TGIF: 15 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media

Jan 24, 2014

Thanks for stopping by for my weekly column. Another busy political week looms ahead, so let's get into it. As always, feel free to drop me a line at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org and to follow me all week long on the twitters.

1. Watch for the formal start of Clay Pell's Democratic gubernatorial campaign when he makes an 11 a.m. announcement Tuesday on the fifth floor of the RI Convention Center. As we noted last week, Pell has kept his public comments rather general so far. Now, he'll have to reveal himself and his stances in greater detail to extend support to those Democrats looking for an alternative to Gina Raimondo and Angel Taveras. All in all, with the latter two scrapping this week over the minimum wage, it could be a fight for the soul of Rhode Island's Democrats.

2. It's somewhat surprising that the candidate assembling the South Side-East Side nexus that has been the engine of victory in recent mayoral campaigns is none other than Providence City Council President Michael Solomon. Unlike Angel Taveras and David Cicilline, Solomon isn't Latino and he doesn't reside on the East Side. But he has won the support on the South Side of state Reps Grace Diaz, Scott Slater, Joe Almeida, and Anastasia Williams, as well as Ward 15 Councilor Sabina Matos, who herself flirted with a run for mayor. On the East Side, Solomon has backing from Councilors Seth Yurdin and Sam Zurier, and former state rep Linda Kushner, along with Matos, has launched a "Women for Solomon" group. On top of these coalition-building efforts, Solomon is sitting on a war chest of more than $500,000 -- more than three times his closest competitor. The likely entry into the race of state Rep John Lombardi (and perhaps Buddy Cianci) could make things more complicated, in a field that also includes fellow Democrats Brett Smiley, Lorne Adrain, Jorge Elorza and Republican Daniel Harrop. Yet Solomon has built a strong foundation in advance of the formal launch his mayoral campaign next Wednesday morning in Olneyville.

3. Will Farrell, who has handled city council and Statehouse relations at City Hall for Mayor Angel Taveras, is leaving to launch his own government-relations practice. His last day on the job at City Hall is January 31. There's no word on a successor to Farrell; replacing someone for the demanding task of riding herd over the divergent elements of the City Council -- let alone attracting someone with the chops of Farrell or his predecessor, Matt Jerzyk -- will be challenging in an election year.  Farrell is the son of William A. Farrell, among the better respected lobbyists on Smith Hill. On his impending departure, the younger Farrell says, “I am deeply appreciative to have had the opportunity to serve as a member of the mayor’s team for the past three years. We have worked to address many of the difficult challenges the City has faced, and I am proud of all that this administration has accomplished. I wish Mayor Taveras and the friends who I have come to know at City Hall all the best as I move on to pursue other opportunities in government relations. I look forward to taking this next step in my career and to continuing my strong support for Angel’s campaign for governor." Taveras says Farrell "has been an energetic and passionate advocate on behalf of the residents of Providence as we have worked closely with the Providence City Council and the General Assembly to move Providence forward. Will cares deeply about Providence and Rhode Island, and I have no doubt he will continue playing a vital role in our community. I wish him the very best.”

4. Another Friday afternoon, another staffing change from the Chafee administration: Former Westerly town manager Steven Hartford (who also worked previously in West Warwick), joins the administration as special advisory on policy and legislative affairs. Kenny Alston, who was in that post, moves to director of operations.

5. In a statement, RI GOP Chairman Mark Smiley cited the uptick in the state's unemployment rate as an indictment of the Democratic-controlled General Assembly and its leadership: “The unemployment number continues to show that Gordon Fox, Teresa Paiva Weed and the Democrat controlled General Assembly clearly can’t deal with the problems Rhode Islanders face every day in their pursuit of employment.  So much for their renewed sense of urgency! As I have stated on more than one occasion, If they spent as much time working to create jobs and fix our economy as they did on back door deals to pay 38 Studios bondholders, our state would be much better off. The voters need to send them packing in November.” (For an excellent long-term view on joblessness in RI, consider this report by Ted Nesi. Meanwhile, Massachusetts had its best year in job-growth in 2013 since 2000!) State Democratic Chairman David Caprio responds by defending the efforts of House Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed. "The speaker has continuously support and passed legislation towards making college education more affordable, leading to a more educated and trained workforce for the 21st century economy," Caprio says. "Senate President Paiva Weed worked with business leaders to develop a multi-faceted package of legislation, which recently took effect, to make the state more competitive." Caprio closed by saying Smiley "should respect the will of Rhode Islanders and try to work with our elected leaders, rather than always trying to tear down the legislature."

6. Peter Baptista and Nick Hemond of the Hamilton Group are working with Secretary of State Ralph Mollis on his run for lieutenant governor. Mollis is set to announce Monday. His Democratic primary opponent, Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee, announced in November. No word yet on a GOP candidate for LG, although Catherine Taylor (who almost beat Mollis in 2010) is considering a run for that office as well as secretary of state.

7. State Senator Donna Nesselbush played an important role in the Senate passage of same-sex marriage last year by using her amiable manner to build support. Nesselbush helps to oversee a big law office and her appeal was evident in how she ran with the blessing of her predecessor in Pawtucket, John McBurney, who had been the longest-serving member of the chamber. So what's next for this rising legislative star? For now, Nesselbush is a visible supporter of Gina Raimondo; she was on-stage at Raimondo's formal launch, and she co-stars in the first of a new video series, touting Raimondo's roots as a working class Democrat.

8. Who thought none other than the POTUS himself would step on former RI Congressman Patrick Kennedy's anti-marijuana message?

9. Joshua Benton has a smart read on why blog star Ezra Klein may/may not be able to monetize his approach after skipping out of the Washington Post. Elsewhere, Dan Kennedy suspects Ezra's exit is a divorce that could hurt both parties.

10. Tech entrepreneur Angus Davis was in the news recently for his outspoken opposition to the planned downtown relocation (since scrapped) of a state parole and probation office. Meanwhile, The Boston Globe highlighted how Davis' Swipely continues to innovate by telling restaurant owners and managers about the most popular items on their menus (and even the performance of their servers). Excerpt: "Swipely is designed to give small business owners the same powers that national franchises already have on a budget they can afford. 'We help companies that don’t have the resources like McDonalds, but want to benefit from technology to better understand their customers,' Davis said."

11. Like a lot of people, particularly reporters (who prefer Twitter), my fondness for Facebook has faded, although it's hard to deny the popularity of the social network. So a Princeton study likening FB to a disease that could quickly fade away caused a buzz this week. Don't make me laugh, responds a writer for the tech site GigaOm. In fact, it may be Facebook's resemblance to a newspaper, with the presence of many friends and familiar names, that maintains its reach.

12. Best wishes to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's deputy press secretary, Rosie Hilmer, who's departing to become the DC-based communications chief for Congresswoman Ann Kuster of New Hampshire. Stepping in to succeed Hilmer is Whitehouse staffer Rich Davidson.

13. Video: An old-school news reel on the Ocean State (h/t Bill Fischer via Twitter).

14. Here's some kindling for the Hot Stove League to help get through these sub-freezing winter days (h/t M. Charles Bakst): "The Ultimate [Baseball Tour]: 30 Stadiums, 30 Days."

15. Bonus read: how American cities became populated with squirrels.