Photo submitted

As this bizarre year ends, we have compiled our top lists. To help us, we asked some current legislators, current and former general officeholders, retired journalists, and individuals active in some of the state’s most connected non-profits.

Over the next few days, we will list, beginning today, the people to watch statewide in 2021 (yesterday), the people to watch in Newport County in 2021 (today), the top stories of 2020 (Thursday), and on New Year’s Day we will speculate on the important stories and issues to expect in 2021.

So, here’s our list of: People to Watch in 2021 – Newport County

Newport School Superintendent Colleen Burns Jermain. She will continue to provide leadership for the way education is delivered to Newport public school children during this pandemic – in-person, remote, or hybrid. Additionally, with the passage of the school bond she will provide considerable leadership as the city moves toward construction of a new high school and elementary school addition.

The Reformers, members of the Democratic Representatives’ Reform Caucus — State Representatives Lauren Carson of Newport, Deborah Ruggiero, of Jamestown, and Terri-Denise Cortvriend of Portsmouth. All three were among 19 reformers who sought significant policy reforms in the state House of Representatives, and most did not support Nicholas Mattiello for re-election as Speaker of the House in 2020. Mattiello responded by stripping reformers of key committee assignments or chairmanships. But things changed in November when Mattiello lost in the general election. In the weeks since, the Democratic caucus endorsed Joseph Shekarchi, D-Warwick for Speaker, a position that is likely to be confirmed once the legislature convenes in January. It’s also expected that those reformers who were exiled will re-emerge, repopulating key committees, and taking on key leadership roles.

Representative-elect Michelle McGaw, D- Portsmouth, newly elected, is a member of an aggressive reform group, the Rhode Island Political Cooperative that included 25 like-minded candidates who ran for council, representative and senate positions. The group’s shared vision: “…fight for a $15 minimum wage, the Green New Deal, single-payer healthcare, criminal justice reform, affordable housing, quality public education, immigrant rights, and getting money out of politics.”

Timothy J. Babineau, president of Lifespan, and Dr. James E. Fanale, president and CEO of Care New England. The state’s two largest health care organizations have been in merger negotiations. Newport Hospital is part of the Lifespan system, and how that merge might impact the hospital should be closely watched by Aquidneck Island residents. While negotiations are underway, there are still considerable hurdles to overcome if a merger is to happen. 

Keith Stokes, who has held several public positions and is currently president of Strategic Economic Planning & Development with the Mayforth Group and Vice President at 1696 Heritage Group. He has been instrumental in the development of an African American history curriculum, which is expected to be incorporated into the overall curriculum of the state’s public schools this year. Stokes: “During these present times of social unrest, let’s honor what brings us together rather than what separates us. Let’s celebrate our shared Rhode Island history that is not only inclusive but also empowering. The time has come to establish African American history learning for all Rhode Island students and acknowledge that Rhode Island history is the collective memory of its entire people.”. 

Newport Mayor Jeanne Napolitano, who regains the mayor’s position, beating Councilwoman Jamie Bova, who served as mayor the last two years. Napolitano will be looked to for leadership as the city faces numerous issues, from bridge realignment and north end development to issues related to COVID-19 and the severe economic impact to the city’s most significant sector, tourism.

Kelly MacArthur Coates, president, and CEO of Carpionato Group, which bought the former Newport Grand property, proposed a mixed-use project, only to have the city approve a moratorium on development until the city adopts a mixed-use innovation district in an overall effort to develop a North End plan. The project if it moves forward, will incorporate retail, housing, hotels, and other businesses.

Patricia Reynolds, Newport’s director of planning and economic development. She will oversee such challenges as the Pell bridge realignment and North End Urban Plan.

Evan Smith, longtime executive director of Discover Newport. In 2020, as the pandemic proved devastating to the tourism industry, Smith began redefining Discover Newport. The tourism group closed its visitors center, refocusing on its core mission of marketing. In 2021, Smith has said the agency will consider whether to open a scaled-down visitor center, while it faces the challenges of revitalizing the local tourism industry as the pandemic marches on. 

Executive leadership of the festivals – jazz, folk, and music. After losing 2020, will they be able to reopen fully in 2021, or perhaps a hybrid model, or close for another year? These are Rhode Island’s marquee events and have a significant economic impact on Newport County, and all of Rhode Island.