Ucci opens up on decision not to run for reelection

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Dist. 42 Rep. Stephen Ucci elaborated on his decision against running for reelection this fall during a wide-ranging interview with the Sun Rise last Friday, discussing his future in politics, the pandemic and changes he would like to see at the State House.

Ucci, who represents Johnston and Cranston, had filed papers to run for reelection and was listed on the Secretary of State’s portal through last week’s deadline. However, he said that after some reflection following back surgery on Wednesday, he made the firm choice to withdraw and support Democratic candidate Edward Cardillo Jr. to replace him.

“With COVID and everything changing, we weren’t in session,” Ucci, who has been in office since 2004, said. “I had a lot more time at home, and the last month or so I had back problems and I just started to really take stock of whether or not it was time for me to take a break from politics for a while. I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.”

Ucci said he had spoken with Cardillo previously and that they “share philosophically a lot of the same things,” adding that they are both moderate Democrats. He said Cardillo has lived in District 42 his entire life, and that they had recent conversations wherein Ucci mentioned his reservations about running for reelection.

“I had said, ‘Ed, I may not run.’ I did tell him on the last day, I don’t know yet, ‘Put it in, we’ll see what happens and how I feel when I come out of surgery,’ because I didn’t know,” Ucci said. “We put it in, we talked that night and I said, ‘You know, I’ve been thinking of it and I’m just not going to go forward.’ I think he’ll do a great job.”

As far as his local legacy goes, Ucci was proudest of his ability to get more Johnston and state representation on the landfill board. He said Cardillo remains “keenly aware” of ensuring that balance stays in place, too.

“I’ve gotten more Johnston residents put on the board now, and we’ve got the governor’s office to actually be on the board rather than ex-officio, so the majority of the people are either from Johnston or accountable to the governor and that’s really made a big difference in the leadership at the landfill, how it’s run, to really keep it from taking over the town, keep the odor controls,” Ucci said.

He added: “[Ed]’s lived near it his whole life, and he knows it’s important to keep an eye on that landfill.”

Ucci, who has worked with Speaker Nicholas Mattiello on his leadership team as senior deputy majority leader, explored his relationship with his fellow Cranston representative. He said that, while they’ve had their disagreements, the two have remained “very closely aligned” and Ucci said he has “never had a difficult vote once he was there.”

Ucci pointed to the phase-out of the car tax – which he said remains a priority along with level funding cities and towns – as well as the RhodeWorks project as hallmarks of the past few years.

“I’ve actually known Nick since I started practicing law in 1996, so we’ve had a long-time relationship,” Ucci said. “Nick’s been a great speaker. We haven’t agreed on everything, and fortunately when you’re there for a while and you’re in leadership, you get to have those disagreements behind closed doors and shape it before it comes out, and he’s always willing to listen.”

The outgoing representative played both sides when asked whether he agrees more with Gov. Gina Raimondo’s slower phased reopening or Mattiello’s suggestion to speed up the process and get restaurants back to full capacity.

Ucci said that he approved of and appreciated how Raimondo has managed the state’s response to coronavirus, but urged more outreach to local businesses as they reopen and conform with guidelines. He said he would like to see the reopening move faster, too, to reinvigorate the economy.

“There have been some issues that they’re not as informed about as we get, and that’s why it’s our job to let them know,” Ucci said. “For instance, Little League fields, they came out with a rule saying only one parent could go. Well, you’re outside, it’s pretty much wide open, why would they do that with something like that, and I had a constituent bring that up. Same thing with restaurants, depending on how the restaurant is, I think it should be restaurant by restaurant of how we can accommodate it, how it’s doing it before we have the blanket rules.”

Ucci said he isn’t sure what his political future holds, but he didn’t rule out an eventual attempt at returning to the State House. In the meantime, though, he said he would like to see an overhaul the budget process.

In a previous interview with the Sun Rise and again on Friday, Ucci advocated for a two-year state budgeting cycle. He said it would allow the state to implement the budget during one year, while tackling “substantive bills” during the other.

“I think we could bring stability to the cities and towns, a lot of stability, and it would allow for more long-range planning and the ability to manage budgets, but hold the departments more accountable, and we’ve absolutely done that under Speaker Mattiello with increased use of the Oversight Committee,” Ucci said.

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