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

Welcome to another edition of my weekend column – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to For quick hits all week long, follow me on Twitter: @tednesi.

1. For a long time Jim Langevin has had a unique response when his campaign contributors got in trouble with the law: he always keeps their money. Over the past few years Langevin’s financial backers have been accused of ripping off the Navy, profiting off the dying and bribing North Providence leaders; in each case the 2nd District Democrat told reporters he would keep the cash because he accepted it “in good faith” – a contrast with his colleagues, who usually donated such funds to charity. Not anymore. When I reached out to Langevin’s office this week to get more details about his keep-the-cash policy, the response was a surprise: he’s had a change of heart. “In recent months, after careful consideration, I have decided to change my longstanding policy about the status of contributions from people who at a later point are convicted of a serious crime,” Langevin said in a statement. His spokeswoman Meg Fraser said all such money that Langevin’s campaign has raised – a whopping $31,820 since his election to Congress in 2000 – “will be donated anonymously to a Rhode Island-based charity.” The new policy – which applies only when donors get convicted and not when they get indicted, as Richard Baccari was this week – “will apply to all future donations,” according to Fraser. Still, Langevin emphasized that the decision doesn’t reflect any larger truth about the donations. “I accept every campaign contribution in good faith with absolutely no strings attached, and use those funds for their intended purpose,” he said.

2. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from reporter Dan McGowan: “Clay Pell isn’t just thinking about running for governor in 2014, he’s making the rounds. Pell, the 31-year-old grandson of revered late U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell, made two appearances this week at high-profile Democratic functions alongside his wife, Olympic figure-skating medalist Michelle Kwan. They left little question about his plans for next year. On Tuesday, the power couple attended the monthly meeting of the R.I. Association of Democratic City and Town Chairs at Antonio’s Trattoria in Cranston, according to Michael Sepe, the chairman of the Cranston Democratic City Committee. ‘It was very interesting. He definitely appears to be serious,’ Sepe told Sepe said Treasurer Gina Raimondo also attended the event, but Providence Mayor Angel Taveras couldn’t make it. Pell and Kwan were back on the trail two days later, this time attending the National Education Association Rhode Island union’s Executive Committee and Delegates meeting at the West Valley Inn in West Warwick; neither Raimondo nor Taveras attended that meeting. Attempting to woo party elders is hardly a surprising move, but Pell’s visit to the state’s largest teachers’ union is notable. The group already despises Raimondo and has become increasingly frustrated with Taveras; Pell, who left his job with the U.S. Department of Education last week, would at least give the union another option in the Democratic primary.”

3. No matter how often she says otherwise, Gina Raimondo is dogged by speculation that she’ll ditch the Democratic Party – and a primary against Angel Taveras – to run for governor as an independent. But Raimondo ruled that out repeatedly during Friday’s taping of Newsmakers. “So 100%, if you run, there will be a ‘D’ next to your name on the ballot?” Tim White asked. “That’s right,” Raimondo replied. “So you will announce by the end of the year, and you will be a Democrat still in September of 2014?” I asked later in the show. “Correct,” she replied. Raimondo added that she’s “puzzled” by the suggestions she should leave the party: “I wouldn’t be where I am without the G.I. Bill that sent my dad to college. My folks live on Social Security. I went to college because of federal loans. So I’m a core a Democrat – we fixed the pension to save people’s pensions, because I care about public employees.” Raimondo speculated that those of her own supporters who are hinting she should run as an independent are worried about opposition from unions and her other critics. “But we will prevail,” she said (sounding like a candidate). “The people of Rhode Island aren’t fooled by that. They want a leader. They want to move forward.” But beyond noting her opposition to payday loans, the former venture-capitalist largely deflected a question about the broader idea that she’s more of a Larry Summers/Bob Rubin Democrat than an Elizabeth Warren/Bill de Blasio one. That difference in perspective may prevent some liberal Democrats from ever trusting Raimondo, no matter what specific policies she backs.

4. It’s looking like the next two months are going to be an interesting time for Rhode Island’s political junkies. Taveras is announcing his campaign Monday, Allan Fung is set to do the same a week later, Ken Block is nearing a decision on whether to challenge Fung, and Raimondo will decide by the end of the year. (Pell is a wild card.) Put another way, “the invisible primary” is ending and the visible one is beginning. Once the announcements are done, the important questions can start to be asked. What would these people do differently from Lincoln Chafee or Don Carcieri? How would they handle the General Assembly? Is a constitutional convention in order? What path should fiscal policy take – on taxes, and on spending? What, if anything, should the government do to encourage job growth? What do they think about settling the pension lawsuit? Should there be tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge? If not, how should transportation be funded – and what projects are priorities? Should Deb Gist – and her education policies – stay in place? Is HealthSource RI here to stay – and if so, what about its budget? Should same-sex marriage be revisited? Should pot be legalized? How would they manage the response to a major storm?

5. Seth Magaziner, who’s running for treasurer, was born in 1983 – the same year his famous father, Ira Magaziner, unveiled his ill-fated 1,000-page blueprint for economic development in Rhode Island: the Greenhouse Compact. This week’s Executive Suite looks at what the document can tell us about Rhode Island’s economy today with Aaron Renn, who thinks it got a lot of things right, and Lou Mazzucchelli, who witnessed its demise. What struck all of us when we reread the Compact’s 47-page executive summary is how much of it still rings true now. Take this: “Today, Rhode Island is in an economic crisis” because of “a decline which has been underway for more than 40 years.” Or this: “Rhode Island has had three successful economies in its 300-year history. … However, as the textile economy has faded, Rhode Island has not developed a successful fourth economy.” Or this: “Rhode Island’s relatively low standard of living and the deterioration of its relative standard of living are the most important problems of Rhode Island’s economy.” Or this: “Simply eliminating negatives and making our environment broadly competitive with those of other states will not provide a sufficient impetus for investment in this state. … The absence of negatives will not be enough.” The PDF is here on – I recommend it.

6. Best wishes to Rich Luchette, Congressman David Cicilline’s spokesman since January 2012, who tells me he’s leaving the congressman’s Washington office next month to take a job on a gubernatorial campaign. (No, not a Rhode Island one.) Despite suffering from whatever strange delusion leads him to support the Buffalo Bills, Rich has been consistently available and professional during a period when Cicilline was in the political fight of his life. There’s no word yet on who’ll replace Luchette, the third communications director Cicilline has employed in as many years as a congressman.

7. A bonus Saturday Morning Post dispatch from our own Dan McGowan: “The Providence Retirement Board, which for years came under fire for approving tax-free disability pensions and never overturning them, has a new chairman who undoubtedly has the Taveras administration smiling: Lawrence Mancini, the mayor’s finance director. Mancini, who has worked in various roles for the city since former Mayor Joe Paolino was in office and served as chairman of the Democratic City Committee from 1995 until 2003, will likely be able to go to bat on behalf of the administration – the majority of the board is already pro-management – when a controversial issue pops up. There is already one conflict on the horizon: The disability pension for former Water Supply Board employee Steven DeConte, who was hurt attempting to lift a 200-pound rack in 2009. The Taveras administration has strongly opposed awarding the pension – the mayor contends DeConte ‘failed to adhere to the department’s basic safety rules’ – but the City Council overrode Taveras’s veto when he tried to stop DeConte from even submitting an application. Last month, longtime Retirement Board member Kerion O’Mara resigned due in part to the politics around DeConte’s request (he was against awarding the pension). The board is slated to take up the issue later this year.”

8. On a personal note, I’d like to offer my sincere condolences to a friend and colleague, Ian Donnis of Rhode Island Public Radio, whose mother Florence passed away last week after an illness. I met her just once, at Ian’s wedding, where she was beaming with pride over her son’s professional and personal success; the supportive interest he has always taken in my career, as well as those of other young reporters, clearly reflects the encouragement he got from her. Over the last few months, Ian has been on the road a lot to make regular visits home to be with his mother in New Jersey, yet he still maintained his usual professional pace of reporting, broadcasting, writing and tweeting. It’s a good reminder to all of us about what really matters. May she rest in peace.

9. If you missed them the first time around, now’s your chance to check out some of the other items Dan McGowan, Tim White and I published this week: Angel Taveras is announcing for governor Monday, and he wants Gina Raimondo to sign a “People’s Pledge” … Seth Magaziner is running for treasurerRichard Baccari, the developer and prolific local campaign contributor, was indicted for corruption … Moody’s says East Providence is a good investment now … a high-ranking Teamsters official is in hot water … many Rhode Island hospitals charge more than the regional average … and a Nathan Bishop Middle School employee faked fire drills.

10. I’ll be on 89.7 FM WGBH’s newly expanded Under the Radar this Sunday at 6 p.m. Tune in!

11. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Treasurer Gina Raimondo. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive SuiteAaron Renn and Lou Mazzucchelli discuss the lasting lessons and legacy of Rhode Island’s doomed 1983-84 Greenhouse Compact. 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 ( ) covers politics and the economy for and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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