TGIF: 20 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media

Jul 24, 2015

TGIF is back in the swing of RI politics after a relaxing summer break. So thanks for stopping by, and feel free to share your tips and thoughts at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org, and to follow me on the twitters. Let's dive in.

1. Governor Gina Raimondo isn't taking the summer off, in case you hadn't noticed. She's pursuing a series of initiatives, ranging from healthcare and criminal justice policy to the well-being of children. Some observers fault the lack of public details on changes at the state Department of Transportation, for example, and others might wonder if some changes are mostly about appearances. (In fairness to the governor, the state faces restrictions in what it can say about personnel moves. It's also worth remembering that a Raimondo proposal to expand executive flexibility in managing state employees, Article 22, didn't make the final cut of the budget. And she's never soft-peddled the challenge of improving RI's economy.) Meanwhile, keeping a busy agenda in the summer offers a strategic advantage, since the governor has the public stage mostly to herself. With a new state education commissioner on board, and Health and Human Services Secretary Elizabeth Roberts steadily taking on more responsibility, watch for Raimondo to work on building Rhode Island's brand and trying to cultivate more jobs.  

2. Rhode Island keeps catching breaks when it comes to the threat posed by Massachusetts to the Ocean State's third-largest revenue source. First, The Boston Globe reported this week on how Bay State casinos aren't expected to open until 2018, at the earliest. Then came word that the financing collapsed for an envisioned casino is nearby southeastern Massachusetts. These developments give more breathing room to Rhode Island (although the state has failed to use similar intervals to its advantage in the past). For now, the question remains mostly whether Tiverton voters in 2016 will approve Twin River's envisioned convenience casino in a remote northern section of the town, a stone's throw from the Massachusetts border.

3. The overarching message in Governor Raimondo's moves to reorganize state departments and revamp policies is that the state needs to change its ways. In itself, that's significant and another big contrast from her predecessor.

4. The nightmare of not knowing what caused the July 11 blast at Salty Brine Beach in Narragansett is apparently over. In a news release, the state Department of Environmental Management said Dr. Arthur Spivack, a URI Graduate School of Ocean oceanographer with expertise in geo-chemistry, finds it "very likely the incident was caused by the combustion of a build-up of hydrogen gas in the beach sand, due to the corrosion of an abandoned copper cable that was previously used by the United States Coast Guard." 

5. While membership in US labor unions has waned, UNITE HERE's Local 217 remains a political powerhouse in Providence. The latest example is the uncertainty facing the Cranston-based Procaccianti Group's proposal to demolish the Fogarty Building on Fountain Street and, using a 13-year tax-stabilization agreement, replace it with a nine-story hotel. The Building Trades, hungry for construction jobs, staged a big show of force Thursday in favor of the proposal. But Local 217, no fan of the Procaccianti Group, is raising questions about what kind of jobs will be created once the hotel is built. As a result, the project remains in limbo for now.

6. After running Governor Raimondo's winning campaign last year, not to mention two victories for David Cicilline, Eric Hyers is no stranger to Rhode Island. Now, as we first reported earlier this week, Hyers is branching out to helm the re-election campaign for Montana Governor Steve Bullock. In taking on a Big Sky State challenge, Hyers follows the path of such former RI operatives as Brett Broesder (who had a brief foray out West before sticking back in Bridgeport, Connecticut), and Warwick native Andrea Marcoccio (who moved to Montana to work on President Obama's 2008 campaign. Marcoccio later served as Montana Democrats' executive director before stepping down this year, and she also got married this month -- Congrats!). While we're at it, here's an update on what became of the other gubernatorial campaign managers from Rhode Island's 2014 election: Clay Pell's manager, Devin "Short Pants" Driscoll is starting law school in September at University of Minnesota's Mondale Hall; Driscoll's deputy, Sarah Hummell, is national deputy field director with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Angel Taveras' campaign manager, Danny Kedem, is working for Hamburger Gibson Creative in Washington, D.C. And last but not least, Patrick Sweeney, who helmed Cranston Mayor Allan Fung's Republican gubernatorial campaign. is the only one of the bunch still in the 401, where he's working as a lawyer and consultant. (Update: my apologies for initially omitting Jeff Britt -- who led Ken Block's GOP primary campaign last year. Massive brain cramp fail on my part. Last we heard, Jeff is still dividing his time between Florida and Rhode Island.)

7. Can Rhode Island Republican Party Chairman Brandon Bell succeed in increasing GOP ranks in the General Assembly? The outlook is uncertain at best, considering how Republicans hold just 16 of 113 legislative seats. More to the point, a string of past Republican chairs were unable to make meaningful progress during the opportune period coinciding with RI's Great Recession. Be that as it may, Bell is bringing a genial manner and periodic sharp messaging to the task of building the opposition. "I thought it was time to step up," Bell, a Providence lawyer and New Jersey native, said on RIPR's Bonus Q+A this week in explaining why he wanted to become chairman in March. Showing a sense of realism, he invoked Ronald Reagan in discussing efforts to move the RI GOP forward: "Our progress will be measured in inches and feet, not miles." For more from Bell, listen to his appearance on RIPR's Political Roundtable

8. URI President David Dooley joined Tim White and myself on WPRI-TV's Newsmakers this week to talk about making the university into more of an economic catalyst and other issues. CoffeeBlackRI might be interested in President Dooley's response when asked about a ranking showing URI academically lagging almost all of its public university counterparts in New England. On a different note, with another mass shooting in the news, Dooley said he sleeps better at night knowing URI police are armed, even if the likelihood of an incident remains very small. 

9. The Judicial Nominating Commission forwarded to Governor Raimondo five of the six candidates interviewed for two separate judicial posts, one each in District Court and Family Court, according to the governor's office. For District Court, the candidates whose names were forwarded are Thomas Briody; Brian Goldman; Alan Goulart; Paul Ragosta; and Tim Williamson (James T. Caruolo's name was not forwarded to the governor). For Family Court, the names of Jane Howlett; Paul Jones; Edward Newman; Angela Paulhus; and Lia Stuhlsatz were sent to the governor (Barbara Barrow's name was not forwarded.) Action is not expected on the judicial nominations in the next few weeks.

10. Cranston City Council President John E. Lanni Jr. tells me he plans to make publicly available, during the City Council's meeting at 7 pm Monday, the report done by state police on the Cranston Police Department and the so-called ticket-gate controversy. It remains unclear if and when Cranston Mayor Allan Fung will comment on the findings (he was said to be unavailable for comment Friday), although a top aide, Carlos Lopez, said Fung is working to get a copy of the report.

11. Red Sox fans could use a good laugh considering how the team is anchored in the AL East basement and a series of bad management decisions have come home to roost. TGIF is here to help with a classic chestnut, courtesy of 365 Days Oddball Days of Boston Red Sox History, involving not only the great Splendid Splinter, but two topics often in the RI news -- pensions and firefighters: "Ted Williams created controversy on this date [July 21] in 1940 during a conversation with Cleveland writer Harry Grayson. Williams talked about visiting his uncle, who was a fireman, at his firehouse in Yonkers. It was a quiet day at the firehouse, and everyone was lounging in the sun. 'Hell, you can live like this and retire with a pension.' Williams told Grayson. 'Here I am hitting .340 and everybody's all over me. Maybe I shoulda been a fireman.' Williams further contended that his $12,500 salary was 'chicken feed.' Responding to Williams's regrets about not being a fireman, White Sox manager Jimmy Dykes supplied his club with bells, sirens and fire hat during a series against the Red Sox in Chicago, which began on July 23, and goaded the Red Sox slugger every time he came to bat."

12. Via Facebook this week from Cynthia Stern: "After all these years, Patrick Lynch can still surprise me! He got down on one knee and proposed to me in Maui last night in front of 800 people. Btw, I said yes."

13. The New York Times' Mark Leibovich, who cut his teeth as an editorial assistant at the late, lamented Boston Phoenix, is one of the best when is comes to a revealing look at how politicians market themselves. "The Re-Re-Re Introduction of Hillary Clinton," from last week's NYT Magazine, is no exception. The story depicts how Clinton is trying to make herself relatable -- the same quality that once led many voters to favor George W. Bush. Excerpt:"Hillary Clinton is private and guarded by nature, and three decades of being inspected like an exotic species has made her even more so. But right now, in the early days of what will be a 19-month campaign for the White House, she is trying to share and expound on her experi­ences, to project some greater measure of herself, big and small. Moose tales aside, this does not come easily. She has resided at the center of so many scandals, psychodramas and culture wars that it’s hard to even keep track of them all, let alone know what the person within that bubble of attention is actually like."  .... Meanwhile, elsewhere in presidential politics, Lincoln Chafee tells The Hill he thinks Joe Biden will get into the race.

14. The Providence DPW hasn't been immune to periodic issues, both back in the Buddy era and more recently. So the legal fight between the city and a former DPW director, Paul J. Thomas, over what he calls wrongful termination, bears watching.

15. Kudos and congrats to Jessica Grose, a Brown University alum and former Providence Phoenix intern for yours truly, who has landed the gig as editor-in-chief for Lenny, Lena Dunham's new newsletter for young women. Jessica was also interviewed this week on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

16. Rhode Island Public Radio staged its own contest to come up with a new tourism slogan for the Biggest Little. You can find out more about our slogan winner, freelance illustrator Frankie B. Washington, and his favorite local spot with Kristin Gourlay's story.

17. The dramatic traffic-stop escalation that led to the arrest of Sandra Bland, an African-American woman in Texas (and her subsequent death), was disturbing, but not particularly surprising, to some Rhode Islanders. Listen to Elisabeth Harrison's story.

18. Credit Senator Lindsey Graham (or someone on his staff) for having a sense of humor, after Donald Trump gave out Graham's cell phone number this week.

19. Where Are They Now? Brandie Jefferson, cut as an online reported at the ProJo in 2008, is now manager of communications and new media for Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

20. Beer News: Lou Papineau reports on how The Malted Barley, known for serving craft brews and cool pretzels, is coming to downtown Providence, specifically the intersection of Westminster and Snow streets.