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

Feb 7, 2014

Thanks for stopping by for a visit with my weekly column. Your tips and thoughts are always welcome via idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org, and you can follow me all week long on the twitters.

1. While the General Assembly may be unpopular with rank and file Rhode Islanders, local lawmakers have the ability to muster support and get out the vote. That explains why Angel Taveras' campaign for governor touted the endorsement of 32 state lawmakers this week. A closer look at the numbers shows 24 of the 69 Democratic state reps -- about a third -- are backing the Providence mayor. Seen another way, though, Taveras has the backing of just 7 of the 20 members of the Providence legislative delegation. Some of those not in Taveras' camp have already made their intentions clear; Rep Grace Diaz was part of Gina Raimondo's campaign announcement, and Rep John Carnevale is supporting Clay Pell. The big question mark, of course, is House Speaker Gordon Fox, who remains undecided for now. Although elements in the state Democratic Party have pressed for the party to not make an endorsement, Fox signaled a different direction when he spoke with me in December. "I would think so," Fox said at the time. "I think parties exist to endorse." While party endorsements mean a lot less than they once did, the imprimatur could be more important in a potentially close three-way race. 

2. It's not so surprising when Ted Siedle or Matt Taibbi unload on Gina Raimondo (and she fires right back). But it's a whole other thing when the biting criticism emerges from the Wall Street Journal, the steely sentinel of American business. The WSJ signaled an abrupt halt to its Raimondomania with an editorial lambasting the state Investment Commission's move to divest from a hedge fund run by the controversial Daniel Loeb. The editorial noted how Loeb's Third Point fund offered a 24.7 percent return to the state pension fund, compared to 14 percent generated by the $8 billion fund as a whole. While Raimondo's office explained the move as an effort to reduce risk in the pension portfolio, the WSJ wasn't convinced; "The answer is union politics," the paper opined, "specifically opposition by the American Federation of Teachers to education reform, especially school choice. Mr. Loeb and his wife are big donors to charter schools, which is enough by itself to earn the wrath of AFT President Randi Weingarten." The Journal went on to assert that Raimondo is "fooling herself if she thinks that divesting from Third Point will atone for her pension-reform heresy" since "the unions will still try to end her political career."

3. Loeb's Third Point is named for a beach in Malibu, according to this December story in Vanity Fair, which offers a detailed, not very flattering look at the hedge fund kingpin, whose net worth is estimated to be north of $1 billion.

4. As he faces a spirited challenge from state Senator Dawson Hodgson (R-North Kingstown), Democratic AG Peter Kilmartin has hired an experienced political operative in Ernie Carlucci.

5. Quip of the Week: As someone said on Twitter, apropos the tale of Octo-Guthrie -- a fictitious Facebook page criticizing state Rep. Scott Guthrie, and created by state Senator Nick Kettle: whatever happened to those bygone days of stealing lawn signs?

6. As pension mediation appears headed toward a possible settlement, a new white paper by the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns offers a series of gloomy scenarios. On one hand, it says, a settlement could bring "significant increased cost requirements for municipal employees, particularly for their active and retired public safety employees." On the other hand, if there is no settlement and the lawsuit by a series of public-employee unions moves forward in court, "[T]here is real risk that a final litigated result will be extremely costly to cities and towns." 

7. Tomorrow is Truck Day -- a sure harbinger that spring is somewhere in the future.

8. We observed last week how the three-way Democratic primary for treasurer is one of Rhode Island's more noteworthy down-ballot races this year. Then, word came that this week that Bill Clinton is expected as part of a NYC fundraiser for Seth Magaziner next month, and Frank Caprio picked up an endorsement from the Rhode Island State Association of Firefighters. Elsewhere, writing in the Valley Breeze, Arlene Violet makes the argument that due to his experience, Ernest Almonte is the standout among the three candidates.

9. State Rep Joe Shekarchi of Warwick, who managed Gina Raimondo's winning 2010 run for treasurer, says there's nothing to talk that Raimondo's camp is encouraging him to run for lieutenant governor. "My position and my stance hasn't changed," Shekarchi says. "I'm keeping my options open," he says, but has no intention of doing anything other than seeking re-election. Indeed, seeking re-election would appear the prudent course for Shekarchi, with Secretary of State Ralph Mollis and Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee facing off in a Democratic primary for an office with questionable powers. And though Shekarchi has expressed interest in one day running for mayor of Warwick, Scott Avedisian hasn't shown no interest in moving on to run statewide.

10. With strong demand for residential units at the Arcade, former Providence mayor Joe Paolino is considering turning the five-story office building that houses Paolino Properties at 76 Dorrance Street into a residential structure. "I'm going to see if the finances work or not and we're analyzing that now," Paolino says adding that he's considering using historic tax credits and plans to reach a decision within 120 days. Regardless, Paolino says, he expects to move his office into his newly acquired building at 100 Westminster Street. He spoke as part of a wide-ranging interview in which we also discussed how to encourage more growth in Providence; the outlook on the vacant Superman Building; Paolino's level of interest in the for-sale Providence Journal; and his thoughts on a possible run for mayor by Buddy Cianci.

11. Speaking of mayors past and present, Lorne Adrain got his turn this week on RIPR's Political Roundtable and Bonus Q+A. As part of the latter conversation, Adrain was asked to comment on how he became a Democrat after previously having GOP associations. "My values are Democratic values," Adrain says. "When I think of the things that are important to this community and the things that I've worked on over the last 20 years in this community, what you see is Democratic values all over what I've done. The values of opportunity for everyone, the value of caring for one another, the value of seeing the best in each other." 

12. Roll Call on the bottleneck of RI politics.

13. Pew has six new facts about Facebook.

14. Check out A Lively Experiment on RI-PBS this weekend. Yours truly joins Ted Nesi, Kate Nagle, David Preston, and Dyana Koelsch as we talk Campaign 2014.

15. Don't miss Dan McGowan's revealing look at absenteeism on the Providence City Council.