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

Welcome to another edition of my weekly column. Keep sending your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi (at) wpri (dot) com and I may include/take credit for them.

1. People in Providence seem frustrated. They pay a lot of taxes, then look around and don’t see where the money went. To take the example mentioned most often, why are the roads in such poor shape? Mayor Angel Taveras offered at least part of the answer in his recent letter to retirees, where he laid out exactly how the city budget works. Once you subtract school spending (which can’t be lowered), retiree benefits and debt payments, Providence only has about 22.6 cents of every $1 it spends to put toward everything else. About 27% of spending is on debt and retirees alone, which is money most residents won’t see directly. That’s a recipe for disgruntled taxpayers and budgeting nightmares.

2. Treasurer Gina Raimondo has hired a new fundraiser: Jackie Baginski, a George Washington University graduate who volunteered for the pro-pension-bill group Engage Rhode Island last fall. Baginski is working part-time as “an assistant to the campaign on database management and event coordination,” Raimondo spokeswoman Joy Fox told me (off the state time clock). Is this a sign the treasurer is gearing up to run for governor in 2014, as widely suspected? “No,” Fox says flatly. “She enjoys very much what she’s doing now.”

3. If you’re waiting expectantly for the trial over the big pension lawsuit to start before Judge Sarah Taft-Carter, you’d better be patient. Deputy Treasurer Mark Dingley tells me lawyers for the state and the unions are putting together proposed calendars for discovery and waiting for a hearing in June. That process could include depositions and interrogatories. “Counsel hasn’t agreed, and the court hasn’t agreed, to a schedule yet,” Dingley said. “But I’d be surprised if it’s quick.” It could be a long time before the legal battle is anywhere near over.

4. The passing this week of June Gibbs, Middletown’s longtime state senator, left retired Projo columnist M. Charles Bakst lamenting that so few lawmakers are up to her standard these days. “June Gibbs personified the ideal of public service, a classy woman with a wonderful temperament and sense of humor, selfless, with a real commitment to a two-party system, something Rhode Island needs now more than ever,” Bakst told me. “The General Assembly, so blighted by self-serving members playing their own angles and/or embarrassing their colleagues by their skirmishes with law enforcement, would be a much better place if it had more legislators who reflected June Gibbs’ integrity and dedication to good government.”

5. There was a funny moment at Monday’s Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce congressional breakfast. As Congressman Langevin extolled the virtues of the just-passed JOBS Act, on the other side of the dais Senator Whitehouse gave a knowing smile to Senator Reed – who fought the House version of the bill tooth-and-nail, to no avail. For two very different views on the merits of the JOBS Act, read Steve Case (pro) and Susan Antilla (con).

6. Congratulations to Auditor General Dennis Hoyle, who got “acting” removed from his job title this week more than two years after Ernie Almonte stepped down. Hoyle, who’s been much in the news of late because of the sports institute scandal, is always quick to respond to inquiries and help reporters find obscure bits of information.

7. Local Mafia-watchers have been abuzz about the mysterious disappearance of reputed capo regime Robert “Bobby” DeLuca, especially since court documents revealed the key informant in the Manocchio case has the initials “RD.” With a trial set to start May 1, I asked Tim White when we might learn more about DeLuca. “It’s interesting that it was a defense attorney who filed the motion shedding more light on the identity and not the U.S. Attorney’s office, which generally refers to the confidential witness as ‘CW’ or ‘Made Member,'” Tim noted. “It’s possible that we could officially learn the identity through a filing like that. But more likely than not they’ll release the hounds if the two remaining defendants go to trial. The secretly recorded conversations will be played in the courtroom; the informant would most likely have to testify. Even before that, the person’s name could appear on a witness list.” And, he adds, “The clock is ticking” – the judge says they have to reach a plea agreement at least a week before May 1 to avoid a trial.

8. Joe Kennedy III raised an astonishing $1.3 million for his campaign to win Massachusetts’ open 4th Congressional District seat in the first three months of this year, while Republican candidate Sean Bielat raised $175,000. Money isn’t everything, but Kennedy is a very heavy favorite to win the seat unless he screws up. The question is, will he debate – or even consent to a sit-down interview? The 4th is tilted more toward Providence than Boston, so we’ve invited Kennedy to appear on Newsmakers. Stay tuned.

9. Did you know CBS News’s late, great Mike Wallace was a relative, by marriage(s), of the late U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell? In 1982, Pell’s daughter Dallas married Eames Yates, the son of Wallace’s best friend Ted Yates (who died in 1967 covering the Six-Day War) and his wife, Mary Yates. Four years later, in 1986, Mary married Mike Wallace – making the “60 Minutes” icon a stepfather-in-law to Pell’s daughter. Dallas and Eames later divorced, but their son – also named Eames Yates – followed his step-grandfather into the TV news business at WCTV in Tallahassee. (One of the big “gets” on Yates the younger’s bio is an interview with Sheldon Whitehouse.) You can watch Pell’s grandson interview his other famous grandparent in this interview WCTV aired this week.

10. The fourth-floor conference room at CCRI’s Warwick campus where Treasurer Raimondo held her municipal pension workshop on Tuesday may well be the state’s best meeting space, one attendee said to me. Great view, big windows – and Wi-Fi, which is shockingly lacking in way too many popular spots. (Looking at you, Warwick Crowne Plaza.)

11. Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere must be proud of his eight members. The Senate Republican caucus is the only one of the General Assembly’s four that hasn’t had one of its lawmakers charged with a crime over the past year. But then, who knows what next week will bring?

12. This week on “Newsmakers”Congressman David Cicilline’s apology tour, taped on location in his living room. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. See you back here next Saturday morning.

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

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