The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RIAugust 31st, 2013 at 5:00 am by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site, The Saturday Morning Post
1. The Rhode Island AFL-CIO didn’t endorse a candidate for governor in 2010, with its member unions split between Lincoln Chafee and Frank Caprio. The AFL-CIO, a “union of unions,” requires two-thirds of members to support an endorsement of a candidate, and AFL-CIO President George Nee isn’t speculating yet about whether someone will win the group’s support. “Right now we have a very, very fluid situation,” Nee said on this week’s Executive Suite. “We could be looking at a three-way Republican primary [and] a three-way Democratic primary.” He thinks Democrat Gina Raimondo will struggle to win major union support because of ongoing unhappiness about the 2011 pension overhaul. “I think she would have a very, very difficult time – to be fair, I mean unless something dramatic changes,” Nee said. “But given where we are right now, honestly, that’s a pretty uphill battle.” But Raimondo won’t be the only one getting tough scrutiny from labor: “Actually, on the part of some of the unions there was as much if not more disappointment with Governor Chafee than there even was with Gina Raimondo, because she never made any commitments [on pensions],” Nee said. “Governor Chafee actually made commitments to several of the unions that he would not change the pension for the existing work force, and they felt – a lot of the rank-and-file members, particularly the teachers union – felt somewhat betrayed by that.” That could give the one Democrat Nee didn’t mention by name – Angel Taveras – a big opening to win union members’ support during next year’s campaign.
2. A great scoop Friday by RIPR’s Ian Donnis, who unearthed the prospectus for American LeadHERship, the new super PAC created by veteran Rhode Island operative Kate Coyne-McCoy to help elect Gina Raimondo governor. As a super PAC American LeadHERship can raise unlimited amounts of money, though its donors’ identities have to be disclosed publicly. The prospectus offers an interesting preview of one message Raimondo may use in next year’s primary – linking Chafee and Taveras together as part of a “good-old-boy network that has failed to produce results for the state for so long.” That’s a play for women voters inspired by the possibility of Rhode Island’s first female governor, and for fed-up voters unhappy with the state’s current direction. (Though don’t look for Taveras to cede the “change candidate” mantle without a fight.) The creation of American LeadHERship is another signal that a ton of money may be marshaled in support of Raimondo’s candidacy – and that matters, a lot.
3. U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, who’s next in line to chair the Armed Services Committee, gave a fascinating interview Friday to our own Tim White laying out his thinking on the Syria crisis. Reed, ever cautious, expressed hope that military action can be avoided, and said if President Obama does order a strike the U.S. needs to have “very limited objectives” – basically, to reaffirm the international consensus against the use of chemical weapons. Reed didn’t hide his concern about Thursday’s shock anti-intervention vote by the U.K. House of Commons: “Honestly, the British decision is not something that gives us momentum, because Parliament acted and, I think, they acted in a post-Iraq world. There was great skepticism after Iraq because the predicate was wrong.” Reed noted once again that he voted against that war back in 2002. “People after 10 years of conflict are weary, honestly weary, and so there is a great skepticism, and this is a result I think that goes back to the situation in Iraq. It was a strategic miscalculation that is still living with us today.” Reed ruled out the use of American ground troops in Syria, and called it “essential” for Obama to have multinational support for any action he takes, though he noted Russia will block the U.N. Security Council from condemning Syria’s apparent chemical attack. “We have to understand, too, that this is not something that will be resolved within a few days or weeks,” Reed said. “This is a long-term crisis within Syria and within the region. … This is not something that can be settled by one act. It’s going to be many, many, many months.”
4. Judge Silverstein’s ruling this week that the 38 Studios lawsuit can go forward suggests this could be a lengthy and complicated legal process (though it’s always possible a settlement could be reached at some point). That can’t be good news for former EDC Deputy Director J. Michael Saul, whose lawyer warned in January the suit was already “creating a severe burden on my client economically” and who now faces months more of litigation. Whatever the merits of the suit, there’s no doubt Saul was carrying out the wishes of former Gov. Don Carcieri and other state leaders when he made the 38 Studios deal happen. Perhaps those who pushed the deal originally – including Carcieri and Curt Schilling, Saul’s co-defendant – should contribute to a legal defense fund for the agency’s former No. 2, as Dick Cheney and others did for Scooter Libby during the Valerie Plame controversy.
5. The Providence Journal’s star investigative reporter Mike Stanton is hanging up his typewriter to take a job teaching journalism at the University of Connecticut. (His first class was this week.) Stanton is cautiously optimistic about the newspaper he worked at for more than two decades. “The Journal obviously isn’t what it used to be, but it still is the dominant news organization in the state, and it is adapting,” Stanton said on this week’s Newsmakers. He and health reporter Felice Freyer served on the task force that came up with the paper’s new metered paywall, “and that was very heartening – that they were really listening and soliciting our input.” Stanton also has high hopes for new executive editor Karen Bordeleau. “She seems very excited and motivated to change things,” he said. “We recently did some redesign on our website and that’s going to continue, to try to improve what was a website that everybody agreed needed overhauling, especially those of us on the inside.” He also wants to see The Journal bring in fresh blood. “I think it is important that they be able to hire some more reporters, and that has been a concern, and that bothers the reporters in the newsroom,” he said, adding: “Morale is not helped in the newsroom you see top [A.H.] Belo executives making six-figure bonuses, and then they’re not hiring even – like, get some young, enthusiastic college graduates in that newsroom; put some money back into the product, because that’s what it takes to have a product that people want to read.”
6. Rhode Islanders spend less time per visit on PornHub than residents of any other state in the country, according to data released this week that I will not discuss further since this is a family website.
7. A Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com ace Dan McGowan: “One of the state’s leading foreclosure lawyers is declaring war on former Bank Rhode Island President Merrill Sherman, the special master assigned to negotiate settlements between banks and property owners. George E. Babcock, a lawyer who is handling the overwhelming majority of the more than 800 Rhode Island foreclosure cases currently in federal court, said Sherman’s position on the board of Brookline Bancorp – the company that bought BankRI in 2011 – is a ‘major conflict of interest’ because the bank is a member of Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc., whose private mortgage tracking database came under fire during the national foreclosure crisis. ‘It appears that MERS runs the mortgage industry in Rhode Island,’ Babcock said Friday in a post on his law firm’s blog. Babcock said he plans to inform all of his clients of the ‘impropriety’ taking place in the state’s foreclosure-mediation program. Sherman declined to comment through a spokesperson, but in a letter to the U.S. District Court for Rhode Island, she said she was unaware of the bank’s relationship with MERS. She said MERS has not been a ‘lead’ defendant in of the cases before her and that the company did not appear to have a say in any settlements. She said she is ‘comfortable’ remaining the program’s special master.”
8. On Wednesday night my lovely girlfriend took me to see the legendary Tony Bennett play the Newport Yachting Center. I have to admit that I went with some trepidation: Bennett is 87 years old, and other singers from his generation were only a shadow of themselves during their final tours. (Sinatra comes to mind.) What if the concert was a sad spectacle – an old man well past his prime, forgetting the words and the tune? Wouldn’t it be better to remember Bennett at his best? I shouldn’t have worried. He was amazing. Bennett’s skills as an interpreter are better than ever, and his upper range is still a marvel. The set – 21 songs over 70 minutes – was a great playlist of his own hits and other classic standards. (This economics reporter particularly enjoyed when he introduced “Who Cares,” a Depression-era song about ignoring a financial crisis, as “about as contemporary a tune” as he could pick.) Bennett told the adoring crowd he considers Newport to be “the most beautiful place in America,” and kicked off “The Good Life” by saying: “I’d like to dedicate this song to my great friend, Lady Gaga!” Bennett isn’t just a living legend; he’s still an electric performer. Don’t miss your chance to see him next time he sings around here.
9. If you missed them the first time around, now’s your chance to check out some of the items Dan McGowan and I published this week: Costco is looking to open a store in Rhode Island … Twin River’s table games took in nearly $8 million in their first six weeks … Ron St. Pierre replaced Helen Glover at WHJJ … my nine key takeaways on the 38 Studios ruling … the Rhode Island pension fund’s investment returns are lagging its peers … thousands of Rhode Island students disappear after 11th grade … education expert Jason Becker on improving the school-funding formula … Eva Marie Mancuso stuck up for the NECAP requirement … and 20 facts of life about politics (and Campaign 2014).
10. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Providence mayoral hopeful Jorge Elorza and retiring Providence Journal investigative reporter Mike Stanton. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – a Labor Day special with Rhode Island AFL-CIO President George Nee. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 6 p.m. on myRITV (or Sunday at 6 a.m. on Fox). See you back here next Saturday morning.
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