1. Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien doesn’t think the PawSox are going to pull out of his city anytime soon. “My instincts tell me they won’t leave, but we can’t take that for granted,” Grebien said on this week’s Newsmakers. McCoy Stadium is owned by the city of Pawtucket, which leases it to the state, which leases it to the PawSox. Grebien made it clear that the state once again may need to step in to fix up McCoy and its surrounding area if Rhode Island wants to hold onto the team. State taxpayers have spent more than $17 million to upgrade and repair the stadium since 1998 – how much would (and should) policymakers be willing to shell out to secure a long-term deal with the new ownership group, if there is one? And should it include a larger revitalization of the stadium’s neighborhood? As mentioned in this space last week, if money needs to be borrowed, this is the time to do it (#4). And for much more on the PawSox’s future, read this new WPRI.com story by Tim White and me.
2. Mayor Grebien came to Newsmakers bearing glad tidings of improved finances in Pawtucket. Just a few years after publicly warning the city was nearly bankrupt, this week Grebien’s administration touted a new audit showing Pawtucket finished last fiscal year with a $4.8 million surplus. Grebien cited a number of reasons for the turnaround, including higher tax revenue, vacant positions, and savings from the privatization of trash pickup. But the city still has serious challenges ahead, including a $300-million-plus shortfall for retiree health care, a union legal challenge to recent pension changes, and the coming expiration of a $4-million federal SAFER grant that’s been subsidizing fire department staff. Grebien, for his part, clearly relishes the job of mayor. He said he’ll definitely seek a fourth term next year, and hopes to stay at City Hall for a long time to come.
3. Sheldon Whitehouse made national headlines once again this week, this time by pushing an amendment to the Keystone pipeline bill declaring that the Senate agrees climate change is “real and not a hoax.” The final vote was 98-1 after leading climate skeptic Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma signed on as a co-sponsor, noting that the amendment didn’t state whether humans are responsible. “Republicans outfox Democrats on climate votes,” Politico declared, and National Journal suggested the Keystone debate has highlighted Democratic fissures on Whitehouse’s pet issue. Unsurprisingly, Whitehouse spokesman Seth Larson dismisses the idea that Inhofe got the better of his boss. “As Sheldon said after the vote, he was glad to see almost every Republican, including Senator Inhofe, acknowledge the reality of climate change,” Larson told me. “Headlines aside, putting nearly every senator on record saying that climate change is real is a pretty significant shift in the right direction, and hopefully we can now move on to discussing solutions rather than dodging questions about what’s real.” Indeed, Politico aside, quite a few other headlines emphasized Whitehouse’s take.
5. If you haven’t checked out EastGreenwichNews.com yet, it’s high time you do. The year-old website is a labor of love for veteran local reporter Elizabeth McNamara, who was laid off from Patch in early 2014 and previously worked for My02818.com. “At first, I just posted occasional stories to the blog, while also applying for jobs,” McNamara told me in an email. “But (surprise!) there weren’t a lot of journalism jobs out there and I wanted to stay in journalism.” So she turned EastGreenwichNews.com into a full-fledged news site, with strongly reported, well-written original content and a clean design. “My02818.com and Patch did some really good things but they both spent too much money,” she said. “I decided to start on the cheap as much as possible, putting in sweat equity instead of dollars.” Readership is already averaging more than 30,000 unique visitors a month – no small feat in a town of only 13,000. She’s hoping to boost ad sales this year, which is why a sales team was the first thing on her wish list when she published a series of “EG News Needs” posts this week. “Professionally, it can be a bit lonely,” she said. “I work at home and at coffee shops and I interact with people a lot, but there’s no newsroom full of colleagues to kibitz with. So, my hope, dream and vision for 2015? To add a couple more people on the EG News team.” McNamara’s inspiration is Bill Foster, publisher of the East Greenwich Pendulum from 1964 to 1988. “I am trying to take the long view here and to build something that lasts,” she said. Check it out.
6. Congrats to Max Winograd, CEO of East Providence’s NuLabel Technologies, on making the Forbes 30 Under 30 in Manufacturing List. “Business is great,” Winograd told me this week in a phone call from Austria, where he was lining up new European suppliers. And unlike troubled Corporate Marketplace, NuLabel never even used its loan guarantee from the program that backed 38 Studios.
7. The state had a big legal win last week that largely flew under the radar when lawyers from Attorney General Kilmartin’s office successfully defended the R.I. Tobacco Settlement Financing Corporation from a legal challenge to its planned $594 million bond transaction. (If you want to read Judge Michael Silverstein’s decision, the PDF is here.) One of the reasons the win is important – and why Oppenheimer sued – is because the complicated refinancing would net $20 million for the state’s general fund; lawmakers already earmarked that cash to balance this year’s budget. The court ruling offered Kilmartin an opportunity to celebrate his staff. “I would like to commend the work of the attorneys handling this case on behalf of the state of Rhode Island,” the AG said in a statement. “Assistant Attorney General James Lee and Special Assistant Attorney General Maria Corvese did an excellent job representing the interests of the state and it is consistent with the exemplary work performed by all the attorneys of this office.”
8. Happy Feast of St. Francis de Sales – patron saint of writers and journalists!
9. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from Dan McGowan: “Why did Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza – and chief operating officer Brett Smiley – stay in Washington, D.C., for a couple of days after the mayor was Congressman Langevin’s guest at Tuesday’s State of the Union? He was getting acquainted with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which held its winter meeting Wednesday through Friday. Among the highlights: he met with several White House senior staffers, including chief technology officer Megan Smith. The mayor also attended discussions on community development and housing led by HUD Secretary Julian Castro and how mayors can play a role in youth summer employment with Labor Secretary (and Brown grad) Thomas Perez. Elorza also joined Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition former Mayors Angel Taveras and David Cicilline both served on. Oh, and he and a group of mayors got to meet with the president himself Friday afternoon. It will be worth keeping an eye on whether Elorza chooses to stay engaged with the U.S. Conference of Mayors the way Cicilline did or ventures away from the group like Taveras. Part of that, of course, depends on the state of the city. Although Taveras was never as much of a schmoozer as Cicilline, he also was forced to focus on keeping Providence out of bankruptcy.”
11. President Obama gave Woonsocket’s own CVS Health a shoutout in the State of the Union as CEO Larry Merlo looked on from the first lady’s box, asking other companies to follow its lead and “offer more educational benefits and paid apprenticeships – opportunities that give workers the chance to earn higher-paying jobs even if they don’t have a higher education.” Here’s how those apprenticeship programs work at CVS.
12. And speaking of the State of the Union, Congressman Langevin and Congressman Cicilline got some national screen time during the speech when they both separately sought President Obama’s autograph. So what did he autograph for them? Langevin spokeswoman Meg Geoghegan: “It was a photo of the president with the congressman’s goddaughter, which was taken during the president’s visit to Rhode Island over the summer.” Cicilline spokesman Andrew Gernt: “The congressman had the president sign a copy of his State of the Union speech. It’s a tradition in the House when he leaves that members ask him to do that.”
13. Rhode Island Hospital parent Lifespan says Obamacare has cut its charity care costs in half.
14. I’ll be on 89.7 FM WGBH’s Under the Radar with Callie Crossley this Sunday at 6 p.m. Tune in!
15. Maybe Bill Belichick planted Deflategate to turn Super Bowl XLIX into the biggest “nobody believes in us” game ever.
16. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Utilidata Chairman and CEO Scott DePasquale. 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.