PROVIDENCE – Less than an hour before his swearing-in as Rhode Island’s new governor on Tuesday night, Dan McKee unveiled his 30 staff picks so far.
They include: The son of a mayor. A television news anchor. A former head of the state budget. The head of Black Lives Matter RI And a staunch defender of state-funded school alternatives known as “charter schools”.
In fact, with his first budget due next week, McKee marked a major coup by bringing former state budget manager Thomas Mullaney into his State House team as senior adviser.
Mullaney is “on loan” to the governor’s office by the state’s management and budget office, according to a McKee spokesperson.
His other hires included:
Johnston City Councilor Joseph Polisena Jr., son of Johnston Mayor Joe Polisena and a part-time $ 28,025 per year lawyer in the General Assembly’s drafting office; Antonio Afonso, who in recent years has been counsel for the City Council of Cumberland, McKee’s hometown; and Corey Jones, who until recently was the Executive Director of Black Lives Matter RI PAC.
Polisena will be McKee’s deputy policy counsel; Afonso, Senior Deputy Chief of Staff; and Jones, a policy advisor.
McKee also hired Channel 6 presenter Alana Cerrone-O’Hare – from a family deeply rooted in her hometown of Cumberland – as press secretary, and Lexi Kriss, former producer of WPRO, host. from Dan Yorke’s “State of Mind” on Fox Providence, as Assistant to the Communications Office. (Kriss was most recently the Deputy Director of Communications for the City of Providence.)
Their salaries in their new functions are not yet known.
Joe Jr., as he is called in Johnston, was hailed at one point as “an extraordinary fundraiser,” by Richard DelFino Jr., the longtime chairman of the Johnston Democratic Town Committee. His father, the current mayor of Johnston, at one point described his son as a potential 2022 candidate for mayor of Johnston.
Jones’ bio on the Black Lives Matter website describes him as “a full-time substitute teacher … pursuing his Masters in Public Administration … [who] plans to pursue a career in political advocacy for issues facing people of color. “
The BLM website also says, “Corey is experienced and passionate about popular campaigns to elect progressive candidates.”
McKee also hired Guerline Bruny Aurelus, who identifies as a real estate agent, bank branch supervisor and Haitian-Creole interpreter on his LinkedIn page, as director of constituent services and, as deputy chief of staff Christopher Abhulime, director of research laboratory at the University. from Massachusetts Medical School and Senior Pastor of King’s Tabernacle Church according to his LinkedIn page.
As expected, McKee also hired former State Representative Kevin Horan, a longtime lobbyist at State House for Gambling Interests and Mayor’s Academies, as legislative director.
McKee retains most of the chiefs of staff of predecessor Gina Raimondo and several of her senior executives, including her chief legal counsel Claire Richards, who has been a trusted advisor to governor after governor since governor-elect Lincoln. Almond hired her in 1995, and assistant legal counsel Kimberly Ahern and Eileen Cheng.
Other Raimondo incumbents include: Brenna McCabe, a senior advisor; Americo “Rico” Vota, Deputy Director of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs; Ronald Desiderato, special assistant to the governor; Raimondo’s Planning Director Meredith McKenna, in a new role of “legal administrator”; and David Barricelli Jr., a Constituent Services Associate in the Governor’s Office.
McKee is also bringing Christine Lopes Metcalfe to her State House team after her last role as CEO of the School Building Authority under the state Department of Education.
His experience includes roles in arenas dear to McKee’s heart, including: Executive Director, RI-CAN (Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now), and Senior Strategy Office for the Rhode Island Mayors’ Academies.
In 2016, she wrote an opinion piece in The Journal which blamed the “turf battles” ingrained in the Rotary education system, in part, for the latest loss in Massachusetts from a reputable employer.
“As Massachusetts calls for unity and comes up with financial solutions to enable public charter schools to thrive, in Rhode Island, the House of Representatives recently passed two bills that, in practice, would amount to one moratorium on the growth and expansion of public charter schools, ” she wrote.
His new title: Senior Advisor to the Governor in Education.
McKee also brings all of his staff into the Lieutenant Governor’s small office with him, including his chief of staff, Tony Silva, a former police chief from Cumberland; Andrea Palagi, its director of communications then and now, and its former deputy chief of staff Paulette Hamilton, former administrator of the city of North Smithfield, in a new role: director of municipal affairs.
In a press release announcing her staff picks on Tuesday, McKee said, “I am fortunate to have recruited a highly professional team of talented, experienced individuals with diverse perspectives and a shared passion for public service.
“In the months to come, they will help me achieve my goals of ending the pandemic, revitalizing our economy, supporting our communities and returning Rhode Island to a normal state.”
Staff chooses so far
Christopher Abhulime, Deputy Chief of Staff – $ 154,198
Antonio Afonso, Senior Deputy Chief of Staff – $ 162,045
Kim Ahern, Director of Policy and Senior Counsel – $ 129,023
Suzanne Augenstein, Director of Executive Operations – $ 78,673
Guerline Aurelus, Director of Client Services – $ 78,673
David Barricelli Jr., Constituent Services Associate – $ 48,307
Jonathan Bissonnette, Writer and Content Manager – $ 55,677
Joseph Casoli, Governor’s Office Liaison Officer – $ 26,000
Cheyenne Cazeault, Policy Advisor – $ 62,339
Alana Cerrone-O’Hare, press officer – $ 90,487
Eileen Cheng, associate lawyer – $ 139,085
Tara Chicharro, Special Assistant to the Deputy Chief of Staff – $ 70,039
Rosa DeCastillo, Director of Community Affairs and Outreach – $ 93,766
Ronald Desiderato, Special Assistant to the Governor – $ 78,055.90 (on loan from the Ministry of Administration)
Tabatha Dube, Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff – $ 70,039
Craig Dwyer, Director of Appointments – $ 93,766
Christopher Farrell, Senior Advisor to the Governor – $ 123,982
Jennifer Fondeur, Office Manager – $ 70,960
Paulette Hamilton, Director of Municipal Affairs – $ 93,766
Kevin Horan, Director of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs – $ 123,982
Corey Jones, Policy Advisor – $ 58,119
Lexi Kriss, Assistant Director of Communications – $ 90,378
Christine Lopes Metcalfe, Governor’s Senior Advisor on Education – $ 155,225.46 (on loan from Rhode Island Department of Education)
Brenna McCabe, Senior Advisor to the Governor – $ 149,163
Meredith McKenna, Legal Administrator – $ 78,673
Thomas Mullaney, Senior Advisor – $ 199,794 (on loan from the Office of Management and Budget)
Andrea Palagi, Director of Communications – $ 118,946
Joseph Polisena Jr., assistant political lawyer – $ 93,766
Becky Rodrigues, Special Assistant to the Deputy Chief of Staff – $ 73,448.18 (loaned by the Human Resources Department)
Claire Richards, Executive Lawyer – $ 164,079.30
Victoria Scott, Policy Advisor – $ 58,119
Anthony Silva, Chief of Staff – $ 187,421
Joy Vaudreuil, Director of Planning – $ 78,673
Americo Vota, Deputy Director of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs – $ 113,911