On Politics
5:00 am
Fri October 12, 2012

TGIF: 14 things about Rhode Island politics + media

It’s time for the second rendition of my new Friday column. Thanks for reading, and as always, feel free to send me tips or thoughts at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org.

1. The pot never stops stirring around the Statehouse. We’ve got strategist Jeff Britt piloting Mark Binder’s challenge to Gordon Fox; former Whip Patrick O’Neill seeking distance from Fox; and the ProJo’s Political Scene described this week how Britt was spotted breaking bread at the Old Canteen with Republican rep Joe Trillo, and Democratic reps John DeSimone, Peter Palumbo, and John Carnevale.

Speculation has naturally ensued about whether Fox will face a challenge for the speakership (asssuming he wins his race in November). While maneuvering is bound to continue in the run-up to the new House session January, an “outside” challenge has never toppled a speaker in more than three decades of recent RI political history. John Harwood moved up to the powerful post in 1993 after his predecessor, Joseph DeAngelis, decided not to seek re-election 1992. And though Russell Bramley was DeAngelis’ preferred successor, GOP support put Harwood over the top.

2. Is it unintentionally ironic when a campaign finance reformer uses his gigantic war chest to drown out an opponent with a cascade of costly TV campaign commercials? Barry Hinckley would probably say, “Yes.” But Sheldon Whitehouse defended his approach when I asked him about it earlier this year. The Democrat said he can’t unilaterally disarm, so to speak, because of the possibility that a Sheldon Adelson-type outside contributor could flood an opponent with beaucoup bucks.

3. Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee this week tweeted a link of a partisan hailing positive efforts by local Democrats. That got my attention since McKee is among the many less-than-prolific tweeters among Rhode Island’s political class. Was it a signal that McKee is moving closer to a run for lieutenant governor in 2014? “I’m looking at the possibilities on that,” McKee tells me, adding that his decision could come as soon as the early part of 2013.

4. As the head Democrat in the conservative-leaning town that’s home to Republican CD1 candidate Brendan Doherty, McKee is in a bit of a tough spot. Asked who he’s supporting in the race, the mayor says he’s inclined to support the Democratic message.

5. While most local Red Sox fans are cheering against the Yankees in their division series with Baltimore, Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian is rooting for the Orioles. Avedisian became an O’s fan as a US Senate page for John Chafee in 1981-82. Back in those days, Avedisian would attend early morning high school classes, attend to his page duties, and then try to get to as many Orioles home games as possible at the former Memorial Stadium. The deciding game in the Yankees-Orioles ALDS is set to start shortly after 5 pm today.

6. A recent story in Salon painted a grim outlook for alt-weeklies, triggering a sharp response from one of my former colleagues at the Phoenix in Boston. Yes, the media landscape has changed dramatically (duh) since the early 90s. But as Carly Carioli writes in his riposte, there’s a difference between a locally owned media group like the Phoenix and the one that has eviscerated the once-venerable Village Voice in New York. Phoenix owner Stephen Mindich has himself acknowledged the high-stakes nature of the Phoenix’s reinvention in Boston. Meanwhile, here in Providence, David Scharfenberg’s excellent investigative piece last week shows how alt-weeklies remain relevant.

7. Local Republicans are pushing GOP legislative candidates this fall by highlighting how Rhode Island ranks last in a number of lists and categories. Trying to get the Ocean State on a better track is well and good. And even as stalwart a Democrat as George Nee has said how a more competitive two-party system would be good for the body politic.

But doesn’t the local GOP, which has struggled to run a competitive slate of legislative candidates in successive election cycles, bear a bit of the responsibility for this status quo? I put this question to Republican activist Michael Napolitano, a leading force behind the RI ranks last campaign.

Napolitano acknowledges the party bears some responsibility for the GOP’s modest representation on Smith Hill. But he also points to the advantages of incumbency, and the public sector’s success in soliciting private contributions. Napolitano raps the media for not putting “enough emphasis on what are the underlying causes of Rhode Island’s economic woes, how we got here and who is responsible.” He also charges Democrats have in some cases taken Republican ideas.

8. The station now known as Rhode Island Public Radio was founded in the late ’90s as WRNI. Although the name changed when we switched from AM to FM in October 2011, some people — understandably — still use the old name (a bit like how many Rhode Islanders of a certain age refer to the ProJo as “the Journal-Bulletin”). One of the latest to make the gaffe was Peter Griffin, a character on “Family Guy,” created by RISD alum Seth MacFarlane.

9. A couple of food and drink notes since even political geeks need some sustenance: Sara Kilguss and Ed Reposa, the couple behind one of my favorite Providence restaurants, the Red Fez, is relocating to Vermont. Fear not, though, Fez fans; the restaurant is being taken over by an employee who’s expected to keep a similar approach . . . Thomas Tew Rum, made in Newport by Coastal Extreme Brewing, was the subject for my story broadcast by RIPR earlier this week. Distiller-in-chief Brent Ryan says the city was very helpful when the company needed to expand from smaller space in Middletown a few years back.

10. Erin Donovan has joined the office of Senator Jack Reed, as outreach director for nonprofits. Nancy Langrall, who handled a similar role during many years as a Reed staffer, has decided to retire. Donovan previously worked for Capital Resource Strategies, as a VP of the Mayforth Group, and on Secretary of State Ralph Mollis’ winning run in 2010.

11. If you haven’t seen it, check out the CD2 debate broadcast this week by WPRI/WNAC-TV (Ted Nesi was excited about getting his gold standard on, for a question to Republican Michael Riley, and Ted didn’t disappoint.) Meanwhile, CD2 independent Abel Collins, left out of the Channel 12 debate, joined us this week on Political Roundtable and Bonus Q+A.

12. The week ahead: Tuesday, October 16: WPRI stages a CD1 debate (7 pm) at PPAC; Pulitzer-winner Tim Weiner talks at Brown (Watson Institute, 5 pm) about his book, Enemies: the FBI at War . . . . Wednesday, October 17: Gordon Fox and Mark Binder debate (along with David Cicilline and Brendan Doherty) in a Summit Neighborhood Association forum (7 pm, 99 Hillside Avenue, Pawtucket); Frank Lombardi and Sean Gately debate, 6:30-8:30 pm at the Santa Maria de Prata Society in Cranston . . . . Thurday, October 18: RIPR holds “Political Roundtable Live,” a one-hour election discussion with Scott MacKay, Maureen Moakley, and me, 7 pm at URI . . . . Friday, October 19: Fox and Binder tape a debate on Newsmakers at WPRI/WNAC-TV; Charles Murray, author of Coming Apart: the State of white America, 1960-2010, is at Brown (MacMillan Hall, 4 pm).

13. Also next week: at 11 am Wednesday, in Alger 110, Rhode Island College will offer a panel discussion on the local political impact of talk radio. The panel is set to include Matt Allen from WPRO, Josh Fenton from GoLocal, Ted Nesi from WPRI, Tim Staskiewicz from CBS Radio Boston, and yours truly.

14. GOP VP hopeful Paul Ryan, a fitness devotee, is a fan of P90X, the program that made a one-time URI student quite rich.

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