Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox is resigning from his leadership post and will not run for re-election, he said Saturday, a day after federal and state authorities raided his Statehouse office and home as part of a criminal investigation that they would not detail.
“Because of the respect I have for all members of the House of Representatives, I am resigning as Speaker,” Fox said in a written statement emailed to reporters. “The process of governing must continue and the transition of leadership must be conducted in an orderly manner.”
The 52-year-old Providence Democrat, who became the nation’s first openly gay House speaker in 2010, said he planned to serve out the remainder of his term through the end of the year, but that “my personal focus going forward will be on my family and dealing with the investigation.”
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.
The Friday raids were carried out by the U.S. attorney’s office, FBI, IRS and state police. Boxes of evidence were carried off after agents spent hours at both his home and office Friday. Officials will not say whom or what they are investigating.
While questions remain about the nature of the investigation and Fox’s role in it, 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. He became emotional at the bill-signing ceremony on the Statehouse steps last year as he addressed the crowd and talked about his longtime partner, Marcus LaFond, whom he called “the love of my life.”
“This tells me our relationship does matter,” Fox said. “It means that we mean something.”
The two were married last year in Fox’s Statehouse office. Fox came out in 2004, in an unplanned announcement, while addressing a gay marriage rally at the Statehouse.
Rep. Frank Ferri, D-Warwick, a leading advocate for same-sex marriage, clashed at times with Fox over the issue. He recalled Fox’s years as majority leader and said he was respected for his ability to cut to the heart of an issue during floor debates.
“People would say, ‘I didn’t know where I was on an issue until he clarified it for me,'” Ferri said.
The raids immediately set off jockeying among members of the House vying to become the next speaker. On Saturday, shortly after Fox’s announcement, Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello, his top deputy, said he believes he has enough votes to become speaker, and expected an election Tuesday.
He said he wished Fox well but that legislators would now be able to “work together to move the House of Representatives and the state forward in a positive direction.”
A new speaker would have to be elected in an open House session after Fox submits a letter of resignation.
Rep. Joseph McNamara, D-Warwick, who is supporting Mattiello as speaker, said Democrats could caucus as soon as Sunday to hammer out the votes.
“It is a sad day for the Rhode Island House of Representatives and the state of Rhode Island,” McNamara said. “Speaker Fox had many accomplishments that we should all be proud of. With that said, a transition that does not interrupt the (legislative) process is extremely important.”
Fox is one of six children born to an Irish-American father and a Cape Verdean mother. His dad polished jewelry and worked odd jobs; his mom worked as a maid. In a 2011 interview with The Associated Press, he recalled the family moving into a new apartment with a view of the Statehouse and how he marveled at the dome.
His father had stressed the importance of education, but Fox was forced to drop out of Providence College when he died. “I felt defeated,” he said in a 2010 commencement speech at Rhode Island College. “I was afraid that history was repeating itself.”
Fox worked in a bank, scooped ice cream and sold vacuum cleaners. But he ultimately went back to school, enrolling at Rhode Island College — which he said “saved my life” — then attending Northeastern University School of Law on a full scholarship.
Fox in 2012 faced his toughest re-election campaign in years in part because of his support of a $75 million state loan guarantee for former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s video game company, 38 Studios, which later went bankrupt. Earlier this year, he reached a settlement with the state ethics commission for failing to disclose more than $40,000 in legal work for a Providence economic development agency. Fox agreed to pay a $1,500 civil fine.