TGIF: 12 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics + Media

Dec 6, 2013

It's Friday, do you know where your column is? Right here. Thanks for stopping by, and feel free as always to drop me a line at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org and follow me on the twitters.

1. The national Latino fundraising consultant for Angel Taveras, Christina Haley, has decided to leave the Providence mayor's Democratic gubernatorial campaign, TGIF has learned. The pending year-end exit marks another blow following the departure last month of Taveras' finance director, Peter Baptista, and other signs of uncertainty within the campaign. Haley, a partner at DC-based Connectiva, is considered among the nation's top Latino fundraising consultants and previously worked at Helen Milby & Co. (She didn't return messages seeking comment. Taveras' campaign manager, Danny Kedem, limited his comment to this: "Christina is on a part-time contract and she always has been.") Taveras faced a considerable fundraising deficit at the end of Q3, with $759,150 cash on hand, compared with more than $2.3 million for rival Democrat Gina Raimondo. As a Dominican-American candidate in a part of the country that has never seen a Latino governor, Taveras hopes to tap a national network of Latinos. Money isn't necessarily decisive in a gubernatorial race, as we saw in 2010 (top fundraiser Frank Caprio placed third at the finish line). Yet Haley's departure suggests Taveras may face further fundraising challenges as he tries to keep up with Raimondo (and perhaps the deep-pocketed Clay Pell).

2. Republican gubernatorial candidate and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung suffered a setback when the Cranston City Council recently voted down a police contract with an 11.25 percent raise over three years. Councilors say the raise is too lucrative; FinCom chair Steven Stycos used a ProJo op-ed in August to accuse Fung of masking costs in other contracts -- a contrast to mayor's "fiscally oriented" self-description. Fung, however, says the rejection of the police contract is a loss for taxpayers, and he denies it was a deal back-loaded with goodies. Under the agreement, "We were able to get some very long-term structural changes, from having them [police] start to pay OPEB -- other post-employment benefits, the retiree healthcare," Fung said this week on RIPR's Bonus Q+A (at about 8:00). "They're not only just paying it when they retire, but they're paying into that system now into retirement. We got increased healthcare co-shares. We also had management changes, so that it's not straight seniority for a couple of positions." Now, Fung says, the police contract may move to arbitration.

3. The influence of Dean Esserman, who ended his tenure as Providence's top cop in 2011 with sharp critics and strong supporters, has been growing since he landed in New Haven. Not only is Esserman a friend of NYC mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, as the Daily Beast reports, he also encouraged de Blasio to hire former New York police commissioner Bill Bratton. The story credits Esserman with notable success in New Haven "in both reducing crime and strengthening ties with the community."

4. Andy Andujar, a staffer for US Representative David Cicilline and past president of the RI Young Democrats, is joining Central Falls Mayor James Diossa's administration as chief of staff. Diossa has also named Joshua Giraldo, who launched a widely publicized effort to crowd-source the cleanup of CF's biggest park (which became fully funded this week), as director of parks and recreation. Lastly, Diossa has appointed CF resident Sonia Grace as city clerk, replacing Marie Twohey. Grace, a Brown graduate, is fluent in the tongues heard every day in the state's smallest city -- English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Cape Verdean Creole.

5. Meanwhile, up in Woonsocket, newly inaugurated Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt's appointees include state Representative Michael Marcello, as acting city solicitor and Richard Kearns, chief of staff to former speaker John Harwood and legal counsel to former speaker Bill Murphy, as acting director of administration. Sandy Seoane reports in the Valley Breeze that another of Baldelli-Hunt's appointees, public safety director Marc Dubois, may violate the Municipal Official Revolving Door law.

6. The controversy involving WPRO-AM talk-show host John DePetro shows no sign of ending. DePetro phoned in to guest host John Loughlin near the end of DePetro's show Friday. The long-time host, under fire by unions for spelling out the word "whores" to criticize protesters at a Gina Raimondo fundraiser, vowed to be more sensitive and balanced. "I apologize to the individuals I offended," DePetro said. "Not good enough," Patrick Crowley, political director for the National Education Association Rhode Island, tweeted moments later. The labor-backed For Our Daughters RI went further in a statement, arguing there's a pattern in which DePetro "offers an insincere apology in hopes that it will quell the outrage and save his job. That's not going to work this time. We're gaining momentum every minute of every day, and we're not going to stop until Cumulus ends its relationship with this individual whose only substantive contribution to the world has been his immature, reckless and vile degradation of working women." What's more, Armand Sabitoni, a top official with the Laborers International Union and a prominent Gina Raimondo supporter, says in a ProJo LTE that he thinks DePetro should be fired.

7. After years of showing no interest in shopping the Providence Journal, A.H. Belo went in a different direction this week by announcing a sale. Reporters on Fountain Street are generally cautiously optimistic about the change, yet the outlook is far from certain. On one hand, you have Phoenix owner Stephen Mindich panning the wisdom of investing in newspapers, and on the other Buzzfeed forecasting $120 million in sales for 2014. To repeat an oft-heard expression, it's a great time to be a reporter and an awful time to be a newspaper. Still, one would think with the great stories that Rhode Island invariably offers, there's a way to usher a leading news organization into the future.

8. Enviro news: RIPR's first full-time environmental reporter, Ambar Espinoza, is set to join us later this month (the bad news is how she has to sit between me and Scott MacKay) .... Phil Eil has a good look this week in the Providence Phoenix at EcoRI, which is trying to make a go of it as an independent environmental news source

9. Judging by their public rhetoric, Jorge Elorza and Brett Smiley are battling for the progressive mantle in Providence's mayoral election. Yet mayors often become more pragmatic after winning election, just as David Cicilline did back in the day. For more on Smiley, check his appearance this week on WPRI/WNAC-TV's Newsmakers. On one litmus test issue for labor, Smiley initially dodged when asked if he supports the boycott at the Renaissance Hotel, but then said he wouldn't personally stay at the hotel. Elorza, meanwhile, turned out for a fast food workers' protest this week. One present mayor, Allan Fung, said on RIPR's Political Roundtable that the $15 minimum wage sought by some fast food workers would kill jobs in Rhode Island.

10. Ted Nesi noted in his Saturday Post last week (item 1) how growing food industry efficiency is cutting contributions to feed the hungry, even as the need is increasing. What fewer people know is how the national network of food pantries began as what was considered a temporary response following a bruising recession in the early 1980s. While the recession faded in the boom years of that decade, the number of hungry people just kept growing. Critics like J. Larry Brown attribute the problem to shrinking federal support for food programs.

11. We talk funny.

12. At long last, the Statehouse gift shop has opened -- with no money from the General Assembly, as Phil Marcelo reports the ProJo. Secretary of State Ralph Mollis tells him the first floor shop will offer info on the Ocean State and items like post cards, pictures, and key chains. Why stop there? To really capture the flavor of Smith Hill, the gift shop would stock leftover milkshakes from speaker Matthew J. Smith, caffeine pills for late-night budget debates, spare parts from former senator John Celona's North Providence lawnmower shop, and notes from the Finance Committee's banking crisis meeting at the Aurora Club.