TGIF: 14 Things to Know About RI Politics + Media

Jun 7, 2013

The start of June has done nothing, naturally, to stop the breakneck flow of news in the Land of The Gift That Keeps on Giving. So welcome back to my weekly column. You can reach me at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) com, and (please) follow me on Twitter. Let's head in.

1. While a vote Thursday by the state Board of Education vote resolved the contract status of state Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, the larger standoff remains very active. The National Education Association Rhode Island vows a series of passive and active steps to resist the implementation of Gist's agenda, even as Governor Lincoln Chafee applauded the superintendent's contract extension. The consequences of these clashing views will run smack into next year's race for governor.

2. Support from NEARI and other public-employee unions helped put Chafee over the top in 2010, a race he won by a margin of less than three points. During a wide-ranging interview Thursday at RIPR, NEARI executive director Robert Walsh indicated that Providence Mayor Angel Taveras is his union's early favorite among the three Democratic candidates for governor. "For Deborah Gist, if she gets a new contract, the governor will be the primary architect of that," Walsh said ahead of the vote by the Board of Education. "I don't how he will explain that to 13,000 classroom teachers." Walsh says state Treasurer Gina Raimondo "has the highest mountain to climb" among some union members due to her support for the 2011 pension overhaul and increasing the hedge fund allocation in the state pension fund. On the other hand, Walsh says, Taveras "made some early mistakes," and then did a "remarkably unique political thing" by apologizing "and moved forward and seems to be taking a thoughtful and balanced approach to leadership."

3. Raimondo's office wasted little time in responding this week following the official release by AFSCME, Council 94, of the news that it has hired one of her most prominent critics, Edward "Ted" Siedle .... In other Gina news, her pal Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, is about to announce his US Senate run in New Jersey.

4. Governor Chafee's re-election mantra is that Rhode Island is headed in the right direction. His prime piece of evidence is how the state's unemployment rate continues to tick down. Yet Rhode Island, unlike Massachusetts, hasn't come close to replacing the jobs it lost during the recession, so the unemployment rate doesn't nearly tell the whole story. I asked Chafee this week about why RI has lagged behind the Bay State in replacing jobs. Here's what he said: "There are different reasons. One of those here in Rhode Island, I think, a lot of people were on the cusp of retirement, but did not want to retire. They're just waiting to make sure they're 401(k)'s were stronger, watching the stock market, and now they're retiring."

5. ICYMI: Bob Walsh's candid assessment of Barack Obama's presidency; the union leader says he has buyer's remorse over backing Obama over Hillary Clinton in 2008.

6. An attack this week by a would-be interview subject on ABC6 reporter Abbey Niezgoda and her cameraman attracted broad sympathy and national attention, from Gawker to the West Coast. The story got such broad play since we live in a video age, and it's not every day you see pit bulls pursuing a reporter at their owner's direction. A freelance reporter (h/t Felice Freyer) had a different perspective, calling the story a triumph of entertainment over news: "In this case, it turned out to be the kind of entertainment we devour in this country. A disheveled black woman attacks a pretty white newswoman with a rock and two dogs. Some people will watch this and have their bigoted assumptions reaffirmed. What I saw affirmed my despair for the business I once loved, and the things I did while under its spell."

7. Victor Capellan, one of the prospective hopefuls to succeed Taveras at City Hall, is stepping up his fundraising. He's got a June 14 event in mid-town Manhattan (a city where he used to work) and a June 25 time at the Roots Cultural Center on Westminster Street.

8. If you're on Aquidneck Island on Saturday, take a chance to visit what was once dubbed Jurassic Park on Ocean Drive.

9. It was a good week for Eric Hyers, who managed David Cicilline's two winning congressional campaigns. Hyers' latest client won a competitive state Senate primary race in New Jersey, and he's now back in New England, helming a run for a candidate, state Senator Karen Spilka of Ashland, seeking to fill the seat of longtime Massachusetts Representative Edward Markey.

10. Three separate visions for reshaping the EDC, and just a few weeks left in the legislative session? Sounds about right (by which I mean unsurprising).

11. If you read one overview on the debate over defaulting on 38 Studios' bonds, make it this one by Ted Nesi.

12. Speaking of issues of default and subsidy, will a request for public dollars be part of a long-sought parking garage by the Garrahy Courthouse?

13. When leaders in the RI Senate praise the collegiality of that chamber, it's hard to not point out the meager presence of Republicans (5) in the Senate. Yet the caucus gained national attention thanks to a story broken by RIPR, and Bloomberg (h/t John Marion) says "super-minorities" can make their impact felt. (Another prominent local example came when a small GOP contingent in the House enabled John Harwood to move up to speaker in 1993.)

14. You don't need to watch Chinatown, one of the best movies of the film-rich 1970s, to catch up on the surprising amount of intrigue related to water. Just read Scott's latest column.