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

Jan 31, 2014

Welcome back to my Friday column. Thanks for stopping by and please feel free to follow me on the twitters. Here we go.

1. Gina Raimondo has been flooding the zone since the start of the (election) year. Killer fundraising? Check. Ambitious social media campaign? Check. "Raimondo Roundtables"? Check. Success breeds success -- in politics as in life -- and Team Gina has been on a roll since a split in Angel Taveras' inner circle back in October. Yet two developments this week offer a reminder of how there's still a long way to go. Taveras effectively competed with Raimondo in their Q4 fundraising, slightly narrowing her 3-to-1 cash advantage. Team Angel also started stepping up its use of the Wall Street card against Raimondo, and we can expect to hear quite more of that; it's no coincidence that Gina (who took a RIPTA bus to Gregg's after her Pawtucket kick-off) and her surrogates have been emphasizing a narrative of her working class roots. Meanwhile, Clay Pell, backed by a well-known name, a celebrity wife, and deep pockets, is stepping up as the latest player in the Democratic fight for governor. He's powered up his campaign with a $1 million personal loan. All this suggests that the primary election, far from being a coronation, will more closely resemble a street fight.

2. Another Friday and another change in Chafee-land. This time it's chief of staff George Zainyeh, who's leaving for unspecified "other opportunities." “George has brought strong leadership to my administration with his management of all state agencies and staff, and demonstrated ability to build coalitions in state government,” the governor said in a statement. “I wish George all of the best. I know he will succeed in all future endeavors.” Rumors about Zainyeh's departure have floated for a few weeks. He had a tough job in trying to impose message discipline on a governor for whom messaging is far from a strong suit.

3. With about seven months to go until the September Providence mayoral primary, City Council President Michael Solomon remains in a favorable position after formally kicking off his campaign Wednesday. He has the most money, the most support among elected officials, and a savvy campaign team. Not surprisingly, Solomon wouldn't bite when asked about the greatest obstacle facing him in his attempt to succeed Angel Taveras at City Hall. "I don't think I look at the obstacles. I think we have to work hard and start from day one," Solomon said afterward. Yet Jorge Elorza could benefit from Taveras' name on the ballot, and Brett Smiley and Lorne Adrain (set to announce Monday) are working to expand support beyond their respective bases on the East Side.

4. Clay Pell (like any candidate) leaned on more than a few broad pledges during his campaign kick-off on Tuesday, One was a vow to take on cronyism and insider politics. Yet during the ensuing media scrum, when the ProJo's Katherine Gregg asked for specifics -- and whether the critique was a reflection on Governor Lincoln Chafee, Pell's response was broad. "We have seen in this state a history and a tradition of one-off deals, for example, 38 Studios, where we make decisions that are lacking a long-term strategic plan. I think that this is about how we can rebuild the confidence of people in our state, so that they know that everyone's voices will be equally heard in Rhode Island." Similarly, when I asked about his stance on Allan Fung's call for the General Assembly to avoid any weakening of the 2011 pension overhaul, Pell said, "We'll have to see what comes out from the mediation. It's not something that any of us know what the results are going to be, so we'll have to see what comes out."

5. Rhode Island hasn't really seen a three-way Democratic primary for governor since Tony Pires, Myrth York and Sheldon Whitehouse competed in 2002. The three-way battle in 1990 between Bruce Sundlun, Joseph R. Paolino Jr. and Frank Flaherty also comes to mind. Yet for another example of the tricky nuances of a three-way race, consider the largely forgotten 1994 general election, when Robert "Cool Moose" Healey got nine percent of the vote (almost 30,000 tallies), a fraction of which would have put York over the top in her battle with Republican Lincoln Almond.

6. Congressman David Cicilline, a fan of public radio, took a page from RIPR's sustainer program -- not to mention the early-onset set of donor fatigue among the political class -- with an email subject-lined, "This may be the last email you receive from me." "Like you, I get a ton of emails from candidates running for office and I know how annoying those emails can be especially when they clutter up your inbox," Cicilline wrote. "There’s got to be a better way to raise money without the annoying emails and without spending countless hours on the phone dialing for dollars." The only catch? For a contribution of $100 or more a month, the First District congressman will remove individuals from his email and phone solicitation lists for the rest of the year.

7. US Representative Jim Langevin bucked the leadership of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on a vote earlier this month, as Ted Nesi recently noted (#9). The bill in question calls for prompt notification of consumers in the event of a security threat to During an appearance this week on RIPR's Bonus Q+A, Langevin (at about 6:45) said he sided with the GOP because "I'm very concerned about our security, with respect to our privacy." Yet there could be a bit of subtle balancing to this stance, too, since Langevin has been a strong White House supporter on the NSA's surveillance program, and since Republicans have signaled their intention to make Obamacare an election-year issue.

8. "Pulling a Grimm" entered the political lexicon after New York Congressman Michael Grimm threatened a reporter this week after President Obama's State of the Union address. The Fix helpfully responded with a video recap of "the 8 most memorable politician vs. reporter run-ins." Here in Rhode Island, when it comes to outbreaks of dyspepsia, pols mostly target one another. The most memorable exception was perhaps when Keven McKenna -- a former aide to LBJ, Claiborne Pell and Philip Noel -- blew up after his then-wife, Marlene McKenna, lost a 1992 race for state treasurer. As the ProJo reported, McKenna chased reporters from his wife's election night hotel suite by saying, "Get the [expletive] out of here before I stone you. I don’t want any sluts from the media here."

9. Media notes: The parent company of GoLocalProv plans to launch a site in Portland, Oregon .... David Carr sounds a skeptical note on Ezra Klein's next move; he says the lower cost of starting Web-based media companies is a recipe for sharper competition .... Phil Eil's been keeping an eye on the issue of John DePetro and political promises ... Margie O'Brien, ex of Channel 10 and Channel 6, is doing some work at WSBE-TV, RI-PBS.

10. Don't look now, Rhode Island's third-largest revenue source, something might be gaining on you. Ex-ProJo scribe Mark Arsenault spoke with RIPR this week on the casino threat from the north.

11. Add treasurer to AG as one of the better down-ballot races this year. In the Democratic primary for treasurer, Frank Caprio and Seth Magaziner have been drawing the most attention, with the latter snagging an endorsement this week from former congressman Patrick Kennedy. Ernest Almonte is also in the hunt.

12. And you thought the RI GOP had problems? The Massachusetts Republican Party wants GOP gubernatorial candidates to pay $25,000 to speak at the party's upcoming convention.