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. One school of thought about Angel Taveras’s campaign for governor is that he’ll try to run to the left of Gina Raimondo. But there wasn’t much evidence of that when he sat down with Tim White and me during Friday’s taping of Newsmakers for his first big post-kickoff interview. Should the state raise taxes on Rhode Islanders who make $250,000 or more? “What I’d like to do is create more people who make $250,000 or more. … If you expand the tax base, you have more people paying taxes, you have more revenue, and you do that without increasing tax rates.” Does he think tolls should be added to the Sakonnet River Bridge? “I do not. … We have a budget that’s in the billions of dollars, and for me, we will go through that budget and make sure we are spending money the best way possible.” Should Rhode Island repeal Raimondo’s 2011 pension law? “You have to make sure that whatever you agree to is fair to everyone – not just the retirees but also to the taxpayers – because the consequences, the consequences of the law being deemed unconstitutional would be very dire for our state.” He also supports paying back the 38 Studios bondholders, opposes binding arbitration for teachers and wants to scrap March 1 teacher-layoff notices. That’s not to say there are no differences – the mayor highlighted his “Head Start to Harvard” biography and his preference for negotiating pension cuts. But the policy positions Taveras is taking could leave room for Clay Pell to run as the more liberal alternative to the two frontrunners.

2. One of the more surprising aspects of Taveras’s gubernatorial announcement was his choice of campaign treasurer: Jeffrey Schreck, better known as Curt Schilling’s local attorney in the big 38 Studios lawsuit. If Taveras wins, he’d become the chairman of the soon-to-be-renamed R.I. Economic Development Corporation, which is suing Schreck’s star client. Will that pose a conflict? Not anymore. “We were not aware of Mr. Schreck’s current involvement as local counsel in the 38 Studios lawsuit,” Taveras spokesman Peter Baptista told me Friday. “He offered to step aside as campaign treasurer to not be a distraction and has been replaced with Ava Vanech.” Vanech works for the Learning Community charter school in Central Falls, and recently donated $100 to would-be Taveras successor Jorge Elorza’s campaign.

3. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from reporter Dan McGowan: “The three-headed monster that crafted virtually all of Mayor Taveras’s policy decisions, talking points and at least some of his political strategy was slashed to one head this week when Deputy Chief of Staff Arianne Lynch and Deputy City Solicitor Matt Jerzyk abruptly submitted their letters of resignation. The one person still in place is longtime Taveras confidant Michael D’Amico, who, as the mayor’s chief of staff and director of administration, is largely credited with helping the city avoid filing for bankruptcy in 2012. The departure of Lynch – whose last day is Nov. 30 – means the loss of an aide who effectively ran the mayor’s day-to-day schedule and controlled nearly all of the messaging strategy that came out of City Hall. Her departure will likely strain the way the administration frames the big-picture issues coming out of mayor’s office, especially if he’s forced to ask the City Council to raise taxes again next spring. Jerzyk had already moved from the mayor’s staff to the solicitor’s office, but his exit – at the end of the year – means Taveras is losing a chief political strategist who was crucial in helping him maintain credibility among progressive Democrats in the face of several decisions that wouldn’t necessarily be viewed as progressive (firing the teachers and supporting the Achievement First Mayoral Academy, for example). While Jerzyk’s departure shouldn’t be viewed as a sign Taveras has abandoned liberal Democrats, it will at least raise questions if he is no longer the left’s biggest cheerleader for the mayor. D’Amico is often characterized as a bean-counter who doesn’t know politics, but that isn’t completely accurate either. D’Amico’s goal first and foremost is to make sure the city can continue to pay its bills, and in that he’s been successful. On the political end, he’s ruffled feathers because of his hardball style – remember, he’s the one who essentially went to war with Buff Chace over tax breaks – but he was also the one who negotiated much of the big pension settlement and proved he could get a difficult budget passed last year.”

4. Fun fact: today was the deadline for 38 Studios to have 450 employees under its 2010 deal with the state.

5. Bishop Tobin has made headlines twice in recent months, first when he criticized Pope Francis on abortion and then when he publicly announced he’s joined the Republican Party. John L. Allen Jr., the star Vatican reporter who drew a big crowd Tuesday at Salve Regina, thinks the new pope will continue to prioritize the public proclamation of the church’s social justice teachings. During the John Paul II and Benedict XVI papacies, Allen told me, “the pro-life people had the full support of the hierarchy. Now I think to some extent the shoe is on the other foot. And let’s be clear: it’s not that Pope Francis is not a pro-life pope. … But I think his calculation is that we’ve gone through a long period in which that’s been presented to people very clearly, and now it’s time to lift up some of the other elements. Which means that bishops such as Bishop Tobin, who are most identified with the pro-life teachings, may not be able to count on the kind of explicit public reinforcement from the pope that they became accustomed to during the John Paul years and the Benedict years. But it’s also the case that I don’t think Bishop Tobin needs to worry about being cut off at the knees by Pope Francis, because I guarantee you that Pope Francis will agree with the positions he’s taking. It’s just that Pope Francis wants some other positions to be taken with a similar kind of energy. It’s a question of priority.” (Allen also noted that Tobin, a healthy 65-year-old, is still young enough that the Vatican could assign him to another diocese before he reaches the retirement age of 75.)

6. Count Sheldon Whitehouse among those unhappy about the stunning failure of the Obama administration’s technology. When I interviewed the senator this week and asked whether he was concerned about the technical problems, he replied: “Very.” He continued, “I think it’s been a botch, and when you consider that little Rhode Island can get it right, it’s frustrating that the federal government didn’t.” Yet Whitehouse argued there is “very real grounds for optimism” because HealthSource RI and other state-based exchanges’ relatively smooth starts suggest working ones an be built. He’s also confident Obama is now focused on the issue: “Just from having heard him speak about this to us, I know how visibly upset the president is. And when a president is visibly upset about a problem within his administration, that tends to have an inspiring effect on the bureaucracy.”

7. A bonus Saturday Morning Post dispatch from our own Dan McGowan: “Mayor Taveras’s first stop after kicking off his campaign for governor was a place he became quite familiar with in the weeks leading up to his announcement: Woonsocket. Taveras was one of the first major Democrats to throw his support behind state Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, who is now the odds-on favorite to be the city’s next mayor. ‘He spent a lot of time up here supporting me and I appreciate that,’ Baldelli-Hunt told Monday. Woonsocket is dealing with financial problems similar to the ones Taveras faced in Providence in 2012 and Baldelli-Hunt said the mayor has pledged to offer as much support as he can if she unseats Republican Leo Fontaine next week. Baldelli-Hunt brings value to Taveras as well. Woonsocket voters often support conservative Democrats (like Baldelli-Hunt and former Rep. Jon Brien, who may run for her seat if it becomes vacant) and Republicans (including gubernatorial candidates John Robitaille and Don Carcieri, as well as congressional candidate John Loughlin). If Baldelli-Hunt, who won more than two-thirds of the vote in her primary last month, is willing to support Taveras in a primary battle with Treasurer Gina Raimondo and later against the Republican nominee, Taveras would likely rack up votes in a community he wouldn’t otherwise expect to win. So will Taveras’s early support for Baldelli-Hunt be rewarded? ‘Absolutely,’ she said. ‘I’m supporting him.’”

8. It hasn’t gotten much attention locally yet, but earlier this year Brown University added one of the nation’s most influential economists to its faculty: Gauti Eggertsson, a Fed expert whose doctoral advisers were the all-star trio of Ben Bernanke, Paul Krugman and Michael Woodford. Eggertsson, a monetary dove who thinks the Fed can and should do more to stimulate the economy, is an oft-cited source on the question of what other tools the central bank has at its disposal once interest rates hit zero. He expects Bernanke’s likely successor Janet Yellen will keep rates low at least through 2015, and possibly longer if the economy remains weak. And he rejects the idea such a policy helps borrowers at the expensive of savers. “A weak economy harms everybody, not only borrowers but also savers, in terms of not only their income – in terms of the overall state of the economy,” Eggertsson argued on this week’s Executive Suite.

9. And speaking of Brown University, I’ll be there Tuesday night to moderate a debate between two smart cookies: College Democrats of Rhode Island President Rebecca Mears and College Republican Federation of Rhode Island Chairman Justin Braga. They’ll tussle over big issues in Rhode Island including the NECAP test, as well as major national topics such as guns and poverty. The free event will take place from 7 to 8 p.m. in the DeCiccio Family Auditorium at Brown’s Salomon Center for Teaching. More info here.

10. If you missed them the first time around, now’s your chance to check out some of the items Dan McGowan, Tim White and I published this week: Hasbro Children’s Hospital defends employing a sex offenderGina Raimondo’s war chest hits $2.3 million (see our full fundraising roundup) … Clay Pell is seriously considering a campaignAngel Taveras hires Danny Kedem as his campaign manager and considers closing a school … he also moved $11 million out of hedge funds since April … lawmakers defend a law that could drive out Uber … Sheldon Whitehouse thinks the GOP will bend in budget talks … the next pension settlement update is in only two weeks … and The Providence Journal’s Sunday circulation slumps 11.7%.

11. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Providence Mayor Angel Taveras. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive SuiteGauti Eggertsson, associate professor of economics at Brown University. 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

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

  1. Yes, Mr. fish, it sure looks like it. No matter, I wouldn’t vote for Raimondo or Tavares no matter what they stand behind. Politics is personal, and one fashioned the law that brought down my pension, while the other fired me and 2,000 of my colleagues. The question now is, in a three-way Democratic primary, which one will split the ticket and let the other slide in. At first I thought Clay Pell would split it with Tavaras, but now I’m not so sure. Who knows, with all these DINOs running, maybe Fung will be the most liberal! Should be a fine political season.

  2. In regards to the Journal and its circulation slump, I give them credit for publishing a story on a recently laid-off veteran employee today:

    But I think it was inaccurate (but probably necessary for the story to have any chance at all) to alibi AH Belo by saying the employee was the victim of “a brutal local economy and a newspaper industry that is under attack nationally”. It’s time to stop flogging that horse. The papers that have adapted to the times and technology and invested in their product and the talent that produces it have found ways to survive. This is about greed and incompetence and contempt for the state in which they operate. As the circulation falls, so does the value of the paper and the price it will eventually be sold for – if there’s anything left to be sold besides the name.

  3. Oh my. What happened to our Angel in Providence?? I just hope this honest man does not keep going off the rails by listening to the know-it-all political insiders. I am just afraid its too late.

  4. Some earlier comments point out that there are no good left wing candidates. That’s because the politicians can all do math. Going forward we need to end defined benefit pensions and move into social security and employee managed retirement funds. This is completely fair to the taxpayer and the employee. The taxpayer is protected from politicians promising compensation that isn’t affordable. Social security (for those that don’t have it already) will ensure a baseline of retirement security. If its good enough for the regular working folks its good enough for public employees. Since the unions feel they know more about investing than the treasurer let them manage their own retirements. This way they will be able to invest their money how they see fit.

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