PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island's House majority leader said Sunday he received enough votes in a preliminary tally to replace Gordon Fox in arguably the most powerful position in Rhode Island government, and vowed to unify the chamber if he is elected speaker.
Democrat Nicholas Mattiello said he won the support of 41 legislators in a vote taken during the caucus meeting, three more than is needed to assume the speakership. He said that includes 39 Democrats and two Republicans.
Mattiello, who served as Fox's top deputy, said he expects those numbers to grow ahead of a formal vote expected to be held on Tuesday.
"I'm not the speaker yet," he said. But if elected, he added, "My biggest concern is uniting and unifying the House."
The Sunday night caucus comes a day after Fox relinquished his leadership post following raids at his Statehouse office and home as part of a criminal investigation. Officials will not say whom or what they are investigating.
House Oversight Chairman Michael Marcello, who is challenging Mattiello for speaker, met earlier in the day with his Democratic supporters in Johnston as well as five of the six Republican members of the 75-member chamber, whose backing he is seeking.
Marcello told reporters outside the meeting he had 33 votes, five votes shy of what's needed. Asked about his claim late Saturday that he had enough votes he said, "Everything's still in play."
"We're going to take it all the way to the House floor," he said.
Marcello said he represents a "sea change" in the way the House is run and that he wants a more open legislative process.
Rep. Joseph Trillo, the House minority whip, went to both meetings. Earlier in the day, he reported that he was leaning toward Marcello. He said Republicans want to vote as a bloc but that he didn't think they were "100 percent either way."
After the caucus on Sunday night, Trillo emerged saying he would vote for Mattiello.
The Friday raids on Fox's office and home came amid a joint investigation by the U.S. attorney's office, FBI, IRS and state police. Boxes of evidence were carried off after agents spent hours at Fox's home and office Friday.
Fox, a 52-year-old Providence Democrat who became the nation's first openly gay House speaker in 2010, said in an emailed statement Saturday that he plans to serve the rest of his term, which runs through the end of the year. But, he said: "My personal focus going forward will be on my family and dealing with the investigation."
"Because of the respect I have for all members of the House of Representatives, I am resigning as Speaker," Fox said. "The process of governing must continue and the transition of leadership must be conducted in an orderly manner."
Fox did not address whether he is the target of the investigation, what authorities are probing or even whether he has hired a lawyer.
A new speaker must be elected in an open session. Fox's resignation as speaker was, for all practical purposes, effective immediately. A spokesman for Fox said he believed Fox had to submit a letter to the secretary of state's office as a formality, and his resignation would be read into the House record.
However, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state said Sunday that its legal staff didn't believe the law required such a letter and that the office would contact the House about the particulars Monday morning.
Fox has represented Rhode Island's capital in the General Assembly for more than 20 years and is one of the state's most powerful politicians. His enduring legislative legacy is most likely to be legalizing gay marriage. In 2011, he abandoned a legalization push because of opposition in the Senate.
Instead, he pushed civil unions and was roundly criticized by some gay marriage supporters, who felt bitter and let down.
But just two years later, Fox was instrumental in pushing gay marriage legislation through as the political climate shifted nationally.
Associated Press writer Michelle R. Smith contributed to this report.