Ted Nesi’s Saturday Morning Post: March 7

Quick hits on politics, money and more in Rhode Island

Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column for WPRI.com – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi@wpri.com, and follow @tednesi on Twitter.

1. For Rhode Islanders, this week’s disgrace of Gordon Fox was an all-too-familiar sight to behold. Scene one: prosecutors lay out allegations of tawdry public corruption. Scene two: reporters surround the accused for a post-plea interview on the courthouse steps. Scene three: ex-colleagues who once stood shoulder-to-shoulder with him issue tut-tutting statements and urge everybody to “move on.” Scene four: jokes get cracked about which pol will go down next. Yet Fox was no backbencher or small-time town councilman, and that made the bribery charge in particular all the more jarring. Many people who knew Fox weren’t exactly stunned when Tim White first reported nearly a year ago that investigators were focusing on his campaign finances; Fox had been complaining about his strained personal finances for years. But the fact that Fox would pocket a $52,500 bribe in exchange for a liquor license really seemed to shock them. This was no youthful indiscretion, either – Fox took the Shark bribe less than two years before he ascended to Rhode Island’s most powerful political post. It raises questions about his whole career in public life, and about the judgment of those who supported him. So much for the sanctity of East Side progressives.

2. One of the big questions still unanswered: did Gordon Fox spill the beans about anyone else while he was talking to prosecutors? “It’s certainly possible,” former U.S. Attorney Robert Corrente said on this week’s Newsmakers. “We wouldn’t know that. That would be a conversation that would go on deep underground. But it’s conceivable that this investigation will spawn others. That happens all the time.” As for Fox himself, the next step in his trip through the courts is the June 11 sentencing hearing, where Judge Lisi will say whether she approves the plea deal. In the meantime, Corrente said the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System will prepare a pre-sentence report for Lisi to use. If she accepts the plea deal, Lisi will then tell Fox to report to federal prison on a date likely four to six weeks after the June 11 hearing. The Federal Bureau of Prisons will choose where Fox resides – and he’ll likely stay there until mid-2018, because there is no parole in the federal system, though he can get a small reduction for good behavior. “In federal court it’s not 100% but it’s very close to 100% – if you get a three-year sentence, you’re gone for three years,” Corrente said.

3. Gordon Fox’s association with Shark Bar & Grille didn’t end with the 2008 bribe, Dan McGowan and Tim White report – within four years, he was serving as the bar’s lawyer before the Board of Licenses.

4. State law currently blocks the PawSox from getting a tax break in Providence for their new stadiumDan McGowan and Walt Buteau report. Will the Pawtucket delegation make any effort to block a change?

5. It will be nearly two years before we find out who wins the Maryland U.S. Senate seat being given up by Barbara Mikulski, but we already know one winner: Jack Reed. That’s because the retirements of both Mikulski and California’s Barbara Boxer mean come 2017 Reed will be the 7th most senior Democrat in the U.S. Senate, where seniority is the coin of the realm. It’s possible Reed could ascend even further up the ranks before long, since the terms of 74-year-old Patrick Leahy and 75-year-old Harry Reid both expire in 2016, with 81-year-old Dianne Feinstein close behind in 2018. It’s conceivable Reed, who turned 65 last fall, could someday be the most senior senator of all; if he retires at the same age as the late T.F. Green, Reed will be in the Senate until 2043.

6. While Gordon Fox was in federal court entering a guilty plea at noontime Tuesday, his old friend David Cicilline was replenishing his campaign coffers at a luncheon at Washington’s Bistro Bis. Suggested contributions: $500 to $2,500. Cicilline aides, per usual, refused to say how much cash he harvested.

7. Seth Magaziner is holding a fundraiser Wednesday night at The University Club, with contributions ranging from $250 for guests to $1,000 for hosts. A few dozen notables have signed onto the host committee for the new treasurer’s event, including John and Letitia CarterPaul ChoquetteBob FlandersTerry MurrayJonathan SavageJoe ShekarchiMark Weiner and John Hazen White Jr. Magaziner has good reason to be back in front of donors: he finished 2014 with barely $2,000 in his campaign account and a whopping $801,500 in loans written from his personal checkbook still outstanding. Luckily for Magaziner he doesn’t have to face voters again until 2018. Plus, sitting Democrats rarely lose re-election for general treasurer: it hasn’t happened since 1976, when 14-term incumbent Ray Hawksley lost a primary to Anthony Solomon.

8. Mark your calendars: Governor Raimondo will release her first budget on Thursday evening with a speech before the General Assembly, the first big policy rollout of her term. WPRI 12 will carry it live.

9. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “During his inaugural address, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said ‘that’s the way it’s always been done’ will never be ‘an acceptable answer and we will always seek new ways of doing things’ in his City Hall. Enter Nicole Pollock, the city’s 28-year-old chief innovation officer. Pollock, a Brown University graduate who worked four years at the Department of Environmental Management before taking the job with Elorza, has been charged with finding ways to streamline city services, not by firing city employees, but by listening to their ideas for improving their work process. ‘A lot of times the workers who are implementing the process didn’t create the process,’ Pollock told me this week. While she isn’t quite ready to release any plans for the city – she’s only been on the job for two weeks – Pollock said some of her top priorities include improving communication between departments, making processes easier for the public to complete online and publishing more public records on the web. For now, she’s taking ideas from city employees and soon she’ll begin soliciting the public’s opinion before she begins convening working groups later this summer. The goal, she said, is to make sure everyone is comfortable sharing ideas and knowing their voices are being heard. If you think this all sounds a little kumbaya-y, you’re not wrong. But Pollock is confident she’s got what it takes to change the culture in city government. ‘Part of my role is facilitating and orchestrating change, not necessarily dictating change,’ she said.”

10. Joe Paolino is passionately in favor of Citizens Bank moving into the Superman building.

11. Recommended read No. 1: Josh Barro on “The Next ‘Next Silicon Valley.'” Josh’s piece should be a reality check for those who blithely suggest Providence (or any other place) can easily capture the kind of economic magic on view in the Bay Area. Also, for all the suggestions that Providence should model itself on Pittsburgh, urban expert Richard Florida suggests in the article that its successes may be overhyped. Startup companies “that spin out of Carnegie Mellon have neither a strong lifestyle reason nor a strong economic reason to stay in Pittsburgh once they succeed,” Barro warns. So it’s not just about getting innovative companies to start in Rhode Island – it’s about getting them to stay and grow here.

12. Recommended read No. 2: The Economist says America’s manufacturing renaissance is “overblown.”

13. Recommended read No. 3: Peter Orszag argues for taxing land, not buildings. Nobody’s making more land.

14. Recommended read No. 4: Steven Greenhouse on how service workers struggle with “clopenings.”

15. Recommended read No. 5: Warren Buffett’s annual letter to Berkshire shareholders [pdf]. “Charlie and I have always considered a ‘bet’ on ever-rising U.S. prosperity to be very close to a sure thing,” he writes. “Indeed, who has ever benefited during the past 238 years by betting against America? If you compare our country’s present condition to that existing in 1776, you have to rub your eyes in wonder. In my lifetime alone, real per-capita U.S. output has sextupled. My parents could not have dreamed in 1930 of the world their son would see. Though the preachers of pessimism prattle endlessly about America’s problems, I’ve never seen one who wishes to emigrate (though I can think of a few for whom I would happily buy a one-way ticket). The dynamism embedded in our market economy will continue to work its magic. Gains won’t come in a smooth or uninterrupted manner; they never have. And we will regularly grumble about our government. But, most assuredly, America’s best days lie ahead.”

16. Everything must change, as the song says, but I’m still sad to see Attleboro’s Bliss Bros. Dairy sold.

17. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – a breakdown of the Gordon Fox case with former U.S. Attorney Robert Corrente. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – former Providence mayor and real-estate developer Joseph Paolino Jr. 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

An earlier version of this story incorrectly suggested Gordon Fox could be eligible for parole from federal prison; he could be eligible for a sentence reduction due to good behavior, but not parole.

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