TGIF: 11 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics + Media

Nov 8, 2013

Welcome back to my Friday column. Thanks for stopping by and, as always, feel free to drop me a line at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org and to follow me on the twitters. Let's get to it.

1. Although Gina Raimondo's pace-setting fundraising prowess has dominated the local campaign finance discussion, keep an eye on the hunt for dollars by Republican gubernatorial rivals Allan Fung and Ken Block. Neither will pinpoint a precise figure for how much they consider necessary to win the GOP primary "I've got a goal of raising as much money as I need," Fung told me after announcing his campaign Monday (he declined to be any more specific; Fung spokesman Patrick Sweeney says the campaign remains undecided on whether it will participate in the state's matching funds program). As of the end of Q3, Block fueled his surge ($547K CoH) over Fung ($337K CoH) with a $500,000 loan to his campaign, but he, too, is keeping his own counsel. Asked this week during RIPR's Political Roundtable how much scratch he plans to pour into his own campaign, Block says, "Can't predict that at this point in time. We'll deal with what the dollars look like when we need them." The Moderate-turned-Republican also demurred when asked how much he needs to run a competitive race. At this early juncture, Fung remains the favorite in the GOP primary, even as Block pledges to offer plenty of beef for voters to digest. Besides the money hunt, another question lingers: With Jeff Britt managing his run, does Block throw a lot of stuff against the wall in an attempt to make it stick?

2. State Representative Grace Diaz says she plans to endorse Michael Solomon in his mayoral run -- and there may be no better single source of South Side support for the Lebanese-American council president from Ward 5. The strength of Diaz's ground game was evident when she attracted hundreds of supporters this past Wednesday for a fundraiser at the Solomon-owned Wes' Rib House in Olneyville. After coming to the US in 1990 with $40 and two dresses, Diaz is now a leader in the state Democratic Party and a champion of the state's newly organized home-based day care workers. Some people had assumed that Solomon wouldn't attract Latino support, particularly with Jorge Elorza in the race. Yet Diaz's backing is likely to spark a surge of perhaps 500 to 1000 Latino votes for Solomon.

3. The X factor in the 2014 race to replace Angel Taveras at City Hall remains state Representative John J. Lombardi, the longtime former city councilor from Federal Hill. The thinking is that Solomon get a boost if Lombardi stays out, and Elorza benefits if he gets in. Lombardi says he plans to make a final decision on running after January 1, adding, "I'm pretty sure that [running for mayor] is what I want to do." That's one of Lombardi's most categorical statements to date on his plans.

4. While Governor Lincoln Chafee and others have cited the need for a constitutional convention to improve different aspects of state government, like the possible addition of a line-item veto. But Gary Sasse, director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University, says legislatively initiated amendments have a far stronger record of yielding improvements. As evidence, Sasse points to a series of changes sparked by the General Assembly since the 1990s: expanding terms for state general officers from two to four years (and adding recall provisions and term limits); downsizing the legislature, from 150 to 113 members; changing the judicial-selection process; and instituting separation of powers legislation. By contrast, Sasse says, constitutional conventions have produced less favorable results, with the notable exception of the creation of the state Ethics Commission. Here's Sasse's kicker for a column due for publication next week in GoLocalProv, "In a few months we will know if the General Assembly had the political will and vision to place meaningful constitutional amendments on the November 2014 general election ballot. If the General Assembly fails to do the people’s business, voters will have no choice but to call a constitutional convention with all the risks that it may entail."

5. The Building 19 store in Pawtucket will soon be just a milestone for offering directions. Less well known is how the discounter is located on the site of the former Narragansett Park horse track, which had its own colorful history. In 1937, martial law was imposed at the track as part of a dispute between its owner and Governor Robert Quinn (Pawtucket Public Safety Director Henry Curvin, perhaps a relation to RI's longest-serving House speaker) threatened to pursue impeachment against Quinn). In the 1960s, as FBI wiretaps later revealed, Mob boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca bribed a subsequent governor to allow nighttime racing at Narragansett and another track.

6. The yearning of some Rhode Islanders for a return to local ownership of the Providence Journal doesn't appear any closer to fruition. "Providence is still a good financial contributor to our company," an A.H. Belo executive said this week during a call for investors. That comes after the latest in a series of recent cuts. It's hard to describe the toll much better than Bill Reynolds did in his tribute to Bobby McGarry, stalwart of the sports department.

7. Providence stuff: Andrew Annaldo is set to leave the Providence Board of Licenses .... Lauren Nocera, who managed Angel Taveras' highly successful campaign for mayor in 2010 and has been aiding Brett Smiley's 2014 campaign, says she remains an informal adviser to Taveras as he makes his gubernatorial run. With recent changes, the Providence mayor has been mostly leaning on former House Majority Leader George Caruolo, longtime Democratic operative Joseph DeLorenzo, chief of staff Michael D'Amico, and Providence lawyer Mark Ryan .... Lorne Adrain's wife, Ann Hood, once exclaimed, "I married a Republican." Yet Adrain's past support for in-state tuition for undocumented students, not to mention his depth of civic activity, bolsters his liberal credentials .... Jennifer "J.J." Bennett has left Taveras' gubernatorial campaign, but "she'll probably be back," says her husband, Jim Bennett's Providence's director of economic development. He says she's taking time off from the campaign to spend more time with their kids as they pursue scholastic sports.

8. Tony Lioce was a legend back in the day at the ProJo and you can see why in his beautifully written NYT Review tribute to Lou Reed last week. Lioce was laid off by the San Jose Mercury News in 2007. His one-line bio in the NYT says he's now a bartender in San Francisco.

9. With Mike Solomon making his run for the top job at City Hall, keep an eye on David Salvatore -- who rolled out a pitch this week to study tax stabilizations and incentives -- as Solomon's potential successor.

10. House Minority Leader Brian Newberry is among the thoughtful voices in the General Assembly, so it it's great seeing him adding to the conversation on Twitter. While Newberry has been more of a Facebook devotee, he's making the best Statehouse adaption to the land of 140 characters since the ProJo's venerable Kathy Gregg raised her social-media game. Unlike many reps and senators who quietly lurk Twitter, Newberry is actively sharing views and news.

11. What is it about Gina Raimondo that leads some reporters down the primrose path to breathless hyperbole? Was her spearheading of Rhode Island's pension overhaul in 2011 an instructive example of how to use the bully pulpit of public office? Yes. Did she slay a "pension dragon"? I guess. Even if we grant a pass on that, the authors of the article in the preceding link go on to assert that following the pench vote, Raimondo "was suddenly the most sought-after politician in the United States." What?