A chaotic campaign helped save Rhode Island’s House speaker in 2016. Now it threatens to end his political career

“I used to joke with people, ‘Are you sure you want to be seen with me? Because the speaker could be watching.’” Frias recalled in an interview last week.

Turns out, even that was true.

Last week’s criminal trial of former Mattiello campaign consultant Jeffrey T. Britt was meant to determine whether Britt laundered $1,000 to help pay for a postcard mailer designed to boost Mattiello during that 2016 campaign. But it also offered a rare glimpse into the win-at-all-costs culture of politics, as witness after witness detailed the strategies employed to help defeat Frias.

Those tactics included surveillance conducted on Frias by a semi-retired private investigator who was seeking a state job, a mail-ballot operation run by a veteran operative who had previous tours of political duty with some of the state’s most corrupt politicians, and the mailer that Britt orchestrated to try to convince a handful of Republicans to back the Democrat in the race.

In the end, Mattiello won the race by 85 votes, a razor-thin margin where almost any maneuver could have tipped the scales in the speaker’s favor.

Now, with early voting scheduled to begin Wednesday, Mattiello’s back is against the wall again as he faces a serious challenge from Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, the Republican wife of Cranston’s popular mayor, who is eager to capitalize on the seedy details that came out during last week’s trial.

But Mattiello, who was never charged, testified that he knew nothing about the controversial mailer until it hit mailboxes in his district, and a key campaign aide described the mailer as “Jeff Britt’s project.”

The judge has said he won’t issue a ruling for five to seven weeks. So that means voters will render their decision first, in the Nov. 3 general election.

“I think it clearly crossed a line,” Providence College political science professor Adam Myers said of Mattiello’s campaign operation in 2016. “But the question is whether the public’s opinion of Rhode Island politics is already so jaded that coverage of the trial won’t change any minds.”

* * *

If it’s possible for the most powerful politician in the state to be an underdog in his own backyard, hindsight suggests that’s where Mattiello – the man whose rock-solid support within the Rhode Island House of Representatives gives him almost dictatorial power over any piece of legislation – was sitting four years ago.

House District 15 includes fewer than 11,000 registered voters, the majority of whom are unaffiliated but are considered far more conservative than residents of the rest of Cranston and almost every other city in the state. Mattiello frequently draws criticism from more liberal members of his party, but his political values – pro-business, pro-life, pro-National Rifle Association – are largely in line with the voters who have sent him back to the State House every two years since 2007.

But in 2016, simply being a conservative Democrat wasn’t going to be enough to guarantee Mattiello a victory. Cranston’s Republican Mayor, Allan W. Fung,

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Armie Hammer helped build a motel, Alyson Hannigan is using old props as Halloween decor, and more



Armie Hammer wearing a suit and tie: Armie Hammer.


© Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for BFI
Armie Hammer.

1.

Fresh off a quarantine in Cayman Islands and a divorce, Armie Hammer didn’t know how to pass the time during the pandemic aside from sitting at home “picking boogers and seeing how far I could flick them,” he said during an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! (for which he wore a spacesuit complete with sandals and half a pedicure). When his friend asked him to live in and work construction on an abandoned motel, Hammer lived up to his name and said yes. He describes himself as “moderately handy” and spent two months sanding floors, moving objects, and replacing drywall. The motel is called the Ramsey at 29 Palms, though The Motel that Armie Hammer Built may attract more enthusiastic visitors. [People]

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2.

It’s safe to say vampires will be steering clear of Alyson Hannigan’s home this Halloween. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer actress revealed she has a ton of props from the show, and brings them out of storage each year to decorate her home for Halloween. Hannigan has tombstones from the Buffy graveyard set up in a “real spooky” display, along with the skeletons from the Master’s lair, which “look really authentic.” However, they are understandably falling apart, as any 20-year-old skeleton would. No word yet on what Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Halloween decor consists of, but she must have some slayer’s stakes lying around somewhere. [Entertainment Weekly]

3.

Can you handle this? Kelly Rowland announced her pregnancy, appearing on the November cover of Women’s Health flaunting her bump. Rowland and husband Tim Weatherspoon, who share a 5-year-old son, had been talking about expanding their family, and decided to try when the pandemic hit. The singer was hesitant to announce the good news, but wanted to “remind people that life is important.” She knows fans were expecting an album, not a baby, so she has to “figure this out so they get both.” But it’s clear from the comments on her Instagram the baby news was met with joy. Celebrities sounded off their congratulations, with a relieved Tina Knowles writing: “It has been hard keeping this exciting news a secret!” [Women’s Health]

4.

Francophiles and Frenchmen alike are criticizing Netflix’s new series Emily in Paris, and Chicago deep-dish restaurant Lou Malnati’s wasted no time in adding to the pie-le on. Emily in Paris, which stars Lily Collins as the titular Parisian transplant and Chicago-native, equates Lou Malnati’s pizza to “a quiche made of cement” in the first episode, leading restaurant owner Marc Malnati to release a statement Wednesday calling the dig “heartless and not humorous in the midst of Covid-19.” Restaurants have been especially hard hit during the pandemic, making Emily’s jab extra dicey. Emily in Paris filmed during fall 2019 — months before COVID-19 became a public health crisis — but its arrival in 2020 clearly comes with some serious baggage. Talk about a faux pas! [The Chicago

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