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Fourteen staffers to watch in 2012 — and why

January 18, 2012

It’s a new year with a bevy of challenges for Rhode Island and the state’s elected officials. These are some of the behind-the-scenes people worth watching:

1. George Zainyeh. Governor Lincoln Chafee had a stormy 2011, leaving his approval rating at 27 percent in a recent Brown poll. Even when Chafee has a tangible accomplishment — like cutting DMV wait-times — it tends to be overshadowed by his penchant for going off-message and stubbornly sticking to his core beliefs. With Chafee approaching the mid-point of his four-year-term, Zainyeh faces the task of bringing a more coherent approach and coordinated messaging to the administration.

2. and 3. Michael D’Amico/Arianne Lynch. D’Amico won props last year for his negotiating style and he had success in extracting concessions from public safety unions. Budget issues will remain front and center in Providence, as evidenced by the ongoing battle with Brown University, so D’Amico has plenty on his plate. Meanwhile, the Taveras administration scored a coup by luring Lynch from Advocacy Solutions. As an operative with an impressive skillset, Lynch could be City Hall’s new secret ingredient. Also worth watching are J.R. Pagliarini, leading the city’s efforts at the Statehouse, and Taveras’ politically savvy new communications director, Michael Raia.

4. Frank Anzeveno. The chief of staff for Speaker Gordon Fox can be expected to play a big role in deciding which reps get rewarded or punished on the way to elections later this year.

5. Joseph Shekarchi. Raimondomania seems to know few bounds, and the treasurer will oversee the development of Rhode Island’s new defined-contribution plan. But the new superstar of Ocean State politics will likely find it difficult to replicate her place at the center of the state’s public dialogue. As Raimondo’s campaign manager in 2010, and a troubleshooter on such thorny topics as runway expansion at T.F. Green, Shekarchi remains a key influence on Raimondo’s political thinking.

6. Mindy Myers, because she’s running Elizabeth Warren’s high-profile challenge to US Senator Scott Brown.

7. and 8. Eric Hyers and Chris Fierro. David Cicilline’s been out there working it — raising money, opening an office in Woonsocket, pitching support to his liberal base — and his reelection campaign has yet to heat up. While Cicilline’s critics yearn for his exile from elected offiice, the freshman congressman can’t be easily written off, especially in a presidential election year when RI Democrats will flock to the polls. Look for two of the important players in Cicilline’s campaign to be Hyers, his intense campaign manager in 2010, and district director Fierro, who, as a former state rep from Woonsocket, has a close knowledge of the northern part of CD1.

9. Mark Zaccaria. The state GOP has struggled to capitalize on seemingly fertile opportunities in recent election cycles. As the party’s new chairman, Zaccaria is the latest to face the challenge of making Republicans a relevant force in Rhode Island.

10. Angela Romans.  Providence is a central battleground in the debate over the future of public education and the place for such entities as Achievement First. As Mayor Taveras’ director on education policy, Romans is one of the state’s critical strategic thinkers on this high-stakes issue.

12, 12, 13, and 14. Ocean State liberals were licking their wounds after 2011 yielded civil unions and a new Voter ID law, to name two of their big bones of contention. As progressives try to regroup, Patrick Crowley, political director for the National Education Association Rhode Island, will be part of it. The same is true of Kate Brock, executive director of Ocean State Action, who helped lead the charge in calling on Gina Raimondo to return her Manhattan Institute award. A new face to watch is Paula Hodges, formerly political director for the Missouri NEA, and now RI director of public policy and advocacy for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England. Last but not least, Emmanuel Falck, executive director of the SEIU’s state council, is out front in calling for the restoration of funds for the developmentally disabled.

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