members of the School Committee, notably Vice Chair Joseph Rotella, have repeatedly requested help curbing the cost of sending students to other vocational institutions. Just before the pandemic gripped Rhode Island, Reps. Mario Mendez and Deborah Fellela of Districts 13 and 43, respectively, attended a meeting where the board explicitly sought legislation to address the matter.
Ricci had his own suggestion for helping Johnston retain students, and it involves constructing a building on the side of the school to house new services.
“They certainly have and there’s plenty of room to build a building there on the side, which I would be more than happy to work with Sen. [Frank] Lombardo or any of the other Johnston delegation to make that happen,” Ricci said. “When there’s that much of a demand – and these kids do not have the opportunity, these kids are not set up to go to colleges. I certainly was not, and I excelled at Davies and I graduated top of my class in machine technology.”
Ricci was critical of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s handling of the statewide shutdown, saying that while she has done well stemming the spread of the virus, businesses should be allowed much more latitude as they reopen. He agreed with Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, alluding to earlier comments he made regarding restaurants opening quicker and at full capacity.
“I say that we really have to let the businesses be on their own,” Ricci said. “They know what the rules are. We have a manufacturing company which, fortunately we were allowed to stay open, we did not experience any outbreaks … I would definitely ask that we be more lenient toward the companies and let them make up their own decisions of how they’re going to reopen under the guidelines.”
To emphasize his point, Ricci used the example of describing hairdressers and salon owners of being “paranoid” about reopening under current guidelines.
“Some of the things I did agree with [the governor], but the way things were brought across and the way we were all talked down to like we were 2 years old and we can’t take care of ourselves isn’t fair,” Ricci said. “Just one thing, you cannot go get your beard shaved, but you can have someone touch your hair and touch your neck and do other things, but if you want to get your beard shaved you cannot do it. That’s stopping a lot of people from going to the hairdressers. All the hairdressers are paranoid about being sued.”
Ricci spoke briefly on the state of the Republican Party in Rhode Island and his views on President Donald Trump. He said that, while he thinks Trump is doing a “very good job,” the president could tone down his rhetoric on social media. He cited tariffs on China that have helped business come back to Chewbarka as a significant factor in his support.
“The Republican Party is a growing force,” Ricci said. “We feel as though our hands are being tied. We feel as though we can’t speak up for ourselves or what our positions are … [the tariffs] directly helped us. That enabled us to save our company and to keep it prosperous so we can keep manufacturing in Rhode Island, and we’re seeing many customers are coming back on a weekly basis.”