The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RI

February 8th, 2014 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site, The Saturday Morning Post

Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi@wpri.com. For quick hits all week long, follow @tednesi.

1. Mark your calendars: WPRI 12 and The Providence Journal will release a new exclusive Campaign 2014 poll next week – testing whether Democratic primary voters support Angel Taveras, Gina Raimondo, Clay Pell or Todd Giroux for governor, and how they feel about the big issues. We’ll release the first results live on WPRI 12 and WPRI.com Tuesday at 5 p.m. Tune in!

2. The 49-degree kickoff temperature at last weekend’s Super Bowl in New Jersey has bolstered Pats owner Bob Kraft’s push to have Gillette Stadium host a Super Bowl as soon as 2019 – and Governor Chafee, an old friend of Bill Belichick’s, is taking notice. Chafee’s spokeswoman tells me he plans to discuss the proposal with his fellow New England governors at the National Governors Association meeting later this month: “They will talk about how they can help the Patriots make a solid presentation to the owners in May when the NFL owners meet to decide Super Bowl sites.” Kraft has long seen a role for Rhode Island in such an effort. “I sort of like Boston-Providence” as the site, he said last year, adding: “Part of what it will require is political people in Boston and Providence coming together so we could really have the right number of hotel rooms and have the support. It would require cooperation from all of the political folks who would have to gather together and want this and come together, like they do in other parts of the country.” (Cranston Mayor Allan Fung is off base, though, to suggest “Rhode Island” could be the primary host city; the state has nowhere near the necessary 30,000 hotel rooms, and Kraft wouldn’t snub his home state.) There’s also been talk of New England hosting the Olympic Games at some point – what role would Rhode Island play there, with its sailing facilities and stadiums?

3. Speaking of Rhode Island and big-time sporting events, Ron O’Hanley’s departure as Fidelity Investments’ head of asset management could be a blow to the state on that front. O’Hanley was key to getting Fidelity to sponsor the 2012 America’s Cup event in Newport, and is also on the boards of Sail Newport and the International Yacht Restoration School. Will Fidelity now be less likely to underwrite major sailing events here, just as Chafee moves to spend millions on a sailing center at Fort Adams?

4. CVS Caremark’s high-profile decision to drop tobacco products is an important moment for the company and a reminder of its importance to Rhode Island, as I tried to explain in my WPRI.com analysis earlier this week. The most intriguing reaction to the CVS news came from a smart Saturday Morning Post reader who suggested it suggests a potential growth area for Rhode Island’s economy: for-profit health care, à la Nashville. As I wrote the other day, from Caremark to MinuteClinic, CVS is repositioning itself as a health care provider as much as a retailer. Its home base of Northern Rhode Island is also now the location of a major for-profit hospital company thanks to Prime Healthcare’s purchase of Landmark and the Rehabilitation Hospital of Rhode Island; Providence-based private-equity firm Nautic Partners has made a number of health investments, too. Should Rhode Island try to encourage further growth in for-profit health care here?

5. Big congrats to Shannon Hegy, who joined WPRI 12 just last fall and has already been promoted to permanent co-anchor of our evening newscasts. I hope she’ll be with us for a long time.

6. Representatives of the three Democratic candidates for governor will gather at Common Cause Rhode Island’s headquarters Monday morning for a meeting to see if they can hammer out a so-called “People’s Pledge” that would limit outside spending in the race – an effort that gained new momentum last week when WPRI.com revealed a $100,000 donation from former Enron trader John Arnold and his wife to pro-Raimondo super PAC American LeadHERship. But can they actually reach a deal? Gina Raimondo’s campaign sounds increasingly eager to do so – both to forestall more bad publicity and to block spending by AFSCME, NEA and other unions later this year. It’s an open question, though, whether the three campaigns can agree on the scope of the pledge. Does it cover just TV and Web ads, or does it extend to phone banks and door-knocking? How do you track all that? And how do you apportion the “penalty” for outside spending if it harms one candidate and benefits two others, rather than one? Plus, how much of a genuine discussion between the campaigns about these issues will be possible in a public setting? None of this is to say a pledge is impossible. But nobody should underestimate what a heavy lift it will be to get to yes – or how much spin will follow if talks collapse.

7. Don’t miss Kathy Gregg and Tom Mooney’s important scoop on the secret pension talks.

8. Mike Solomon’s best bet for winning the Providence mayor’s race may be to position himself as Rhode Island’s version of Tom Menino. The longtime Boston mayor wasn’t exactly a gifted public speaker, but he won Bostonians over with pragmatic policies focused on the practical, day-to-day management of the city, plus an inexhaustible appetite for retail politics. (A strong economy helped.) Solomon, similarly, is never going to give David Cicilline or Buddy Cianci a run for their money when it comes to the gift of the gab. But it was clear during his inaugural Newsmakers interview on Friday that he wants to follow the Menino playbook, especially when he pitched his plan to borrow $250 million to repair city school buildings. Solomon defended the idea with a vivid story about visiting Kizirian Elementary School on Camden Avenue, where he said he found a terrible smell, tiles falling off the walls, paint peeling and an unusable gym. “In rebuilding our schools it’s going to create 2,000 jobs and improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” Solomon said. “And that’s why I’m running for mayor: schools, jobs, and neighborhoods.” With five credible candidates now in the Democratic primary – and both Cianci and John Lombardi waiting in the wings – it’s going to be a fascinating contest.

9. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com reporter Dan McGowan: “The number-one question we received following our investigation into excessive absenteeism on the Providence City Council: Who are these guys beating to get elected? The answer: No one. Councilman Terrence Hassett – who’s missed 100% of Education Subcommittee meetings and 62% of Ways and Means Committee meetings since 2011 – has only had an opponent in three of the 10 primary or general elections where council seats were on the ballot since 1997, when he first won a special election to replace Thomas Glavin. (Galvin resigned from the council to take a job working for then-Mayor Buddy Cianci.) Hassett isn’t alone. While some faced difficult primaries in 2010, not one of the Democratic candidates for each of the 15 City Council seats faced credible challenges in the general election. In fact, 10 of them had no opponent and none of the other five candidates won with less than 69.8% of the vote. The Providence Republican City Committee – which hasn’t elected one of its own to the council since Malcolm Farmer III in 1986 – is now calling for absent council members to have their pay docked, but even those calls appear to be falling on deaf ears. When attendance was taken at the Ways and Means meeting on Thursday night – three days after our story aired – Hassett said, ‘Here and please take note of it.’ Those in the room laughed.”

10. And here’s a bonus Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com ace Dan McGowan: “With seven months to go until the Democratic primary, it’s understandable why the announced candidates for mayor of Providence (Chris Young excluded) haven’t begun attempting to differentiate themselves from one another just yet. Unlike the well-funded candidates in the governor’s race, businessman Lorne Adrain, City Council President Michael Solomon, former Water Supply Board Chairman Brett Smiley and former Housing Court Judge Jorge Elorza are still learning their stump speeches at this point in the race. But here’s at least one difference: Adrain, who kicked off his campaign this week, is the only one who isn’t backing current Mayor Angel Taveras for governor. ‘I spoke to the mayor and I told him that whoever wins the Democratic primary, I will be fully supporting of and enthusiastically supporting,’ Adrain told reporters following his announcement. Taveras remains popular among city voters and the three other mayoral hopefuls all have good reason to try to ride his coattails. (He’s already said he won’t endorse in the race.) But Adrain has the opportunity to tout his outsider status. When Taveras’s gubernatorial primary opponents are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars going negative on the city, Adrain will be the only one who won’t have to defend the mayor.”

11. A great weekend long read for you: Matt Yglesias explains Amazon.com’s surprising business model.

12. This week’s Roll Call article examining the unlikelihood of turnover in Rhode Island’s congressional delegation caught my attention with its suggestion that Republican Brendan Doherty will run for office again. The former state police colonel has kept a low profile since suffering a 12-point defeat to David Cicilline last November, but his former campaign manager Ian Prior – now at the NRCC, House Republicans’ campaign arm – argues Doherty “proved in 2012 to be the most formidable Republican candidate in Rhode Island’s political landscape,” raising $1.5 million and outperforming GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in the 1st Congressional District by 22 percentage points. “All that being said, and in my opinion, the one thing that Brendan regrets is choosing a presidential year in which to run for office,” Prior tells me. “I think that he remains interested in someday continuing his public service by seeking elected office, but that he wouldn’t do so in 2016 – I would look further down the road to a statewide office in 2018.” Unless Prior is imagining a long-shot challenge to Sheldon Whitehouse, that sounds like a hint Doherty might run for governor if a Democrat wins the office this fall.

13. Democrat Guillaume de Ramel was feeling good about his chances for secretary of state last week, and his primary opponent Nellie Gorbea had a positive vibe this week, too. Gorbea won the endorsement of EMILY’s List, the influential PAC that helps pro-choice female Democrats win office. Gorbea – who is at a financial disadvantage to the independently wealthy De Ramel – tells me she was “thrilled” by the news. “I’m humbled that EMILY’s List has recognized my campaign as one of the top opportunities in the country to help elect a woman to a constitutional office,” she said. EMILY’s List is also strongly supporting Gina Raimondo in her bid for governor higher up the ballot.

14. That’s not the only connection Gorbea and Raimondo have this year. Gorbea’s latest campaign-finance report shows she paid $3,000 in November to Raimondo campaign manager Eric Hyers and his wife, Nicole Kayner, for “consultant and professional services.” Hyers tells me the couple advised Gobrea and helped with some of the initial work starting up her campaign, but were finished before they joined Team Raimondo.

15. You couldn’t blame comeback candidate Frank Caprio if he was disappointed to learn Bill Clinton is hosting a fundraiser for his opponent Seth Magaziner. While Clinton has long counted Seth’s father Ira among his closest advisers, the former president also liked the Caprio family well enough that he visited Rhode Island to campaign for Frank – twice! – back in 2010. Three years after “shove it,” though, Caprio is taking the high road on a presidential disappointment. “Frank is very grateful and appreciative of President Clinton’s support in the past and looks forward to helping Hillary in her potential future run,” Caprio spokeswoman Patti Doyle told me Friday.

16. Rhode Island’s lieutenant governor has no power over education policy, but it’s still likely to be a flashpoint in the Democratic primary between Secretary of State Ralph Mollis and Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee. McKee is closely associated with the local charter-school movement, and Mollis said on this week’s Newsmakers that their views on education are “significantly different.” The former North Providence mayor explained that “while I think charter schools obviously have shown some success, the fact that we siphon money from public education to make them successful, the fact that we have another entire hierarchy of administration within just another school system, the fact that these students are chosen through lottery – I have a real concern over that. So if these charter schools are developing skilled students, why can’t we put that inside the public schools?” McKee, for his part, is hardly running from his association with charters – just this week he tapped the Northeast Charter School Network’s communications director, C.J. Macklin, as his campaign manager.

17. WPRO’s Matt Allen had a funny find this week – a Florida TV station interviewed Attorney General Peter Kilmartin at an arts festival there, and labeled him a “Sarasota resident” on screen. Dawson Hodgson, Kilmartin’s dogged GOP opponent, seized on the clip to charge that the AG is MIA on big issues. “The attorney general should immediately address the residency question, release all of his out of state travel records, and explain to the public exactly how much time he is spending in Sarasota or elsewhere,” Hodgson declared. “Important matters in RI require his attention.” But Kilmartin spokeswoman Amy Kempe scoffed at the suggestion that there’s an actual issue here, saying the TV crew simply misidentified Kilmartin, who owns a vacation home in Sarasota. “He is without question a Rhode Island resident and any assertion that he is not is simply ridiculous,” Kempe said. “I don’t believe the attorney general is the first person – nor will he be the last – to own vacation property outside Rhode Island. Governor Sundlun owned a vacation property in Jamaica and a farm in Virginia. Governor Almond owned property on the Cape. And Governor Carcieri had vacation property in Stewart, Florida. I don’t recall anytime questioning their residency.”

18. Speaking of WPRO, the station’s digital media director Patrick Austin has started a new podcast series called “Profiles” that features conservations with various Rhode Islanders about their work. I joined Patrick for one of the first episodes to chat about how my job here at WPRI came about and where I think the news media is going. (You’ll find I’m not confident in any predictions at this point!) You can listen to our conversation here on 630wpro.com or download it here on iTunes.

19. One more shamless plug: I joined Rhode Island PBS’s panel for this week’s episode of “A Lively Experiment,” along with Ian Donnis, David Preston and Kate Nagle. Our topic is Campaign 2014: what matters and how it will be covered. Watch tonight at 7 p.m. on WSBE Learn (Ch. 36.2), Sunday at noon on WSBE-TV (Ch. 36.1) or online at the RI PBS blog.

20. Some other items we published this week: Dan McGowan’s Q&A with New York Times reporter James Risen … why snow days are the best move for students … a closer look at where Rhode Island’s wealthy taxpayers go … and the latest stats on abortion in Rhode Island. I also stopped by Dan Yorke’s TV show.

21. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Providence City Council President Michael Solomon, Democratic candidate for mayor; Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Brown University President Christina Paxson. 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.

Ted Nesi ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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9 Responses to “The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RI”

  1. George says:

    Ted, I expect the Enron slurs from Scott Mckay and the comrades over at golocal. I expect more from you. Mentioning that John Arnold once worked at Enron is prejudicial and misleading. He was in no way involved in the “off the books” scams that brought the company down.
    It would be more accurate to mention that the $100,000 came from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. The foundation that during the government shutdown provided the funding for 7,000 poor children to attend pre-school. Or you could have said he and his wife Laura are philanthropist that have signed a pledge to give half their money to charity. You couldn’t even be bothered to use his wife’s name. By the way, Laura Arnold got her undergrad degree from Harvard her law degree from Yale and her masters in philosophy from Cambridge. She’s quite an impressive woman. Next time do a little research before besmirching the reputation of good people.

  2. j m paras says:

    Ted, I enjoyed watching you and the panel on Lively Experiment last night. Hope to see you all again on the program periodically to weigh in on the campaign. In the interest of “political correctness” be sure to use the term, “ex-Enron trader” when referring to John Arnold in the future. We rely on the press and the media to keep the public informed about multi-billionaires outside of the state who support candidates through superpacs and promote their agendas (whatever they may be) by making huge anonymous donations to secretive groups such as Engage RI which drive both politics and policy in the state. Keep up the great work!

    1. George says:

      j m, Nice to see your balanced view of the world. Certainly I expect the left wing media to mention a job Mr. Arnold had 12 years ago. Linking him to corruption at Enron is akin to linking all Providence employees during Cianci’s tenure to “Operation Plunder Dome” corruption. It doesn’t pass the smell test.
      Since then Mr. Arnold started a hedge fund from which he is now retired. What is relevant is that his foundation donated $100,000 to EngageRI. The good works that he is engaged in now are for more newsworthy and relevant than a job he had out of college. The link to enron places the low informed reader at a disadvantage.So don’t leave it out for political correctness, leave it out because your actually supposed to be an unbiased journalist.

      Ted, feel free to jump in.

  3. Bill Zarlenga says:

    Ted, while I agree having RI being the host “city/state” is probably never going to happen, we need leaders who are willing to be aggressive and go after these big events. We aren’t even playing half the time. I’m not a huge Fung fan because he’s not for same sex marriage recognition, but I hope to see more leaders fall into his line of thinking visa vis let’s at least be aggressive with our regional coordination and willingness to be in the game.

  4. Andrea says:

    Agreed Bill. We need more outside the box thinking. So far the Gov race looks like this:

    Dems: Raise the minimum wage, lose your job because biz owners can’t afford you, become dependent on us for the rest of your life.
    Repub: Get startup business funds avail to many, lower taxes, freeze the rising cost of tuition so you can afford to get smarter.
    Moderate Party turned Repub carpetbagger: I will cut off your TDI and make you return to work early against the advice of your doctor who went to school for more years than the Moderate Party existed.

    Andrea Arruda

    1. George says:

      Don’t forget the democratic candidates want to give drivers licenses to illegal aliens so they can get to the jobs its illegal for them to have.

  5. robert says:

    No `scoop’ — just another ill-informed one-sided projo story on the pension talks.

  6. John says:

    Love the idea of an early primary poll, even though the undecided vote should be quite high. I doubt anyone breaks 40% at this point.

    1. The winner says:

      In a four horse race, 40% puts you in the winners circle…….