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. Lifespan executives are trying to contain the fallout from our Wednesday exclusive about former CEO George Vecchione’s pay climbing to $7.88 million in 2011. Unfortunately, a set of talking points distributed early Friday to senior Lifespan officials (with the suggestion they “be used to respond to staff”) and obtained by is both misleading and inaccurate. First off, Lifespan officials claim they “diligently provided all of the relevant background” before our story aired. That’s untrue. Lifespan denied requests for an interview when Tim White and I asked, and refused to break out specific numbers to establish how much Vecchione was paid in each year after accounting for actuarial changes. Contrary to Lifespan’s assertions, the story did include the information they provided for context – about the one-year payouts, $39.2-million cumulative total and $2.5-million annual average. The talking points also repeatedly say Vecchione received his two largest pay packages in 2009 and 2012, but Lifespan officials have their years mixed up: he received those amounts in 2008 and 2011. On that last point, though, part of the blame should go to the IRS. The annual Form 990s filed by not-for-profits include executive compensation data based on the idea that the way tax-exempt organizations use subsidized dollars should be subject to public scrutiny. Yet the rules the IRS has set for how Lifespan and other groups report the information is extremely confusing: Lifespan has a case when it complains that the 990s inflate Vecchione’s already high pay above what it actually cost the organization, and it’s not clear on the documents exactly what year the figures are for. However, that’s precisely why we pushed Lifespan to confirm that $7.88 million was an actual amount of money they spent on Vecchione in 2011 and not an accounting mirage. It’s also why we pressed them to give us a bottom-line figure for how much his compensation actually totaled from 1998 to 2012, which we got: $39.2 million. However, if Lifespan officials are serious about wanting to provide more context regarding Vecchione’s compensation, we can schedule an on-the-record interview as soon as they’d like.

2. Allan Fung will never be mistaken for Ken Cuccinelli. The Cranston mayor describes himself as a Republican more along the lines of Chris Christie, who won a re-election landslide this week and will be running the Republican Governors Association next year as Fung campaigns to join it. Fung took policy positions that were cautious and idiosyncratic during Friday’s taping of Newsmakers. He opposes getting rid of the sales tax, but backs a full review of how Rhode Island raises state revenue. He opposes Obamacare, but wants HealthSource RI to stay state-run. (“Are you kidding? Hand it back to the federal government when you’re seeing what’s going on right now?”) He opposes the Sakonnet River Bridge tolls, but thinks Rhode Island should create an infrastructure bank in the mold of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s. He opposes repaying the 38 Studios bonds, but would consider privatizing RIPTA. He opposes any pension settlement that raises costs for taxpayers, but agrees on principle with negotiating. He’d welcome political support from unions despite “philosophical differences with many labor positions.” (Don’t forget: the Rhode Island Laborers’ District Council endorsed Republican Lincoln Almond in 1994 and 1998.) But be wary of Fung’s supposedly ambitious promise to create 20,000 jobs during his first term – the last consensus economic forecast already predicts Rhode Island will add 19,300 from 2015 to 2018.

3. Of course, Republican primary voters may be less interested in the Fung campaign’s white papers than in its pitch for why they should choose him over Ken Block. Here it is: “I think what’s going to be on the minds of all the Republican voters is, how can they support someone who stood there and helped defeat John Robitaille, who I supported in ’10, then stood next to Governor Chafee as he endorsed Barack Obama? That’s going to be a big test that he’s going to have to overcome with every Republican, because as I’ve been going out there, they know my track record.” After noting he moved some city employees from a defined-benefit pension to a 401k-style defined-contribution plan, Fung continued: “I’ve got the proven track record of making systemic changes, fiscally conservative systemic changes, during my three terms as mayor and two terms as council[man], all being elected as a Republican. They know what I’m about. He’s going to have a tough time to overcome, especially, that Obama factor amongst all Republicans.”

4. The R.I. Board of Elections website thinks Lincoln Chafee is still an independent.

5. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from reporter Dan McGowan: “Andrew Annaldo’s decision to retire from the Providence Board of Licenses after more than 16 years on the job isn’t nearly as significant as the departures of Arianne Lynch and Matt Jerzyk, but it’s still a blow to Mayor Angel Taveras. Annaldo has the ear of House Speaker Gordon Fox and played a major behind-the-scenes role in helping David Caprio secure the chairmanship of the state Democratic Party, which means he could be a thorn in the mayor’s side over the next year as he runs for governor. More importantly, Annaldo – a former councilman who ran for mayor in 1990 and briefly flirted with doing so again in 2002 – can bundle together a lot of money in a hurry, which could have helped Taveras as he prepares for what could be a costly primary. Of course, there’s a flip side to the equation. The exits of Lynch and Jerzyk led some Taveras allies to suggest privately that the mayor has become too reliant on veteran insiders like former House Majority Leader George Caruolo and Mark Ryan, a partner at downtown law firm Moses Afonso Ryan. By deciding not to sidle up to Annaldo – the mayor didn’t even inform the chairman about his proposed one-strike ordinance for city strip clubs before briefing the media – Taveras could push back at the argument that he’s become the insider he railed against when he ran for mayor four years ago.”

6. Elections are funny things. Democrat Lisa Baldelli-Hunt achieved a smashing victory over Republican incumbent Leo Fontaine in Tuesday’s Woonsocket mayoral election, winning 66% to 34%. Elections are won by getting supporters to show up, and Baldelli-Hunt’s did so in force. Yet even though 23,907 Woonsocket voters were eligible to cast a ballot on Tuesday, only 6,640 actually went to the polls – putting voter turnout at only 28%. Baldelli-Hunt emerged victorious with the support of 18% of eligible voters. To zoom out even further, Woonsocket has an estimated population of 41,188 – so just 11% of city residents cast a ballot for their new leader. Baldelli-Hunt will be mayor of a city where 89% of residents didn’t vote for her. Don’t get me wrong: Baldelli-Hunt is the legitimately chosen mayor-elect of Woonsocket, holding all the powers that come with it, regardless of how many people took part in the balloting. And Fontaine’s campaign, by definition, did an even worse job convincing voters to back him at the polls. To the victor goes the spoils. But it’s striking that despite the municipal trauma Woonsocket has gone through of late, more than two-thirds of eligible voters didn’t participate in choosing their next leader. That raises some real questions about civic engagement and democratic accountability.

7. A bonus Saturday Morning Post dispatch from our own Dan McGowan: “If our report Thursday about how the city has distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants with no application process and little oversight proved anything, it was that a bad process often leads to a bad policy. It’s difficult to dispute the idea that most of the recipients are doing fine things in the city. As Councilman Kevin Jackson, whose nonprofit has received nearly double the amount of every other youth sports organization combined since 2007, told me: ‘We live in a city that’s full of poverty and these kids would never have that opportunity if it wasn’t for some of this money.’ The problem is that not every kid in the city has an equal opportunity to benefit from the grants when the program is completely hidden from public view. Common Cause’s John Marion, whom we also interviewed for our story, said Providence probably doesn’t need to go as far as voting on every single grant, ‘but they need to make the process for applying for one more transparent, so that people know who won and who lost when they look into who wanted to get one of these grants.’ Both the mayor and the council say they’re willing to begin publishing the list of recipients. The clock is ticking.”

8. Every candidate for governor should read this Tyler Cowen-Jim Pethokoukis Q&A.

9. How about a little optimism on the Rhode Island economy? BankRI CEO Mark Meiklejohn spends a lot of time with local business owners, particularly those looking to borrow money to expand. “I think generally they’re optimistic about what’s been happening,” Meiklejohn said on this week’s Executive Suite. “They have been for maybe the last 18 months or so. I think we got to a point where they couldn’t reduce their expenses anymore and really needed to see some top-line growth in order to start to feel good about what was happening in the economy, and I think that’s happening. … I think it’s probably premature to say that we’re out of the woods, but I think certainly the feedback we’re getting from our customers is that we’re heading in the right direction.” He added: “It’s improved definitely over the last year or two.” But Meiklejohn said he thinks Rhode Island’s political climate is still dampening business confidence, and argues a more cooperative relationship between Governor Chafee and the General Assembly could help change that.

10. 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: Lorne Adrain is running for Providence mayor … City Councilman David Salvatore wants to review developer tax breaks … Richard Baccari pleaded not guilty … and here’s how Rhode Island is spending the $230-million Google settlement.

11. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Cranston Mayor Allan Fung. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – BankRI CEO Mark Meiklejohn and Senior VP for Retail Banking Steven Parente. 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.

12. Postscript – check out the new(ish) Executive Suite commercial! Click here to watch:

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

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

  1. #1. Great scoop. Interesting to see how Lifespan tried to spin the story. Nice to see Tim White covering the abuses of the 1%.

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