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. There was some late-breaking news as The Saturday Morning Post headed to press Friday night. First Angel Taveras aide Peter Baptista resigned from the mayor’s nascent gubernatorial campaign, saying in a statement: “This afternoon I informed Mayor Angel Taveras that I could no longer serve in the capacity of finance director for his gubernatorial campaign.” Paired with the departures of Arianne Lynch and Matt Jerzyk, this means that in the three weeks since Taveras kicked off his bid for governor he’s lost three of the most loyal staffers associated with him. That could increase the influence George Caruolo, Mark RyanJoe DeLorenzo and Mike D’Amico have with the mayor, who is already facing scrutiny from progressives. All the Team Taveras turmoil comes as Gina Raimondo taps Eric Hyers, the energetic campaign manager who piloted David Cicilline’s two U.S. House campaigns. … Meanwhile, two minutes after Baptista’s statement another landed in my inbox, this one from HealthSource RI Executive Director Christine Ferguson and Health Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Hittner, saying thanks but no thanks to President Obama’s hastily announced policy shift on canceled insurance plans. “All plans available in 2014, whether through HealthSource RI or in the private market, have been through a rigorous review process designed to ensure that they meet the standards set forth in the Affordable Care Act,” they said. “After reviewing the president’s announcement, we have decided to continue in the direction we are going, and therefore will not be adopting the option made available to us by the president.”

2. Few enterprises play a more outsized role in the Rhode Island economy than Brown University. For evidence of that tune into this week’s Executive Suite, an exclusive interview with Brown President Christina Paxson. Paxson and I discussed a host of topics – Ray Kelly, the new strategic plan, the medical school, Lifespan’s troubles, the Jewelry District, the Dynamo House – but they all relate back to how Brown’s future will impact Rhode Island’s. One of the more intriguing comments: Paxson didn’t rule out the possibility that Brown will join other top medical schools in creating a faculty group practice, employing doctors who generate revenue for the school by providing direct patient care. Paxson told me: “This is something we can talk about with Lifespan and our partners over time, but that’s still very much in progress.” (Don’t forget that Brown and Lifespan are currently renegotiating their affiliation.) Paxson also said that while Brown will invest in real estate in the coming years, she expects its biggest economic contribution will be spillover effects from research – particularly brain science. But even in that area, the work will have to be specifically targeted due to the more limited financial resources of Brown and its partners compared with, say, Columbia.

3. Ken Block is making a bet about the 2014 Republican gubernatorial primary: a majority of its voters will rally to his message of fiscal probity and shrug off his ideological apostasy (including a vote for Barack Obama just last year). Block’s message, as laid out on this week’s Newsmakers, would seem to be what pundits often encourage for Rhode Island Republicans – ignore God, guns and gays in favor of economics. Without saying it explicitly, Block is also trying to distinguish the Rhode Island Democratic Party from the national one; he agrees with many national-level Democratic positions, but here at home he rails against Gordon Fox, Teresa Paiva Weed and their troops. Could that message resonate against Allan Fung? The Cranston mayor is still the favorite as a longer-tenured Republican, but it’s not like he’s a perfect vessel for movement conservatives either. And then there’s the question of who’ll actually turn up to vote. While 63,000 voters cast a ballot in the 2006 ChafeeLaffey primary, fewer than 26,000 did so in the 2002 CarcieriBennett contest – another year when independents were also distracted by a heated Democratic primary.

4. Get pumped: our first WPRI 12/Projo poll of Campaign 2014 drops Tuesday at 5 p.m. on TV and online.

5. A special extended Saturday Morning Post dispatch from my senior partner Tim White:

James “Whitey” Bulger’s sentencing this week was largely a formality: there were few if any scenarios that wouldn’t see the 84-year-old learning he would likely die in prison. But for families of Bulger’s murder victims, this was their moment to tell the former gangster how he affected their lives. Sitting in the Boston courtroom, I thought at first they were robbed of that chance: Bulger kept his back to people as they delivered emotional victim impact statements. Some demanded Bulger look at them – even flinging expletives to lure him to do so – to no avail. Outside court, however, one of the family members shrugged it off, telling me: “I know he heard me.”

Covering the trial through much of the summer and coming back for the sentencing, reporters have gotten to know those families fairly well. Many of them come from the blue-collar streets of South Boston, where people aren’t used to the glaring lights of television news crews or the rapid-fire clicks from a newspaper photographer’s shutter. Every day they would walk out of the Moakley Federal Courthouse to face a sea of reporters. It was even more intense on sentencing day, just as it was big on verdict day, when they were met with a throng of media that would make a presidential candidate tremble.

It amazed me how well they handled themselves with reporters from around the globe asking them deeply personal questions in front of total strangers and beaming their answers – live – to millions. And in true Boston style, they spoke bluntly. They didn’t care about the FCC’s seven-dirty-words list. Their honesty – after years of being mistreated by a gangster and the government – was real and raw. (I also cover politics, so that was refreshing.) I’m glad I don’t have to go back and forth to Boston so often, but I’ll miss interviewing those families.

Tommy Donahue – whose dad was gunned down by Bulger and his crew in 1982 – summed it up best at the end of his final visit with reporters. “All set guys?” Donahue asked us, backing away. “Thank you very much, thank you,” he added, giving a friendly wave. “It’s a pleasure. Hopefully never again, though.”

6. Sheldon Whitehouse received some glowing write-ups down in Washington this week to mark his 50th weekly speech on climate change. The commentary suggested Rhode Island’s junior senator may someday be remembered as the 1930s Winston Churchill of climate change, someone who delivered prescient warnings that went unheeded. Along with stories in National Journal and The Huffington Post, Whitehouse was the subject of Ezra Klein’s weekly Bloomberg View column. “He works hard on these speeches,” Klein wrote. “They’re deeply researched and beautifully crafted. He delivers them with passion – to a mostly empty room. His colleagues figure they have better things to do than listen. But 100 years from now, when our grandchildren look back and try to understand what we were doing while the world burned, these speeches may well be some of the most famed rhetoric of the age.” We’ll see.

7. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from reporter Dan McGowan: “Let’s take a trip back to September 2007. David Cicilline was finishing up year one of his second term as mayor of Providence, sitting on more than $311,000 in his campaign war chest and the highest job performance rating of any politician in Rhode Island (64%), according to a Brown University poll. The open governor’s seat in 2010 was his for the taking. Over the next year, a December snowstorm pummeled the city; several of his top advisers exited City Hall; his brother went to prison; the economy started to tank; and his approval rating slid 18 percentage points. Suddenly Cicilline was learning what Buddy Cianci (whose 1980 campaign was derailed by the city’s poor finances) and Joe Paolino (who was under constant scrutiny during his 1990 campaign following convincted murderer Peter Gilbert’s 1989 death in police custody) learned while running for governor: there’s a reason a Providence mayor hasn’t won the state’s top job since Dennis Roberts in 1950. Enter current Mayor Angel Taveras. After spending two years earning praise for guiding the city out of near-bankruptcy, Taveras has been dogged this year by a tax hike, a pool closing, a 15-year-old stripper and staff departures. And we haven’t even entered 2014 yet. That doesn’t mean Taveras should be counted out – Cicilline, of course, did get elected and re-elected to Congress – but it does suggest that the curse of Providence might be more than just a myth.”

8. RIPEC has an interesting event coming up Wednesday morning at Fidelity’s office in Smithfield. It’s called “The Status of Rhode Island’s ‘Business Climate’: A National Review with a Local Perspective,” and it’s going to feature two panels. The national examination will include the Beacon Hill Institute’s Jonathan Haughton, the Tax Foundation’s Joseph Henchman, the Camelot Index’s Melissa Loeb and’s Aaron Renn. The local panel will be an update from two Chafee administration officials with private-sector street cred: new EDC chief Marcel Valois and the Office of Regulatory Reform’s Leslie Taito. The event is free, and it should provide plenty of food for thought. If you want to attend, shoot an email to See you there.

9. If you missed them the first time around, now’s your chance to check out some of the items Dan McGowan and I published this week: HealthSourceRI reveals 73% of initial enrollment was for Medicaid … Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island claims it won’t be sending Obamacare-related cancellation notices … Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee kicked off his lieutenant-governor bid … Providence is pressed not to close Alvarez High SchoolJudge Taft-Carter gets another briefing on the pension mediation, and the lawyers are coming back Thursday … and why is unemployment down when more people aren’t working?

10. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Republican candidate for governor Ken Block. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Brown University President Christina Paxson. 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

An earlier version of this column incorrectly said the poll comes out Monday; it comes out Tuesday.

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

  1. Ted and Tim, thanks for posting Newsmakers online. It’s much easier to catch. Ken Block getting very flustered just cemented my decision on Fung. I was willing to give Mr. Block a chance, but he clearly has no idea how government works. The Governor can’t be a bully. The art of negotiation is how you get things done, and it is now clear Mr. Fung is the one.

  2. Ted, I look forward to this column every week (as well as your reporting in general), but what is up with the unnecessarily dismissive comment at the end of your point about Sen. Whitehouse’s 50th climate change speech. I don’t know if you meant it to sound petty (and based on your usual reporting I’d say no), but it just seemed like a complete tone change and at least left a bad taste in my mouth.

  3. Mayor Fung is a good candidate surrounded by team that has lost every race they have been in. The addition of Rob Coupe, and no doubt Gio Ciccione has some involvement, is a major liability to all Republicans in RI. It is time these individuals found another career path given how poorly they ran the Republican Party and every race since. Not being able to recognize and hire the best people for a campaign will come back to hurt Republican’s again and again.

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