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Manuevering for the Speakership

With Speaker William J. Murphy widely expected to step down in a year, the jockeying for position is well under way. Murphy's right hand, Majority Leader Gordon Fox of Providence, is the heir apparent. But Representative Gregory Schadone is waging an increasingly public campaign for the top spot. And Representative Stephen Ucci is in the mix, too.

Smith Hill chatter has Ucci reaching out to Fox, of late, proposing an alliance that would make him the next majority leader. And insiders say the deal, while far from consummated, makes some sense. Ucci, of Johnston, would add some geographical balance to the ticket. And the pairing would effectively end Schadone's already long-shot bid for the top job.

That, in turn, would be good for the broader membership. An active speaker's race would turn every race in next year's House elections into a proxy war. Add a general anti-incumbent feeling amid tough times for Rhode Island and everyone becomes vulnerable.

Still, Fox's hold on the job is considered strong enough that he could, in theory, forgo an alliance with Ucci and tap a number two of his choosing. The obvious pick would be Steven M. Constantino, a friend who is chairman of the powerful House finance committee. Trouble is, Constantino is from Providence, creating geographical balance problems. And he is not a lawyer. Majority leaders are not always lawyers, but a legal background can prove helpful in shepherding bills through the chamber.

Putting Constantino on the ticket could also open the door for a more robust opposition, if enough of the rank-and-file chafed at the idea of two Providence representatives running the chamber.

So, that could open the door to a different pick. Insiders say to keep an eye on Nicholas A. Mattiello, a lawyer from Cranston first elected to the House just three years ago.

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