News and Politics

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

August 24th, 2013 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, News and Politics, The Saturday Morning Post

Welcome to 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 me on Twitter: @tednesi.

1. Scientists now say they’re 95% sure humans are causing global climate change – but for the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council, the debate was settled long ago. The powerful agency that polices Rhode Island’s 420 miles of coastline is planning for 3 to 5 feet of sea level rise by 2100 – enough to put Waterplace Park in Providence and plenty of other familiar spots underwater. CRMC Executive Director Grover Fugate said on this week’s Newsmakers that there are three ways to deal with climate change: adapt, mitigate or suffer. Suffering is obvious – do nothing and take what comes. Mitigation is going to require major changes in national and even global policy. That leaves adaptation as the most feasible option for Rhode Island. “Adaptation is … [with] storms like coastal hurricanes, looking at ways that we can build structures better so that they survive the storm,” Fugate said. “In adaptation for sea-level rise, it means looking at, OK, we expect 3 to 5 feet of sea-level rise in Wickford; how do we start to plan to make sure that Wickford survives that long-term consequence? Is it raising properties up? Those kinds of things.” Check out last year’s report from the R.I. Climate Change Commission for more on the local impact.

2. West Greenwich is so hot right now, if you believe the new population projections released this week. The town is expected to have 51% more residents by 2040, increasing its population from 6,135 to 9,234. Runner-up Richmond will grow 41% to 10,855, while third-place South Kingstown will jump 26% to 38,573 – the largest increase in sheer numbers for any community except Providence. But not everyone’s going to grow: 12 of Rhode Island’s 39 municipalities are expected to shed people over the next three decades. Middletown and Newport are set to lose nearly one in four of their residents by 2040, and the populations of cash-strapped East Providence, Woonsocket, Pawtucket and West Warwick are all expected to shrink, too. (That’s another good reason to pre-fund pension benefits: as Detroit’s example showed, there may be fewer taxpayers to pay them when the bill comes due.)

(more…)


Steven O’Donnell 101 – more on RISP’s next leader

March 7th, 2011 at 10:52 am by under News and Politics

O'Donnell is sworn in as U.S. Marshal in 2009

This afternoon, Governor Chafee is set to introduce U.S. Marshal for Rhode Island Steven O’Donnell as his pick to be the next commander of the Rhode Island State Police. O’Donnell, who was appointed U.S. Marshal by President Obama in 2009, held the state police’s top job briefly on an interim basis back in 2007.

So who is Steven O’Donnell? Nobody knows the world of Rhode Island law enforcement better than my colleague Tim White, so I asked him for a primer. Here’s Tim’s take. –TN.

When news of Col. Brendan Doherty’s decision to step down as superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police swept across the state Thursday afternoon, one name was on everyone’s lips as his most likely replacement: Steven O’Donnell.

And for good reason – as WPRI reported over the weekend, O’Donnell is Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s pick to lead Rhode Island’s storied law enforcement agency. (While the colonel of the state police is a gubernatorial appointment, his role as public safety commissioner requires legislative approval.)

This was an important decision for the newly elected independent governor. If Chafee had failed to land someone for the job with past experience as a trooper, the perception would have taken hold that Chafee was already losing support from inside the ranks of the state police.

The choice of O’Donnell – who wore the state police uniform for 22 years before being selected in 2009 as U.S. Marshal for Rhode Island – helps squash that potential problem. But those with direct knowledge of talks between O’Donnell and Chafee said there were a few things O’Donnell needed to hear from the governor before signing on the dotted line.

Most importantly – in the wake of last month’s well-publicized immigration scuffle between Doherty and Chafee – O’Donnell wanted to make it clear that though he serves at the pleasure of the governor, the agency will be his to direct as he sees fit. In other words, no micromanaging from Smith Hill.

O’Donnell left the state police in 2009 as lieutenant colonel – Doherty’s right-hand man. Prior to that, he held the title of major and directed the agency’s day-to-day operations from state police headquarters in Scituate. But O’Donnell cut his teeth during the six years he spent working undercover as a mob associate, blending into Rhode Island’s underworld as a bookmaker.

Before becoming a trooper, O’Donnell spent years as a corrections officer at the Adult Correctional Institution, which proved to be a solid training ground – it turned him into a living, breathing Rolodex of Rhode Island’s most notorious thugs. In fact, he once told me his ACI-honed ability to drop the names of people who served time saved him from being exposed as an undercover detective – the mob wiseguys figured he’d done hard time, and that was A-OK with them.

In contrast to Doherty – who, at well over 6 feet, towers over just about everyone – O’Donnell is probably 5 feet 8 inches on a good day. But he’s about as tough as they come.

O’Donnell’s undercover work came to an end the day the state police raided a well-known gambling joint on Federal Hill. O’Donnell, decked out in his best bookie garb, was forced to blow his cover when one of the club’s owners looked ready to tackle a trooper. In one fluid motion, O’Donnell grabbed the man and turned him upside down, pinning his shoulders to the ground.

O’Donnell said word got back to him that the crook had told everyone in prison that the guy who tackled him was “huge, like 6-foot-5 or something.” It surely must have felt that way when he smacked into the pavement.

In accepting the superintendent’s job, O’Donnell is taking a hit of his own: his take-home pay will drop by six-figures. Right now he collects a paycheck as U.S Marshal in addition to his state pension, which will be frozen once he becomes a state employee again.

For those who know him, though, it’s easy to understand why he’s taking the job. Despite his present federal affiliation, O’Donnell is, and always will be, a “statie.”

Tim White is an Emmy-winning investigative reporter at WPRI 12.

For more, watch Tim’s 2009 interview with then-Lt. Col. O’Donnell:

(photo: U.S. Marshals Service)


38 Studios gets another chunk of its $75M loan

January 7th, 2011 at 12:13 pm by under News and Politics, On the Main Site

38 Studios had a good reason to firm up its May 1 target date for relocating to Rhode Island – it was worth nearly $10 million to the company.

The EDC just confirmed to me that the company recently received another hefty infusion of cash from its $75 million loan:

The video game company founded by former Red Sox pitch Curt Schilling got the $9.4 million payment last month after it confirmed plans to move from Maynard, Mass., to Providence by May 1, EDC spokeswoman Melissa Chambers told WPRI.com on Friday.

38 Studios has now received $22.4 million, or 30 percent of the loan money, in two installments. The first payment of $13 million was handed over when the loan transaction closed on Nov. 3.

38 Studios is moving to the six-story, 104,316-square-foot One Empire Plaza building in Providence, which has been vacant since Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island relocated to a new facility near Providence Place mall. Renovations are currently under way at the building, owned by Boston-based Berkeley Investments.

38 Studios’ next payout will be for $17.2 million, according to the timeline in the bond documents. It can obtain that money once it relocates to Rhode Island and employs 80 full-time workers here.

The company is tentatively scheduled to have all but $11 million of the total loan money by the end of this year. It cannot receive the remainder of the money until it pays off the rest of the loan, which is supposed to happen by November 2020.

Full story on WPRI.com. Back in September, I did a big story explaining how the loan payouts to 38 Studios are structured, and I included a year-by-year timeline at the bottom of it. That story is here if you want to check it out.


Scott Brown: ‘Dead man walking’ or Mr. Popular?

December 3rd, 2010 at 4:26 pm by under News and Politics

Last month, Politico wondered whether U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., might be a “dead man walking” after the Bay State’s Democratic Party managed to buck the national Republican tide and win every statewide race in November.

Brown is up for re-election in 2012 because he was elected to finish out the late Ted Kennedy’s final term, and he’s the party’s best target for picking up a U.S. Senate seat in what will otherwise be a tough year for them.

The list of Democrats said to be eying the race is long and star-studded. City Year founder Alan Khazei, who was defeated by Martha Coakley in the Democratic primary to succeed Kennedy, seems quite likely to throw his hat into the ring. U.S. Reps. Mike Capuano, Stephen Lynch and Ed Markey are all thought to be considering it. Two mayors – Newton’s Setti Warren and Fall River’s Will Flanagan – may be in there. Newly reelected Gov. Deval Patrick says he’s not interested.

And then there are the Kennedys. Vicki Reggie Kennedy, Ted’s widow, is suddenly popping up in the rumor mill this week, and former U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy (son of Bobby and Ethel, for those keeping score at home) is always mentioned, too. WashingtonPost.com’s The Fix had a good future-of-the-Kennedys rundown earlier this week.

But how vulnerable is Scott Brown actually going to be in two years?

The election is a long ways away, but a new Public Policy Polling survey should put a smile on Brown’s face for now. His approval rating among all voters stands at 53%, compared with a disapproval rating of only 29%, and he’s doing even better with independents. And he leads all his potential opponents by at least seven points. Here are the matchups run by PPP, ordered by the Democrats’ relative strength:

  • Brown 49% / Deval Patrick 42%
  • Brown 48% / Vicki Kennedy 41%
  • Brown 49% / Ed Markey 39%
  • Brown 52% / Mike Capuano 36%
  • Brown 49% / Stephen Lynch 30%

Brown is proving to be pretty canny about when to break with national Republicans and when to stick with them – coming out for repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell today, for instance, while siding with the G.O.P. leadership on extending the Bush tax cuts for families making more than $250,000. He appears to be following the model of Maine’s two Republican senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, who have held onto their popularity in a blue state. On the other hand, Obama will be at the top of the ticket in 2012, which should draw more Democrats to the polls.

“My feeling for a while has been that Republicans have ceded too much of New England almost by default in recent years,” The Weekly Standard’s Jay Cost wrote after looking at the same polling. “Democrats dominate there, but in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island a plurality of voters are registered as independents. That suggests an opening for Republicans that, so far, they have generally been unable to benefit from.”

If you see Brown on Federal Hill this weekend, ask him what he thinks. (And see what he’s eating.)


Robitaille nears Caprio in new Rasmussen poll

October 22nd, 2010 at 5:09 pm by under News and Politics, Poll Results

New: RGA’s Robitaille buy down the drain after it misses deadline to deliver ad

Rasmussen is out with a new survey of 750 likely voters about the Rhode Island governor’s race, conducted on Oct. 21. Margin of error is plus or minus 4 points. Here are the results:

  • Lincoln Chafee: 35%
  • Frank Caprio: 28%
  • John Robitaille: 25%
  • Ken Block: 6%
  • Not sure: 6%

The big headline is how close Democrat Frank Caprio and Republican John Robitaille are compared with Rasmussen’s previous survey on Oct. 4 – more good news for the Republican after yesterday’s announcement that the national G.O.P. is going to invest in his campaign. This is the first time Rasmussen has had Caprio under 30% since March. Chafee’s two-point gain is within the margin of error, and Robitaille is back where he was in May. Undecideds are steadily shrinking in number.

Here’s an updated version of my chart tracking Rasmussen’s results since it started polling the race in February (Block isn’t in here because Rasmussen only started including him recently):

The growing support for Robitaille helps explain why Caprio is going after him in a new mailing, as The Associated Press’ Eric Tucker reported earlier today:

The front of the mailing includes photos of Robitaille and the Statehouse and carries the headline, “John Robitaille is not ready to manage Rhode Island’s budget crisis.” It includes a quote from an August newspaper article in which Robitaille, while discussing his intention to surround himself with smart advisers, said, “I am not a budget guru.”

Robitaille campaign manager Mike Napolitano called the mailing ridiculous and said the quotes were taken out of context.

“I think it shows that they’re afraid of us,” he said, later adding that the campaign planned no negative ads of its own between now and the Nov. 2 election.

Today’s Rasmussen survey is the first new independent poll on the governor’s race we’ve gotten in two weeks, but it won’t be the last before voters cast their ballots. WPRI will release another poll conducted by Fleming & Associates between now and Nov. 2.

The gubernatorial candidates will meet for our last televised debate of the campaign next Tuesday night at 7 p.m. – it will be held at PPAC, and you can order free tickets here if you’d like to attend in person. Or you can watch at home and enjoy my patented live-tweeting.

Update: No surprise, Robitaille spokesman Mike Napolitano was in a good mood when I called him to ask about the new Rasmussen survey.

“We think it’s great,” Napolitano said. “We’re three points behind Caprio and it’s 6% undecided. And with all the money they’ve spent – especially all the money Caprio’s spent – he’s actually gone down. So obviously John’s positive message is resonating with voters.”

“This is an extremely close race,” he added. No argument there from me.

Update #2: The Block campaign will be glad to see its candidate above the 5% threshold required for the Moderate Party to stay on the ballot going forward.


Schilling wants 38 Studios to be the #1 game publisher

October 22nd, 2010 at 3:10 pm by under News and Politics

38 Studios Chairman Curt Schilling may have retired from Major League Baseball, but he’s still swinging for the fences in his new role as head of the video game company set to get a $75 million loan backed by Rhode Island taxpayers.

In an interview with the website UGO Entertainment, Schilling said: “I want to be the number one leading game publisher in the world. Whether that happens two years or 10 years from now, that’s the goal.”

Schilling also spoke at length about the tough business challenge faced by massive multiplayer online games like Project Copernicus, which 38 Studios is developing with Rhode Island’s financial support. “Given the feedback that we’ve gotten and in a lot of focus testing that we’ve done, people will pay a subscription, if they believe that they’re getting their money’s worth,” he said, adding that some of the failed developers he’s following were “full of crap.”

Oddly, UGO also asked Schilling a question about whether 38 Studios would hold off on announcing a release date for Copernicus to avoid disappointing fans. But internal documents prepared by 38 Studios and the EDC already give a clear release date for the game: September 2012, about two years from now.


Another month, another worrying RI jobs report

October 22nd, 2010 at 11:06 am by under News and Politics

When is a drop in the unemployment rate bad news? When it’s mostly because you’re losing workers, not gaining jobs.

Rhode Island’s jobless rate fell from 11.8% in August to 11.5% in September. Sounds good, right? In some ways, it is – the number of Rhode Islanders with a job either in-state or out-of-state rose by 600 last month, the first increase since May.

But the bigger reason for the decline in the jobless rate was more depressing: 1,100 Rhode Islanders dropped out of the labor force altogether last month, nearly twice as many as found employment.

I’ve been writing about the issue of Rhode Island’s missing workers for a couple months now, and it’s not going away. From April 2009 to April 2010, nearly 17,000 Rhode Islanders flooded back into the job market – a sign of growing optimism among workers. But the trend shifted into reverse in May, and 8,300 workers have left the labor force over the last five months. You can see what’s happened in this chart:

We don’t know where those people went – they could have moved out of state, gone back to school, or just given up on finding employment – but it’s not a sign of a particularly healthy economy.

On top of that, a separate survey showed that the number of jobs in the state continues to go down, dropping by 1,000 between August and September as bars, builders and other employers got rid of workers. Worse, all of September’s job losses were in the private sector – the government actually hired 500 people after months of public-sector layoffs.

The total number of jobs on Rhode Island employers’ payrolls last month – 450,900 – was still 9.2% below the state’s peak employment level of 496,500 back in February 2007. Or to recycle the analogy I used earlier this week, the number of jobs in the state last month was about the same as in May 1987, almost a quarter-century ago. No wonder our WPRI poll last month found only 15% of Rhode Islanders think the state is on the right track.

The contrast with Massachusetts is striking. The Bay State’s jobless rate fell from 8.8% in August to 8.4% in September – the biggest one-month drop in 34 years of record-keeping. Though the Bay State’s total payrolls shrank too, its labor force grew by 1,900 and the number of employed Massachusetts residents increased by 13,900.

Update: Bloomberg notes that the weakness of the job market in Rhode Island and nationwide stands in stark contrast to the robust corporate earnings being reported this month by companies like Boeing and Intel. Will business investment sustain the recovery, and will it ever translate into strong job growth?


Cicilline has nearly twice as much cash as Loughlin

October 22nd, 2010 at 9:35 am by under News and Politics

With three weeks to go before the general election, Democrat David Cicilline had nearly twice as much money left as his Republican opponent John Loughlin in the race to succeed to succeed U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, according to campaign finance reports filed yesterday.

Cicilline’s campaign had $205,976 on hand as of Oct 13, while Loughlin’s had $114,005, Federal Election Commission records show. That’s the last snapshot of the two candidates’ war chests we’re going to get before the Nov. 2 election.

In the 2nd District, incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin had $429,763 on Oct. 13 – a whopping 44 times as much as his Republican opponent Mark Zaccaria, who had just $9,573.

As I reported yesterday, veteran U.S. Rep. Barney Frank – who our exclusive new poll shows is facing a stiff challenge this year – saw his cash on hand fall to $649,560 on Oct. 13. His Republican challenger Sean Bielat wasn’t too far behind, with $462,914 on hand after he raised a whopping $653,705 in the first two weeks of October alone. Frank says he’ll lend his campaign $200,000 to stay competitive between now and Nov. 2.


Barney Frank up by 12 points in new WPRI poll

October 21st, 2010 at 6:00 pm by under News and Politics

Republican Sean Bielat is giving 15-term U.S. Rep. Barney Frank his most competitive reelection race in years, according to our new WPRI 12 poll being released on air right now. The survey of 400 likely voters in Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District was conducted Oct. 14 to 17 by Fleming & Associates. The margin of error is plus or minus 5%. Here are the key numbers:

  • Frank: 49%
  • Bielat: 37%
  • Not sure: 12%

There’s much more in my full story over on WPRI.com, including insight from Eyewitness News political analyst Joe Fleming and a look at which groups of voters are learning toward Frank and which ones are going for Bielat. You can also find out how voters feel about President Obama, Sens. Scott Brown and John Kerry, and the financial crisis.

And if you missed it earlier, check out my earlier posts about Frank’s new campaign spending numbers, why we did the poll, and whether this is really a race.


Republican Governors Association buys Robitaille ads

October 21st, 2010 at 4:32 pm by under News and Politics

The Republican Governors Association is making a big investment in Rhode Island gubernatorial candidate John Robitaille’s campaign less than two weeks before voters go to the polls – a sign the national G.O.P. thinks the former Carcieri aide has a chance to pull off an upset victory over Frank Caprio and Lincoln Chafee.

The RGA placed an order this morning for $175,240 worth of television advertising time on WPRI-TV and WNAC-TV, my colleagues in our advertising department told me when I checked a little while ago.

That’s a sizable chunk of change, and assuming the RGA is spending similar amounts at the other local stations (adjusted for our respective ratings shares), it indicates WRNI reporter Scott MacKay may have been on the money when he reported earlier today that the RGA will spend around $500,000 on Robitaille’s behalf.

The Democratic Governors Association has been very active in support of Frank Caprio, spending about $541,000 this month alone on TV ads attacking Chafee. And the spending by the two party organizations is on top of all the money the campaigns themselves are putting out.

Robitaille has trailed Chafee and Caprio in the polls all year, but recent surveys have shown him consistently winning the support of 20% to 25% of voters. With about 10% still undecided and the two front-runners both stuck around 30% to 33% – and waging an increasingly nasty campaign – there is clearly an opportunity for Robitaille to emerge as a third option for voters unhappy with Chafee and Caprio.

One way Robitaille could accomplish that would be with a strong performance in our final televised gubernatorial debate next Tuesday night at 7 p.m. (How’s that for a shameless plug? Tim White, you owe me $10.)

Just another sign this contest is going to go down to the wire.

Update: I just got off the phone with Mike Napolitano, Robitaille’s spokesman. The campaigns aren’t allowed to coordinate with the governors associations, so he said my call was the first confirmation he’d received that the RGA was buying ads on his candidate’s behalf.

“I think this shows they feel John Robitaille will win this race,” Napolitano said. He said a growing number of voters are telling Robitaille that “they’re fed up with the other two” because of all the negative campaigning Caprio and Chafee are engaging in.

As for the Robitaille campaign? “We are going to continue to stay focused on John’s message, and we are going to continue to keep our campaign positive,” he said. “The message is lower taxes, get government out of the way, and provide more jobs.”

Update #2: The Caprio campaign says the RGA has booked about $411,000 worth of ads for next week, according to The Associated Press.


Get ready to pay more at the grocery store

October 21st, 2010 at 12:48 pm by under News and Politics

The other night I complained that David Cicilline and John Loughlin were pandering to elderly voters by supporting increases in Social Security benefits even though the government’s measure of the cost of living has not risen since the last increase in 2009.

As The Associated Press explained on Friday, the reason there was no automatic increase this year and won’t be one next year is because high energy prices in 2008 led to a huge 5.8% increase in Social Security benefits at the start of 2009 – even though gas prices had long since fallen from the prior summer’s $4-a-gallon record highs:

“They received a nearly 6 percent COLA [cost-of-living adjustment] for inflation that no longer really existed,” said Andrew Biggs, a former deputy commissioner at the Social Security Administration and now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

“Seniors aren’t being treated unfairly, here,” Biggs said. “It looks bad, but they’re actually not being treated unfairly.”

By law, the next increase won’t come until consumer prices rise above the level measured in 2008. The trustees who oversee Social Security project that will happen next year, resulting in an estimated 1.2 percent COLA for 2012.

Still, the average person’s perception of inflation is often very different from what official data shows. And either way, a report in today’s Wall Street Journal warns that the rising cost of commodities like grain, cheese, meat and oil mean we may see prices rising at the supermarket in the coming months:

Corn is up 44%, milk is up 6.5%, hot rolled coil steel is up 4%, copper up 29%, and oil up 14% from a year ago. At this point it’s difficult to quantify how broadly these price increases will affect future earnings. The big unknown is not only how much further commodity prices will rise, but how much of that added cost companies will be able to pass along in the form of higher prices. …

Grocery stores have struggled with price deflation in the last few years and had welcomed signs of food inflation as a means of raising profits by passing along the higher prices to consumers. But with intense competition for customers resulting in fierce discounting battles among stores, inflation isn’t as welcome now.

The big chain stores see their costs either already rising or expect them to, and they’re growing nervous about the prospect of passing those higher costs on to price-conscious consumers.

Case in point: [Shaw's Supermarkets parent company] Supervalu Inc. lowered its fiscal 2011 earnings outlook on Tuesday saying it plans to continue cutting the prices it charges for products, even as the prices it is paying for them are rising. Chief Executive Craig Herkert said he received notice by a “major supplier” the day before that “significant increases across the board” were coming.


Barney Frank spending heavily to hold his seat

October 21st, 2010 at 10:35 am by under News and Politics

Frank in the Oval Office last year

With less than eight hours to go before WPRI releases the results of our exclusive 4th District poll, it’s becoming ever clearer how seriously U.S. Rep. Barney Frank is taking the challenge from his Republican opponent Sean Bielat.

Frank’s campaign war chest shrank by 40% in the first two weeks of October, according to his latest campaign finance report, which had to be filed by the end of today. The 14-term Democrat’s cash on hand dropped from about $1.1 million on Sept. 30 to $649,560 on Oct. 13.

The Bielat campaign hasn’t filed its latest financial report as of this writing. The Republican had $364,664 on hand as of Sept. 30. I’ll update when I get his numbers.

As for Frank, he spent $700,000 and raised $268,604 during the first half of this month. All told, he has shelled out $2.7 million during this election cycle to hold onto the seat he first won the year Ronald Reagan was elected president. This also helps explain why Frank said yesterday he is loaning his campaign $200,000.

For my Rhode Island readers, neither of the 1st District candidates – Democrat David Cicilline and Republican John Loughlin – has filed his campaign finance report as of now. These will be the last spending snapshots we get for federal candidates before voters go to the polls on Nov. 2.

(image credit: White House/Pete Souza)


A local buyer eyes The Globe; what about the Projo?

October 21st, 2010 at 10:08 am by under News and Politics

The big story in New England’s media world this morning is the news that a group of investors led by a 37-year-old Wellesley, Mass., entrepreneur is preparing an unsolicited bid to buy The Boston Globe from The New York Times Co., which bought the region’s largest daily for $1.1 billion in 1993. The announcement comes a year after The Globe went through a traumatic near-death experience that saw the NYT threaten to shut it down to staunch its losses.

The Globe bid makes me wonder whether we might ever see something similar happen here in Rhode Island, where The Providence Journal has been owned for the past 13 years by Dallas-based Belo (now A.H. Belo after its TV and print divisions split). Just to be clear, I’ve heard zero – zilch – nada about any local group looking at buying The Journal, so this is all hypothetical.

Back in his Providence Phoenix days, WRNI reporter (and Nesi’s Notes mentor) Ian Donnis wrote extensively about potential Journal buyers including the New York Times Co. (2001), Buddy Cianci (2003), former Gov. Bruce Sundlun and Providence Equity Partners’ Jonathan Nelson (2006). In the last of those stories, however, Ian also pointed out why local ownership is no panacea for the newspaper industry’s woes:

Now, though, it’s hard to know whether the Journal would be in better shape, journalistically or business-wise, with local ownership.

While the notion of local do-gooders stepping in to strengthen the journalistic mission of the hometown daily — rather than diminishing it — sounds nice, it doesn’t always work out as planned. The signature example is in Philadelphia, where businessman Brian P. Tierney led a group of investors to buy the Philadelphia Inquirer last spring. Although the plan was to fund good journalism and steer clear of job reductions, the publisher and editor were subsequently axed, expenses were cut, and a large number of layoffs were considered very likely.


Absentee ballots drop 22% from four years ago

October 21st, 2010 at 7:00 am by under News and Politics

The hard-fought race for governor may be keeping political junkies on the edge of our seats, but it didn’t lead to high demand for absentee ballots.

The secretary of state’s office tells me Rhode Island voters requested 10,658 mail ballots ahead of last week’s deadline – down 22% from the 13,686 requested in 2006. Spokesman Chris Barnett said “2006 to 2010 is an apples-to-apples comparison because the general offices [governor, lieutenant governor, etc.] are on the ballot” in both years; in 2008, a presidential election year, 21,598 mail ballots were requested.

Why the drop from 2006 to 2010? Barnett declined to speculate, but I can think of a couple potential explanations.

Rhode Island was a U.S. Senate battleground in 2006 – first when Lincoln Chafee faced Steve Laffey in the Republican primary, then when Chafee took on Sheldon Whitehouse in the general – and that race’s publicity combined with Democrats’ anti-Bush enthusiasm may have boosted the number. A more depressing explanation could be that fewer people will be away on business trips or vacations this year because of the weak economy.

Miss the deadline for a mail ballot but can’t make it on Nov. 2? You can still apply for an emergency mail ballot.


Projo.com’s latest paywall plan – Diet Projo?

October 20th, 2010 at 11:50 am by under News and Politics

The Providence Journal’s publisher, Howard Sutton, issued a memo yesterday explaining what’s happening with the paper’s long-gestating plans to make readers start paying for some Projo.com content, Dave Scharfenberg reports. Although Projo executives have been cagey about what they’re planning – and they never speak to the press – this looks like an evolution of their paywall strategy, not an abandonment of it.

The old plan was apparently to keep some of the paper’s lengthier local stories off the free Web altogether – no HTML version would go on Projo.com at all. According to Scharfenberg’s report, the new plan is to post short summaries of those stories online, but only offer the full versions to print and (eventually) electronic-edition subscribers. Think of it as “Diet Projo.”

With print circulation and revenue still plummeting, the question is whether this will help The Journal stabilize its finances. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any other paper that offers abbreviated stories online with full versions available to subscribers. I asked Dan Kennedy, the Northeastern professor and prominent press critic, what he thought of the idea, and here’s what he said:

The Journal is sacrificing its website in order to bolster its print edition, which is where it makes most of its money. I understand why Journal managers are doing this, but it’s a short-term solution that could prove harmful in the long term. I also wonder whether it will even accomplish anything. Newspaper readers are skimmers, and a headline and brief synopsis of a story may be all that they want.

That’s a good point. Although I know all of you linger over each lovingly chosen word that appears here on Nesi’s Notes, in most cases people skim, skim, skim.

In fact, what the new Projo.com strategy reminds me of most is The New York Times’ TimesDigest, a nine-page synopsis of the daily paper the company publishes primarily for cruise ships and hotels. (Here’s a PDF example of it.) “TimesDigest indicates that making New York Times stories shorter while retaining their essential news value ain’t really that hard,” Slate’s Jack Shafer wrote in 2007. Will some people be content with an online “ProjoDigest” and opt to skip a subscription?

There were other interesting tidbits in Sutton’s memo. The Journal has retained two of Providence’s savvier firms to help it move forward: ExNihilo is designing a new version of Projo.com slated to debut next summer, while Nail Communications is helping the paper “strengthen the graphical representation of our brand.” And the release date for the paper’s new iPhone and iPad apps, which will use the NYT’s new Press Engine system, also has been pushed back a bit to next summer.

It looks like 2011 will be the Year of the Paywall for the newspaper industry, with The New York Times and its sister paper The Boston Globe among those planning to stop offering their entire print edition for free online after New Year’s. I’ve reached out to a few other media analysts to get their thoughts on the Projo’s plan, and I’ll update when I hear back.


There’s still a race for mayor of Providence, too

October 20th, 2010 at 10:23 am by under News and Politics

Angel Taveras won a smashing victory over his two opponents in the Democratic primary for mayor of Providence last month, and with no Republican candidate – plus the capital city’s liberal tilt – most observers said that was the ballgame.

Still, Taveras has to clear one more hurdle to succeed David Cicilline as mayor by defeating Jonathan Scott, a Republican running as an independent, in the Nov. 2 general election. The race has gotten relatively little attention because of the factors I mentioned before, and Scott has got to be considered the longest of long-shots, but he’s the only person who stepped up to run against the Democratic nominee.

So kudos to Brown University’s Taubman Center for Public Policy, which will host an on-campus debate between Taveras and Scott on Thursday night at 7 p.m. in MacMillan Hall’s Starr Auditorium, which is at the corner of Thayer and George streets. The debate will be moderated by Marion Orr, the Taubman Center’s director, who also does the school’s polling.

And if you’ve forgotten how to say “Taveras,” check out this refresher.

Update: Taveras and Scott will speak for five minutes each at tonight’s annual fall meeting of the Fox Point Neighborhood Association as well, Projo reports. I should also note that last month both men took part in our televised WPRI mayoral debate alongside Taveras’ two opponents for the Democratic nomination.


Cicilline, Loughlin give CD1 voters a real choice

October 19th, 2010 at 9:41 pm by under News and Politics

Now that’s what I call a debate!

There’s no question that voters in the 1st Congressional District have a clear choice as they decide who they want to send to Washington as a successor to U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy. Democrat David Cicilline and Republican John Loughlin clashed at tonight’s WPRI debate over everything from Social Security and climate change to Cicilline’s record on ethics and education as mayor.

I didn’t think there was a clear winner, which is not a knock on either candidates – both of them made their cases effectively and energetically. (Eyewitness News political analyst Joe Fleming disagreed with me on that score; he gave Loughlin “a very slight edge.”) That was partly thanks to a very solid set of questions from Tim White and his two Projo assistants – they asked about issues that brought out clear distinctions between the two.

“It’s going to be a very active two weeks in this race” before voters go to the polls on Nov. 2, Fleming told me after the debate. “I think this race could be close depending on if Mr. Loughlin can raise the money to get his message out these last two weeks.”

You can read a recap of the debate right now on WPRI.com; the entire 90-minute video will be posted in the same place later tonight. In the meantime, here are some quick post-debate impressions:

* As expected, Loughlin came out swinging against Cicilline from the start, trying to put the mayor on the defensive – which he did quite effectively at times. Cicilline’s weakest moment was an HR-exec-like explanation for why his department heads allegedly have been getting extra vacation time. Still, I didn’t hear anything that could be described as a knock-out punch, and Cicilline was on his game tonight. That’s welcome news for the Democrat, since polls show him with a double-digit lead over his opponent.

* Social Security has emerged as the issue of this race – which is almost always good news for the Democrat, in this case Cicilline. The two men argued fiercely over whether Loughlin’s support for allowing younger workers to divert their payroll taxes into personal investment accounts is “privatization.” Loughlin says it could be done without damaging traditional Social Security; Cicilline notes that it would worsen the Social Security system’s finances by depriving it of revenue needed to pay benefits now. You’ll hear more about that in the next two weeks.

* Speaking of Social Security, neither man gets a Profile in Courage award for his pandering support of giving seniors extra Social Security payments when inflation is too low to merit an annual increase under the standard formula. Deficit much?

* Grades for Patrick Kennedy’s tenure as congressman: A “C” from Loughlin, an “A- or B+” from Cicilline. Both men praised Kennedy’s success in passing a mental health parity law – which, oddly enough, was also used to enact the hated TARP.

* Like many Republicans nowadays, Loughlin is a climate change skeptic. “I think there is no scientific consensus … on human-caused global warming at this point,” he said, later adding: “Clearly the earth is warming, but it’s not conclusive yet that it’s caused by man.” Although he pivoted to talk about his opposition a cap-and-trade bill (which Cicilline supports), that may have been a jarring statement for independents in deep-blue Rhode Island.

* For all the argument over extending the Bush tax cuts, the two candidates are in agreement on 80% of them. That’s because extending the Bush tax cuts for all households costs an estimated $3.7 trillion; extending them for those making under $250,000 would cost $3 trillion. The difference – $700 billion – is a lot of money, but it’s less than one-fifth of the entire bill for extending them. Just sayin’.

* My favorite line was when Loughlin said Democrats keep arguing “we’re just one more stimulus package from prosperity.” Ouch!

All in all, tonight’s debate showed that 1st District voters have a clear choice between a true Democrat and a true Republican as they decide who to support. Agree? Disagree? Have your own favorite moments? Leave your thoughts in the comments – no registration required.


Counting down until Cicilline, Loughlin debate

October 19th, 2010 at 4:13 pm by under News and Politics

The two men vying to succeed U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy as the congressman from Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District – Democrat David Cicilline and Republican John Loughlin – will meet tonight for their first televised debate of the campaign. (No, Queen Latifah is not actually a candidate.)

The debate will air right here on WPRI.com from 7 to 8:30 p.m., and the first hour will be televised commercial-free on WPRI 12, as well. But if you watch the debate online, you can also enjoy my oh-so perceptive and pithy live analysis on Twitter right alongside the video. Living legend Tim White is moderating, so a top-notch exchange is assured.

WPRI World Headquarters is starting to empty out as everyone heads to tonight’s venue, the Providence Performing Arts Center. I’ll let you know if I see any Rockettes; for now though, here’s a rather dramatic shot of the stage setup courtesy WPRI promo producer James Bartone, who’s already there:

Our WPRI 12 poll last month showed Cicilline holding a commanding 19-point lead over Loughlin, with the Democrat at 48% and the Republican at 29%, plus 22% of voters still undecided. Cicilline also continues to have a financial advantage over Loughlin, and so far the national Republican Party has been sitting on the sidelines.

Thus, tonight’s debate is a classic October match-up: the front-runner, Cicilline, will be looking to avoid doing anything to damage his lead, while the challenger, Loughlin, needs to shake things up. I expect we’ll be hearing quite a bit about Social Security – do you know your way around the Trust Fund? – and Cicilline’s tenure as mayor of Providence.

So join me right here on WPRI.com at 7 for a rip-roaring 90 minutes of debating, tweeting and high-kicking. That last bit only if I find a Rockette, of course.


Would Chafee really sue the EDC board?

October 19th, 2010 at 12:32 pm by under News and Politics

My jaw dropped during our Oct. 6 gubernatorial debate when Lincoln Chafee suggested he might file suit against Gov. Donald Carcieri for backing the 38 Studios deal: “I guess the best I can advise Governor Carcieri is to pay up on his insurance premiums, because there is an avenue for those aggrieved to come after someone for fiduciary irresponsibility,” Chafee said. “I suppose that is the last recourse, but it’s unfortunate the governor hasn’t listened, and especially in light of the performance of the EDC under his tenure.”

That seemed like an extraordinary statement to me, yet it didn’t garner much attention. Well, Chafee issued a similar threat to members of the EDC board today before an audience of business leaders – and this time he drew gasps, the Projo’s Kathy Gregg reports:

With at least two members of the EDC board sitting in the audience as he spoke, the proposal drew a few audible gasps and at least one “Wow.”

“I am not sure [that] would encourage others to serve, if there is a chill out there about stockholder suits, which is what he referred to,” said EDC board member Paul J. Choquette Jr., vice chairman of construction giant Gilbane Inc. “It doesn’t move the ball forward.”

But “I am not going to comment on who I was going to vote for,” he said. “That’s something I am still deciding.”

Added Hasbro Chairman Alfred J. Verrecchia, who last year led an in-depth review of the EDC that was highly critical of the agency: “I guess I’d ask him is he going to sue us after he asks me to resign or before he asks me to resign.”

The moderator — Chamber of Commerce president and former Carcieri communications director Laurie White — said she, too, was “surprised that Lincoln Chafee raised the issue of fiduciary responsibility of the board. I think we need to get a little bit more clarity on what he meant by that.”


Wishful thinking from Caprio on 38 Studios

October 19th, 2010 at 12:11 pm by under News and Politics

38 Studios' Curt Schilling and Todd McFarlane

Frank Caprio has again suggested that the $75 million taxpayer-backed bond sale for 38 Studios might not be completed, WRNI’s Ian Donnis reports. Here’s Caprio’s quote during a Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce forum this morning, via Ian:

It was July it was going to close, it was August, it was September – it’s [now] October 19th and there’s a lot of opportunities for people to invest money today and the fact that this hasn’t been taken up as quickly as people thought speaks volumes.

As someone who’s keeping close tabs on the deal’s progress, I’m not so sure it does – though the EDC is now hinting the deal may not close until November.

First off, Caprio is wrong when he asserts that the 38 Studios transaction was originally supposed to close in July. The R.I. Economic Development Corporation board didn’t even approve the deal until July 26, and at that time the EDC projected an Aug. 31 closing.

Caprio is right, though, when he notes that first August, then September and now half of October have all passed without the deal being completed, and that the EDC has been way too optimistic in its projections of how quickly it could get done.

Rob Stolzman, an EDC lawyer, admitted as much to me in an e-mail last week. “The original closing date target for the end of August, early September was ambitious given the nature of the transaction, but possible,” he said. “The slippage [from the original closing date target] remains the result of typical adjustments and advances in the transaction.”

Stolzman, like other EDC officials, was emphatic that the $75 million transaction has not run off course. He said the deal should close “within the next few weeks or so” – which would give us a new target of early November – and said no “new or unusual issues” have come up since the agency sat down to brief three Projo reports and me a month ago.

(I’ve reached out to Stolzman to check, once again, whether anything has changed since we exchanged e-mails last week, and I’ll update when I hear back.)

Stolzman pointed to a longer-than-expected wait for 38 Studios to sign the lease for its offices-to-be at One Empire Plaza as one reason for the continued delay in closing the deal. “38 Studios was required to sign their lease before the underwriters began soliciting investors,” he said. “That took a few weeks longer than hoped for, but the result was well worth the slight delay.”

If that’s the case, Barclays and Wells Fargo – the two banks marketing the $75 million worth of bonds to investors – may not even have started scouting for buyers until the last week of September, after the lease was executed for One Empire Plaza.

As an aside, the continued delay in closing the deal could create an awkward moment when it finally is completed – at this rate, the deal may close within days of Rhode Islanders electing a new governor who is firmly opposed to the $75 million guarantee. The agency has dismissed requests from the candidates that it hold off until Gov. Donald Carcieri’s successor takes office; in fact, EDC Executive Director Keith Stokes specifically said he wants it done “before the next administration is in place.”

Can’t get enough of Nesi’s Notes’ 38 Studios coverage? There’s much more where this came from!

(image credit: 38Gamers.com)


Providence Public Library calls Cicilline ‘a petulant child’

October 18th, 2010 at 1:13 pm by under News and Politics

What would Marian the Librarian say?

The Providence Public Library just put out a press release responding to the city’s lawsuit against it – first reported by WPRI.com – over the condition of the city’s library branch buildings. The money quote for me is this one:

The Library and City are currently operating under a lease agreement that waives rent at the seven Library-owned branch buildings for two years.  The Library has been trying to negotiate with the City for the fair use or conveyance of the buildings.  However, despite the Library’s repeated offerings of flexible terms, including a phased-in transfer, the City has had one position — it demands the Library hand over outright with no compensation these valuable assets. (emphasis in original)

When the Library refused, Providence Mayor David Cicilline, like a petulant child who doesn’t get his way, retained Democratic contributor Jack McConnell to file a baseless harassing lawsuit against the Library. (emphasis mine)

For those who’ve forgotten, the Providence Public Library is the private nonprofit that ran the branches with taxpayer support until last year; it still operates the Central Branch on Empire Street. The Providence Community Library is the new organization that took over management of the branches (and the taxpayer subsidy) last year. And the City of Providence is, well, the city government.


Rhode Island’s jaw-dropping jobs deficit

October 18th, 2010 at 9:19 am by under News and Politics

Remember 1987? Shoulder pads? “Golden Girls”? DiPrete in office, not jail?

Around the time I started at WPRI, I was astonished to discover something else about 1987 – namely, that Rhode Island’s nonfarm payrolls (basically, the total number of jobs in the state) is at the same level now as it was that year.

It’s not that we added no jobs over the intervening 23 years – it’s just that so many were wiped out by the Great Recession that the state is back down to 1987′s level. The problem is, the labor force is 11% larger now than it was then – which helps explain why the unemployment rate was 3.4% in August 1987 but 11.8% in August 2010.

And the economists I spoke with – as well as my own number-crunching – offered little hope the state will recover from its jobs deficit anytime soon. You can find out more in my new WPRI.com In-Depth story out this morning; here’s the opening:

The year was 1987. Ronald Reagan was president, “La Bamba” topped the charts, “The Cosby Show” was No. 1 – and Rhode Island had the same number of jobs it does now.

If a local Rip Van Winkle had fallen asleep in Rhode Island in 1987 and woken up today, he would find employment in the state hadn’t budged despite the passage of 23 years. The state had 453,100 jobs in August 1987 and 452,000 in August 2010, according to data compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

“Rhode Island’s economy has really taken one step forward, two steps back over the last 23 years,” Paul Harrington, associate director of Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies in Boston, told Eyewitness News.

The rest is here. Comments and critiques welcome, as always; leave them in comments or e-mail me.


Spend your Saturday night with the CD2 candidates

October 15th, 2010 at 5:25 pm by under News and Politics

They say Saturday night is the loneliest night of the week, but it won’t be if you spend it watching my comrade Tim White moderate a debate between the candidates for Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District: incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, the Democrat, and Republican challenger Mark Zaccaria.

“Langevin and Zaccaria debate issues ranging from job growth, to the country’s future in Afghanistan, as well as immigration and taxes,” Tim reports. “The hour-long, commercial-free exchange also dives into legislation Congress could be voting on in a post-November lame duck session.”

You can watch the whole debate on television Saturday night at 8 p.m. on WPRI 12. An abridged version will also air on Sunday at 5:30 a.m. on both WPRI 12 and Fox Providence, and again on Sunday at 2 p.m. on Fox. Or you can watch the whole thing online right here at WPRI.com.


Leaked docs were opened when higher-ed board got them

October 15th, 2010 at 5:12 pm by under News and Politics

I’m on the run this Friday afternoon, but I just received a statement from Steve Maurano, spokesman for the R.I. Board of Governors for Higher Education, the state agency chaired by Judge Frank Caprio (Sr.) which is one of the possible sources for the leaked payroll documents that caused Chafee’s campaign manager to resign yesterday.

In short, the board of governors’ HR department did indeed receive at least some of the leaked documents on Jan. 19, 2010. But because of the outdated address information they contained, the documents came already opened after being forwarded by the first recipient, the R.I. Department of Elementary & Secondary Education. The board of governors has “no knowledge or information as to who may have had access to these documents prior to receipt at our office.”

“When we did receive the documents, it was immediately ascertained that this was personal information concerning a former [higher education] employee, and the documents were repackaged in a sealed envelope marked ‘confidential,’ ” the statement said in closing. “The envelope was then delivered to our Human Resources Department the same day (January 19, 2010).”

So the board of governors did receive some of these leaked documents and filed them in the correct place, the HR department. But not before they had already been opened by workers in a different state agency.

Curiouser and curiouser. Full statement after the jump.

(more…)


City v. PPL lawsuit escalates battle over branches

October 15th, 2010 at 3:59 pm by under News and Politics

Flash! The City of Providence has filed a lawsuit against Providence Public Library for failing to make repairs at the seven branches.

This is the latest salvo in a long-running battle over control of the library system in Providence. Management of the nine branches (two are not PPL-owned) was transferred from PPL to a new organization, the Providence Community Library, last year. But the two sides have never come to terms on transferring ownership. Meanwhile, the branches need repairs and no one is doing them.

The Providence Community Library laid out its side of the story in a Providence Journal op-ed earlier this week. Meanwhile, the Providence Public Library just sent me this statement:

“Library trustees are disappointed that the City has chosen to file a lawsuit against a long-standing provider of free library services to the residents of Providence and Rhode Island.  The suit appears intended to harass Providence Public Library, its staff, volunteer trustees, and all of the organization’s committed supporters.  The Library’s seven buildings are currently being occupied by the Providence Community Library under $1/year leases.  Under the leases, both the City of Providence and the Providence Community Library are fully allowed, and the responsible parties, to make any of the repairs/improvements cited in the complaint.  All current conditions cited were acknowledged by all parties prior to the execution of the leases.”


Maurano stands by story on Caprio, Pagliarini

October 15th, 2010 at 2:52 pm by under News and Politics

Steve Maurano, left, is standing by his story that former Higher Education Commissioner Jack Warner – and not Judge Frank Caprio – offered ex-Chafee campaign manager J.R. Pagliarini the job that led to yesterday’s jobless benefits brouhaha and subsequent resignation.

“I have no knowledge of any call that Judge Caprio is alleged to have made to Mr. Pagliarini,” Maurano told me in an e-mail this afternoon. He also said the office is still investigating whether it received the documents leaked to damaged Pagliarini.

Maurano is spokesman for the R.I. Board of Governors for Higher Education, which is chaired by Judge Caprio, father of General Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio. Pagliarini worked there from March 2008 to July 2009.

Pagliarini alleged in a radio interview this morning that Judge Caprio was the one who first approached him about taking a job with the board of governors after he lost his then-current position in a Carcieri administration reshuffle.

“The revelation is 180 degrees at odds with an Oct. 1 explanation provided [to The Providence Journal] by Steve Maurano, spokesman for the Board of Governors, of how Pagliarini landed a job in the Office of Higher Education in April 2008,” the Projo’s Kathy Gregg wrote in response.

In response, Maurano told me: “Neither [Board of Governors] Chair Caprio nor the Board of Governors for Higher Education were involved in Commissioner Warner’s decision to hire Mr. Pagliarini.” (Warner left to take a similar job in South Dakota last year.)

Maurano also said Warner offered Pagliarini “temporary employment through the end of the fiscal year (June 30, 2008) at the annual salary of $115,000 (pro-rated). … The Office of Higher Education had downsized staff in recent years and Commission Warner thought Mr. Pagliarini could provide some additional support on a temporary basis.”

Pagliarini worked for the board of governors as an associate commissioner. His duties included preparing for a potential flu pandemic; serving as a liaison to the federal government; studying whether campus police should carry weapons; and briefly taking a management position at Rhode Island College.

“Late in the fiscal year, Mr. Pagliarini was notified that the funding for his position going forward had been eliminated and his services would no longer be required after June 30, 2009,” Maurano said.

(image credit: R.I. Board of Governors for Higher Education)`


The Pagliarini blowup might never have happened

October 15th, 2010 at 12:55 pm by under News and Politics

Projo front page, 10/15/10

… if he hadn’t resigned so abruptly on Thursday morning. At least, that’s the sense I got after hearing WJAR’s Jim Taricani on WPRO-AM this morning.

Anonymous e-mailers have been trying to get a few reporters interested in the Pagliarini jobless benefits story for a few weeks now, according to the Projo. Pagliarini says Taricani first called him on Wednesday night to ask about the documents. “I knew this was going to be a problem,” Pagliarini said he told Taricani then, which he says was a reference to the fact he’d already been getting inquiries about them.

Then yesterday morning, while Taricani was still looking into the story, Pagliarini resigned. Now, regardless of what had or hadn’t happened, this had become a breaking news story: “Chafee’s campaign manager resigns after allegations!” The Projo and the Associated Press both ran stories about the resignation and the leaked documents just after 1 p.m. – the Projo’s original blog post, now deleted, even said “1 p.m. embargo” in the URL – and that was only a few hours after Chafee was informed of Pagliarini’s resignation, according to The Journal’s account.

The bottom line is, when Pagliarini resigned he took the story out of Taricani’s hand. Investigative reporters are constantly asking about documents, tips and other pieces of information – and sometimes they run into dead-ends or get good explanations that turn something that looks juicy at first into a non-story.

Taricani said this morning he was surprised by Pagliarini’s resignation (which may explain why it took WJAR roughly two hours longer than the Projo, the AP, WPRI and other outlets to post a story they originated). And he hinted that the story might never have run without the resignation, depending on what the Chafee campaign showed him.

Asked directly whether he would have run it, Taricani said: “Well, I don’t know. If I’d had that explanation [about the payroll system] yesterday, I would have had a much longer talk with my bosses and editors at Channel 10. And look, put it this way – if [the Chafee campaign] had given me the documentation from the payroll service, that indeed this was a policy…. What made it a story was that he resigned.”


If Pagliarini’s innocent, why not hire him back?

October 15th, 2010 at 12:11 pm by under News and Politics

WPRO’s Dan Yorke made what I thought was a good point during his just-concluded interview with J.R. Pagliarini and Chafee ally Stephen Erickson: If Pagliarini didn’t do anything wrong, as at least looks plausible, why doesn’t the Chafee campaign hire him back?

Pagliarini acknowledged he hates being off the trail less than three weeks out – “It’s absolutely killing me,” he told Yorke – but he and Erickson said once again that he didn’t want to be a distraction in the waning days of the race.

I sent Chafee spokesman (and temporary campaign manager) Mike Trainor an e-mail asking whether bringing Pagliarini back was a possibility. I’ll update if I get a response.


Who shot J.R.? The Pagliarini affair, Day 2

October 15th, 2010 at 11:10 am by under News and Politics

J.R. Pagliarini, left, with Chafee in February

The R.I. Board of Governors for Higher Education hasn’t figured out yet whether it received the jobless benefits documents leaked to damage Chafee campaign manager J.R. Pagliarini, let alone who has access to them, spokesman Steve Maurano told me in an e-mail a few minutes ago.

“We’re still chasing it down,” he said.

For those just joining us, let’s start with a recap. You can skip two paragraphs if you’re already up-to-date with the details of this story.

Lincoln Chafee’s campaign manager, John “J.R.” Pagliarini, resigned yesterday morning after he was confronted with leaked documents that appeared to show he collected jobless benefits and a campaign paycheck for two weeks in late December. The campaign said Pagliarini did not double-dip – a quirk in the payroll company’s computer system credited his compensation to weeks that overlapped, even though he stopped getting benefits on Jan. 2 before starting work Jan. 4.

By mid-afternoon, attention had shifted from Chafee to his rival Frank Caprio – more specifically his father, Judge Frank Caprio, who chairs the R.I. Board of Governors for Higher Education. Pagliarini worked for the board of governors from March 2008 to July 2009, when he was laid off – hence why he was receiving jobless benefits in the first place. It turns out the leaked documents – which were notices sent to Pagliarini’s former employer showing the benefits he got – were addressed to the former headquarters of the board of governors.

Suddenly, the story boomeranged from a bad one for Chafee to a bad one for Caprio, too. No surprise, Caprio’s camp says it had nothing to do with the leak. (Judge Caprio himself refused to comment.)

More details emerged this morning when Pagliarini sat for an interview with WPRO’s Dan Yorke. Pagliarini said Judge Caprio is the one who approached him about taking the job with the board of governors in the first place – back in early 2008 – after he lost his job in a Carcieri administration reshuffle.

In July 2009, Pagliarini received a letter from Maurano saying his job had been eliminated after the General Assembly cut funding. But when Pagliarini went to file for jobless benefits, he says the board of governors argued he wasn’t eligible because he had resigned. But the R.I. Department of Labor and Training ruled in Pagliarini’s favor when he showed DLT the letter from Maurano, which meant he was eligible.

Stephen Erickson, a Chafee backer and retired state judge representing Pagliarini, told WPRO-AM this morning he has no doubt the documents were illegally leaked by someone with access to them inside the board of governors. He wants the state police and the district attorney to investigate. Erickson also said Pagliarini has a form dated Jan. 9 saying he should no should longer get unemployment benefits because he would first get paid on Jan. 15. (He received his last unemployment check on Jan. 4 for a period ending Jan. 2.)

Yorke also pointed out something I didn’t know: Pagliarini’s father died of pancreatic cancer on Dec. 3, 2009 – he was dying at the same time Pagliarini was unemployed post-layoff. Erickson adds that it provides a partial alibi for Pagliarini, as well – he was too busy taking care of his ailing father to work at the time (although he died before the dates in question). Pagliarini said Chafee’s campaign headquarters was near his father’s hospice, and he did visit occasionally.

This post has been expanded since it was first published.


Board of Governors looking into Chafee docs leak

October 14th, 2010 at 3:43 pm by under News and Politics

J.R. Pagliarini, left, with Chafee in February

Earlier: What’d Chafee’s campaign manager actually do?

A new wrinkle in the resignation of Chafee campaign manager J.R. Pagliarini has emerged in the last half-hour or so. It appears the leaked documents [pdf] may – may – have come from the R.I. Board of Governors for Higher Education. That panel is chaired by General Treasurer Frank Caprio’s father, Providence Municipal Court Judge Frank Caprio.

I just got off the phone with CCRI President Ray DiPasquale, who is also acting commissioner of the board of governors, who told me he’d only heard about his agency being the potential source of the documents within the last 10 minutes. “We don’t know where it came from or any of it other than what you’re telling me and what we’re all reading,” he said.

Even though Pagliarini used to work for the board of governors, the documents are addressed to the R.I. Board of Regents – which sets policy for K-12 schools in Rhode Island, but has been separate from the higher-ed agency for years now. The 301 Promenade St. address on the documents are an old address for DiPasquale’s agency, as well.

DiPasquale said the board of governors has begun trying to get to the bottom of where the documents came from.

As for the third major candidate in the race – Republican John Robitaille – he’s staying out of this latest brouhaha. His campaign manager declined to comment about it when I spoke with him a few minutes ago.

Update: The Board of Governors for Higher Education’s website notes it was called the Board of Regents from 1969 until 1981, which was the year the separate higher-ed board was created.

Update #2: The board of governors’ spokesman, Steve Maurano, tells me that 301 Promenade St. was the agency’s address until May 2008, when it moved to the Pastore complex in Cranston. The agency moved to its current address, 80 Washington St. in Providence, in June 2009.

In an e-mail, Maurano said he “will try to find out whether the leaked documents were ever received by us and, if so, what we did with them from there.”

Update #3: R.I. Department of Labor and Training spokeswoman Laura Hart confirms the leaked documents were “notices sent to the employer.” They’re a bit like receipts showing former employers how much their ex-employees received in jobless benefits. Although DLT is still investigating whether the documents could have come from inside DLT, they could also have come from the employer (see Update #2 above).

Pagliarini worked for the R.I. Board of Governors for Higher Education from March 2008 to July 2009, according to his LinkedIn page.

Update #4: Chafee spokesman Mike Trainor says his campaign is going to call on the Caprio campaign to prove the elder Caprio “did not know and authorize release of these documents,” which would be a violation of state and federal law. The Caprio campaign responded that the Chafee campaign should worry about the conduct of their own employees.

Trainor also gave a few more details on the time frame here. He said again that Pagliarini started working for Chafee on Jan. 4, two days after he received his last jobless benefits check. He also said Pagliarini asked to be paid on Jan. 15. The campaign’s payroll system “logged this backwards by two pay periods,” which is why compensation that Pagliarini received for his work in early January showed up in the payroll documentation as late December.

Basically, Trainor said, “in the narrowest possible technical legal sense it is true that J.R. was credited with compensation for Dec. 19 to Jan. 2.” But the work for which he was being compensated began on Jan. 4.

Update #5: Only in Rhode Island would a campaign manager’s previous job have been with an agency chaired by his opponent’s father, huh?

(image credit: Chafee for Governor)