TGIF: 10 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics + Media

Sep 13, 2013

This week marked the one-year point until Rhode Island's decisive 2014 primary. Welcome back to my Friday column. Feel free to drop me a line at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org and to stay posted via Twitter. Let's head in.

1. With more than $2 million in her campaign account, Gina Raimondo has long since emerged as a powerhouse fundraiser. Yet it's probably just a matter of time until one of Raimondo's rivals draws attention to the many out-of-state contributors helping to fill her coffers. Asked this week on RIPR's Bonus Q+A about the percentage breakdown between out-of-state/in-state donations from her 4,000+ contributors, Raimondo said she wasn't sure -- and, in a preview of her messaging on the question, she called it a non-issue: "I will take all support. I am overwhelmed by support. I'm very proud of the fact that because of our national leadership -- you know, the work we did around pensions has shown the country that Rhode Island is taking on its fiscal issues and not afraid for change ... What we're going to do is we're going to send a message to the country that this is the place to be. We can be the best, we can be a leader. We led on pension reform, we're going to lead on jobs, we can lead on education."

2. Noteworthy item earlier this week from National Journal's Hotline: "At the beginning of '13, there was a very good chance that 3 of the 4 biggest cities would be led by women by the end of the year. But while EMILY's List, other groups, and the candidates themselves put money and messaging behind electing NYC's and L.A.'s first female mayors, women voters didn't respond in kind. Now-L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti ran even with Wendy Greuel among women in both the primary and the general, according to an exit poll, while Quinn finished third among women in NYC last night."

3. Providence City Council President Michael Solomon, one of the aspirants to succeed Angel Taveras at City Hall, has said he wants to use tax stabilization more widely to try to overcome the Capital City's chicken and egg problem. Meanwhile,'s Dan McGowan wrote this week about how the city is reviewing millions in tax breaks for developers. Interestingly, a well-known city official encompasses these divergent elements of tax stabilization. Ten years ago, during his days as a community organizer, Matt Jerzyk was a sharp critic of tax benefits granted without consideration of jobs and other community needs. Yet the views of Jerzyk, now deputy city solicitor in Providence, moderated by the time when he published this Harvard Law Review article. To bring the issue into the present, the question of how to incentivize economic development in Rhode Island's capital remains a pressing one. Observers can point to both successes (the growth of downtown as a residential neighborhood, championed in large part by Arnold "Buff" Chace) and failures (the now-defunct restaurants and nightclubs that received generous tax breaks and got insufficient due-diligence). Suffice it to say that Providence isn't alone in wrestling with this issue, as seen by similar debates in Baltimore and Philadelphia.

4. Nothing boosts a professional team's ability to raise ticket prices and sell more merch like a championship. So it's worthwhile to note how the surprising Red Sox are paid quite a bit less than the worse performing teams of recent years.

5. BuzzFeed, the quickly valuable Web site known for funny lists of things ("23 goats who cannot really believe they're goats"), recently hired two reporters with serious news backgrounds to work as foreign correspondents. Reasonable people can disagree about whether BuzzFeed's profusion of listicles is a new way to fund real journalism or whether most of the site's readers will stick with the silly content. That duality is part and parcel of the current media landscape. Politico offers some great reporting, yet (as Mark Leibovich memorably notes in This Town) it also raises the focus on political trifles. In The Wired City, media critic Dan Kennedy focuses on the New Haven Independent and other Web-based media startups. Kennedy's conclusion? Media in the future won't be better or worse than in the past, just different.   

6. Gina Raimondo says she has no concerns about competing next year in a Democratic primary -- a place, some observers suspect, where Angel Taveras may draw a stronger base of support from the three Ls: liberals, Latinos and labor. During RIPR's Political Roundtable this week, she said, "I expect my support to come from Rhode Islanders who want leadership and to move forward; Rhode Islanders who want their kids to be able to stay here and get a job .... I don't think it matters if you're a Democrat or a Republican or in a labor union or not. You need financial stability in cities and towns, schools that educate your kids, and hopefully a good-paying job for your kids when they graduate from school."

7. During a drive around Central Falls this week with the city's 28-year-old mayor, James Diossa, blocks of neatly kept modest homes and quiet streets belied the negative stereotype that some hold toward Rhode Island's smallest city. Diossa noted how the storefronts along Broad and Dexter are full of small businesses -- a contrast to the vacancies flecking many other downtowns. To hear more about CF and its changing political landscape, listen to my interview with Diossa, and a companion conversation by RIPR's Elisabeth Harrison with Mike Ritz of Leadership Rhode Island.

8. The collapse of Lehman Brothers, which signaled the descent of Wall Street and the US into the Great Recession, happened five years ago this month. WBUR's Here & Now offered a look at the fallout. Check out this observation from Cardiff Garica of the Financial Times: "The financial system is safer. But I think it's very important not to exaggerate that answer because the main reason it is safer is simply that people are still paying attention. The memory of the crisis is still very firmly as - it's hasn't quite faded yet. So the question isn't whether or not it's safer now, but whether or not it will be safer in 10 to 15 years, whether or not we put in place the kinds of rules and regulations that will keep it safe. And that's a much more complicated question."

9. HBO is out with another season of Boardwalk Empire. As I noted back in 2010, the show brings to life a bygone period in American politics of powerful GOP bosses -- represented in Rhode Island by the likes of Nelson Aldrich and Charles "Boss" Brayton.

10. Gary Sasse of Bryant University's Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership is sounding a sharp warning about Rhode Island's Health Insurance Exchange, which is set to formally launch October 1. In an email to reporters, Sasse says: "The exchange created by executive order, not a statutory law, has not identified a source of operating funds, has no organization table and admittedly will cost around $20 million per year to run. As I told you a while ago don't bet against an insurance premium tax which may have a big impact on health care costs. What a way to make public policy--only in RI"