TGIF: 14 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics + Media

Oct 11, 2013

Contrary to popular belief, TGIF was not MIA last week due to the presence of a Friday afternoon post-season Red Sox game. Regardless, we're back this week, and Rhode Island keeps on giving, so let's get going. (Gratuitous reminder: you can follow me on Twitter.)

1. We're bound to see many more polls before Rhode Island votes in key elections next September and November, following recent results from Angel Taveras and Brown University. A few thoughts: 1) Some people question the methodology in the Brown poll, described here by Marion Orr. Regardless, the poll had good news for both Democrats: Taveras continues to enjoy the highest approval rating among Rhode Island pols, a category he has mostly held by himself in recent years. His 64 percent approval rating in the latest Brown poll is 10 points higher that Gina Raimondo's. Yet Raimondo's own approval numbers have held up well even after a wave of criticism from Ted Siedle and Matt Taibbi. So much for the theory, perhaps, that she has a glass chin. 2) Raimondo's challenge is the opposite of Myrth York, who won Democratic gubernatorial primaries in 1994, 1998, and 2002, but couldn't win statewide. Raimondo's bigger question mark is victory in the primary. So is it possible she might run as an independent, even after telling WJAR-TV's Jim Taricani in August that if she runs for governor it will be a Democrat? Going indy may be unlikely, given Raimondo's reputed interest in one day landing in Washington, D.C. Yet WPRI-TV pollster Joe Fleming, speaking during a roundtable in the back half of this week's Newsmakers, thinks Raimondo will poll her potential primary outcomes as a Democrat and an independent and digest the tea leaves.

2. Former state Democratic Party chairman Ed Pacheco has dropped out of the race for secretary of state in 2014. Pacheco, a former state rep from Burrillville, reportedly had difficulty raising money, but he denies that was a factor in his decision. "This is the right decision for me and my family," says Pacheco, whose wife is due to give birth to their second child later this month. Between demands at work and in his family, "the time is just not right for me" to pursue a statewide run. Pacheco says he hasn't yet given much thought to endorsing one of the two remaining Dems running for SoS, Guillaume de Ramel and Nellie Gorbea.

3. Roger Williams University is in talks to buy or lease part of the Journal Building on Fountain Street, TGIF has learned. This comes almost five years after the ProJo's parent company put the structure up for sale. (RWU spokesman Brian Clark said he couldn't confirm that the university is pursuing the Journal Building, although he said RWU continues to explore a larger presence in Providence, for such purposes as continuing education and some law school functions. "There's just a need to grow the footprint," Clark says.) UPDATE: PBN had an earlier report on this.

4. ProJo political columnist Ed Fitzpatrick has a heartbreaking photo on his Twitter feed, illustrating how four colleagues working their last day as part of the latest buyout represent 147 years of institutional experience: religion reporter Richard Dujardin, 47 years; legal and investigative reporter Tracy Breton, 40 years; sportswriter Mike Szostak, 36 years; and ace copy editor Milly McLean, 20 years. The cuts might help the bottom line, but they're not good for a community or its newspaper.

5. One more note on the Journal: a classic 1989 story in Rhode Island Monthly by Bruce DeSilva put peak newsroom employment at the old Journal-Bulletin at about 340 workers. well above the industry average for a paper of its circulation. Yet even in that bygone era, when newspapers were basically a license to print money, leadership was a key factor in the final product. DeSilva credited Joel Rawson (who would later serve as executive editor and has since retired) with significantly raising the quality of the paper's journalism, especially via a remarkable decade-long string of stories in the largest paper of the week: " 'It was every Sunday,' says Jack White, now an investigative reporter for WPRI-TV. 'You knew you had to get the paper on Sunday. You didn't know what the story would be, but you knew something you absolutely could not miss was going to be in there.' "

6. Artin Coloian, a former Buddy Cianci lieutenant, also has ties to state Rep John Lombardi, so the thinking among some observers has been that either Cianci or Lombardi will run for mayor of Providence next year, not both. Cianci remains oblique about his plans, vowing to make his decision known in time for the filing deadline in 2014. Yet the former longtime mayor needs a divide-and-conquer strategy to win, so a campaign by Lombardi (who has good name recognition and placed second in the 2010 race) could also serve Cianci's interests.

7. Although the master lever remains in place, Rhode Island is phasing out another bit of old-school machine politics: off-year elections. After voters go the polls next month in Central Falls and Woonsocket, the next municipal elections in the two communities won't be until 2016. That's a good move for small d democracy. Voter participation falls significantly in years without a presidential election, so you can imagine what turnout is like in even smaller-scale races held in odd years. About the only beneficiaries were old-school pols like Charles Moreau and Susan Menard, who could magnify their support by trundling out loyalists and keeping disenfranchised minorities at bay.

8. On a related note, don't miss Reuters' great Jack Shafer, this time on low-information voters. Cheery summary: "Our political ignorance is as enduring as it is pervasive."

9. There's so much doom and gloom about Rhode Island and its economy (much of it justified) that it was bracing to discover the vigor of Bristol's marine industry as part of a story this week for RINPR. The highlights range from Bristol Marine, the the last remaining working waterfront in town, to cutting edge companies like Core Composites and Clear Carbon, which use innovative approaches to help make everything from carbon fiber cellos to temporary combat zone hospitals. The owners of the companies acknowledge doing business in Rhode Island is expensive, but they also say they love living in the Ocean State.

10. Ocean State Action, the liberal advocacy group is gone. But many elements of its coalition (NEARI, Planned Parenthood, SEIU, and Clean Water Action), are ramping up to try to elect more labor supporters and progressives to the General Assembly. Dawn Euer, most recently of Marriage Equality RI, is working with these groups to coordinate a so-called "New Voices" election training in November.

11. URI alum Steven King is helping to chart public-private developments at the Quonset Business Park. Meanwhile, House Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed wrote something for New England Real Estate Journal about the state's effort to pre-permit and pre-engineer every available site at Quonset.

12. Happy 60th to longtime Providence environmental activist Greg Gerritt, the creator of Rhode Island's annual Buy Nothing Day coat exchange. The Journal had a good story this week about Greg and how he's throwing a big party this weekend.

13. While Washington may be showing a few signs of a possible budget agreement, many congressional Republicans feel no incentive to compromise since they're, as Politico puts it, "safely ensconced in districts that, based on the voter rolls, would never think of electing a Democrat." On a related note, give a listen to our interview with former state GOP chairman John Holmes. Back in 1983, he helped to about triple the Republican ranks in the state Senate. Now, though, Holmes says he feels unwelcome in the national GOP.

14. Pensions, pensions, pensions. Watch for hedge funds, pension performance, and the joy of making your ARC (annual required contribution) to become part of Rhode Island voter lingo in 2014.