The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RIMarch 29th, 2014 at 5:00 am by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes, The Saturday Morning Post
Happy Saturday! Ted won a shiny fellowship and is gallivanting around Denver this weekend, so I’m making sure his suits are dry-cleaned, the car is washed and his column is updated. As always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. For quick hits all week long, follow @danmcgowan and @tednesi.
1. How do you go from declaring yourself the next House speaker late on a Saturday night to dead in the water by Sunday dinner? The rapid collapse of the leadership team led by Reps. Michael Marcello and Chris Blazejewski had a lot of lawmakers scratching their heads this week, but the consensus seems to be that once the union-backed Woonsocket delegation and most of the Republican caucus moved to Rep. Nick Mattiello, the battle was over. “When they had all those people in room on Sunday night, that’s when the floodgates opened,” Rep. Patrick O’Neill told WPRI.com. So could it have gone differently? We know Rep. Doreen Costa – the new vice chair of the Judiciary Committee – said she simply couldn’t back a team that was supported by so many liberal lawmakers because “the progressive movement is very dangerous.” For his case, O’Neill, who fought until the end for Marcello, said the group considered several different leadership combos – including offering Rep. John DeSimone one of the top two spots – but “we went all-in on Marcello and Blazejewski on Saturday.” That’s why it was so disappointing to see Blazejewski and some of the others end up voting for Mattiello, according to O’Neill. Blazejewski chalked his vote up to “my belief that egos shouldn’t get in the way” of moving the state forward, a comment that irked more than a few of his colleagues. “That’s just very disappointing,” O’Neill said.
2. Do not miss Ted Nesi’s deep-dive on new Speaker Nick Mattiello to understand what his promotion will mean for Rhode Island. While you’re at it, make sure you read Providence Journal reporter Katherine Gregg’s hour-by-hour rundown of how Mattiello put together his team while Rome was burning last week.
3. When new House Majority Leader John DeSimone said his rise to the No. 2 ranking official in the chamber was a “long time in coming,” he wasn’t kidding. The veteran Providence lawmaker was first elected in 1992 – the same year as Reps. Gordon Fox, Edith Ajello, Anastasia Williams, Charlene Lima, William San Bento, Robert Jacquard, Eileen Naughton and Thomas Winfield – but a quick search through Providence Journal archives shows he hasn’t exactly been known to play ball with leadership. He wasn’t the endorsed Democrat in his first election and by 1998, he was backing former Cranston Rep. Frank Montanaro’s unsuccessful bid for majority leader against Gerard Martineau, who was supported by former Speaker John Harwood. Four years later, he was named deputy majority leader by new Speaker William Murphy, but by 2004, he was trying to unseat Murphy. (With help from the Republicans, DeSimone pulled together 30 votes in that election, but Murphy held on to the speakership.) In recent years, DeSimone has laid low, serving as House Oversight Committee chairman – which held no hearings in 2011 or 2012 – and later, heading up the House Municipal Government Committee. All the while, DeSimone, a close ally of state Democratic Party Chairman David Caprio, has maintained a loyal following within the House and some lawmakers say it was his support that helped put Speaker Nick Mattiello over the top Tuesday.
4. Something to keep an eye on: Giovanni Feroce, who abruptly resigned as CEO of Rhode Island jewelry giant Alex and Ani earlier this month, registered as a Republican in Newport this week. Feroce recently paid $6.8 million in cash to buy the Wyndham estate, but the former state senator said it’s too soon to say whether he’ll jump back into politics in the near future. “Life is about timing,” he told me Thursday. Feroce said he is currently considering several business opportunities, but acknowledged that that supporters have encouraged him to run for office. He indicated that he believes his skills in operations management would be an asset to the state. “Who knows what the next few months will bring?” he said. Separately, Ted reported that Alex and Ani is considering going public.
5. It’s becoming more apparent that the Providence Economic Development Partnership (PEDP) records subpoenaed by the FBI earlier this month are not directly related to last Friday’s stunning raid of former House Speaker Gordon Fox’s East Side home and State House office. It’s still unclear exactly what law enforcement officials are looking for at the PEDP, but city officials maintain the troubled agency is not the target of the investigation. In his first public comment on the matter this week, Mayor Angel Taveras told me the city is fully cooperating. “This is obviously an important issue. I look at it as the people of the United States have a question about something regarding the city and they deserve truthful and complete answers and they’re going to get those,” Taveras said. During a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers, Congressman David Cicilline, the former mayor and chairman of the PEDP, said he has not been contacted by law enforcement. “I think we don’t know what the investigation is about and I think it would be unfair and unwise to speculate on it,” Cicilline said.
6. Given all of the other happenings in Rhode Island politics this week, Treasurer Gina Raimondo’s comments about state legislation that she claims would make abortion a felony fell mostly under the radar. The gubernatorial candidate took to Facebook to criticize Rhode Island Republicans for introducing the bill, but she made a slight error: Four of the legislation’s five sponsors were actually Democrats, including newly minted House Majority Whip John Edwards. Naturally, the comment set off Republican Rep. Doreen Costa, who called it “completely false and misleading to write that the bill was Republican led.” The back and forth aside, Raimondo’s slip-up shows how national Democratic talking points don’t always fly in Rhode Island, just as many of the more conservative positions Costa has taken since she was elected in 2010 haven’t gained traction. With liberals concerned that the House took a turn to the right this week by electing Nick Mattiello speaker, it will be interesting to watch how the Democratic gubernatorial candidates – all of whom have made a conscious effort to win over the left – react to legislation on Smith Hill in the coming months.
7. Speaking of the governor’s race, Republicans Allan Fung and Ken Block are salivating at the idea of former Speaker Gordon Fox being in legal trouble. Fung and Block were first out of the box to criticize Fox during the raids last week – the Democrats all waited at least a day to comment – and both candidates were quick to push for strong government reform packages this week. As one campaign aide told me, “it’s not often people care about good government, but this is one of those times.” Policy aside, both candidates also know that Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo fought hard to make sure Fox won re-election in 2012. Don’t be surprised if that fact ends up in someone’s campaign commercials later this year. The other potential winner from the Fox fallout is Republican state Sen. Dawson Hodgson, who is challenging Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. Hodgson’s potential path to victory was already going to include lots of negative ads on 38 Studios; Fox’s resignation as speaker only gives him more ammo.
8. Scary: A recent Gallup poll found 20.8% of Rhode Island residents said they struggled to afford food for themselves or their families in 2013, by far the worst rate in New England.
9. State Rep. John Lombardi’s decision to not run for mayor of Providence this year is another sign that the stars may be aligning for City Council President Michael Solomon, whose considerable financial advantage, organization and institutional support have made him the early frontrunner in the race. Lombardi, who earned 29% of the vote in the three-way Democratic mayoral primary in 2010 and performed extremely well in neighborhoods Solomon now figures to control, could have been a major thorn in the council president’s side. Of course, there’s still a long way to go and it’s worth mentioning that unlike East Sider Brett Smiley, Solomon has offered very little substance when it comes to policy proposals. Solomon, Smiley and candidates Lorne Adrain, Jorge Elorza and Republican Daniel Harrop will all participate in a forum at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on Cranston Street Monday night. And don’t forget: Buddy Cianci is still considering throwing his hat in the ring.
10. Comings, goings and endorsements: Providence City Council president and mayoral candidate Michael Solomon has won the support of the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades as well as the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades … The Rhode Island State Association of Firefighters is backing Guillaume De Ramel for secretary of state … Former talk radio host Helen Glover endorsed Ken Block for governor … Michael Napolitano resigned as communications director for the state GOP … Treasurer candidate Frank Caprio has launched “Latinos con Caprio” with co-chairs Mayor James Diossa, Rep. Grace Diaz, Rep. Anastasia Williams and City Councilman Davian Sanchez … Progressive leader Sam Bell is already running for retiring Rep. Gordon Fox’s House District 4 seat, while education reformer Maryellen Butke, Board of Education member Mat Santos and Republican Tara Pinsky aren’t ruling out entering the race … Meaghan McCabe has been promoted to deputy press secretary for Mayor Angel Taveras.
11. If you missed them the first time around, now’s your chance to check out some of the other items we published this week: Congressman David Cicilline hasn’t talked directly to Rep. Gordon Fox since last week’s raids … And Fox might be able to use campaign funds for legal fees … Newly appointed House Deputy Majority Whip Joseph Almeida is in hot water with the Board of Elections … Longtime State House insider Frank Anzeveno retired after Fox resigned as speaker … Providence Mayor Angel Taveras is touting his pension investment record over rival Gina Raimondo’s … Louis DeQuattro, a top official at the Department of Business Regulation, has been put on paid administrative leave … Reps. Ray Gallison and Cale Keable were rewarded for their support of Speaker Mattiello … NEARI opposes NECAP.
12. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Congressman David Cicilline. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Rajiv Kumar, CEO of ShapeUp. 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.