RI Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor to quit, run for state treasurer
PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor is leaving his $232,778-a-year cabinet post in two weeks to run for state treasurer.
Pryor’s long-anticipated announcement Tuesday creates a two-way contest for the Democratic nomination between Pryor and former Central Falls Mayor James Diossa. The winner will likely face North Kingstown Finance Director Jim Lathrop, a Republican.
It is not yet clear who will take Pryor’s place at Rhode Island Commerce. But he promised that in the two weeks before he steps into his new role – as a candidate – he will not accept any campaign contributions from any Rhode Island-based donors.
In Rhode Island, the state treasurer oversees the state-run state employee, teacher and municipal employee retirement funds, the investment of more than $10 billion in pension-fund assets and a crime-victims compensation fund.
For months after his Yale Law School classmate Gina Raimondo resigned as Rhode Island governor to take a Biden cabinet post in March 2021, political oddsmakers bet her commerce secretary would follow her to Washington.
But that was not where Pryor, 50, hoped to land next.
If elected, Pryor – in an exclusive interview with The Journal – said he would double down on term-limited Treas. Seth Magaziner’s school construction bond campaign.
He also described a long list of new initiatives he hoped to usher in, including the investment of more state dollars in “Rhode Island-based assets,” and the creation of a state-backed “loan loss reserve” for private bank loans
“I believe that the platform of the treasurer’s office can be utilized to support small businesses, to invest in green energy, to support individuals and families who are unable to access the banking system of our state.”
Some personal facts about Pryor: he is the son of two public school teachers. He ran for office once before – while still an under-graduate at Yale – and served a short time as an alderman in New Haven, Conn.
Pryor held off announcing until the year-old McKee administration was ready to announce the terms of the deal that Pryor had been working – and re-working behind the scenes – to save the long-empty “Superman” building that defines the skyline in downtown Providence.
The magnitude of the proposed state and local subsidies – and the potential cost to buy or rent the 285 envisioned apartments in the reborn bank building – have sparked some controversy.
But Pryor – who is bullish on the potential for the proposed deal that caps his seven years in R.I. government – said Tuesday he negotiated hard, driving the size of the state subsidy package down from the $48 million the building owner wanted to $26 million.
Pryor was one of then-Governor-elect Raimondo’s first cabinet picks in December 2014, when she hired him away from his then job as Connecticut’s commissioner of education, to become Rhode Island’s first commerce secretary.
Before that, he served five years as Newark’s deputy mayor and director of economic and housing development under then-Mayor Cory Booker. Pryor also worked as president for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks to coordinate economic revitalization of Lower Manhattan.
As head of the Manhattan redevelopment after, he said, he “successfully managed the investment of billions of dollars.”
And now Pryor – who by virtue of his past positions, has focused on building up the reputations of rising Democratic leaders on the East Coast – has to sell himself as the best qualified successor to Magaziner, who is running for Congress.
He declined comment on Diossa, but the former mayor’s campaign manager, Robert Craven, issued a statement in which he called Diossa “The clear consensus candidate.” (He has not yet responded to inquiries about who that statement encompasses.)
In his own statement, Diossa matched his credentials as a former mahyor against Pryor’s.
He took credit for having “navigated my city through bankruptcy.” and leaving it iin “a position where it can continue to thrive.”
“Mayors are on the front lines, where policy impacts people’s every-day lives,” Diossa said.. “And today, I know Rhode Islanders are feeling squeezed. That’s why we need a Treasurer who is in touch with our communities.”