1. Even the most glass-half-full Rhode Islander probably would admit the state hasn’t seen a huge economic recovery since 2009. So why has the amount of food donated to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank plunged by 22%, from 8.2 million pounds in 2008-09 to 6.4 million pounds in 2012-13? One of the biggest reasons: digital inventory systems are making the food sector much more efficient. “Food banks were founded on the idea that there was lots of excess food in the system, and that all we had to do was get supermarkets and the food industry to donate it – it was a win-win for everybody,” Food Bank CEO Andrew Schiff said on this week’s Newsmakers. “When I first began in this work, 10 or 12 years ago, there was lots of extra, surplus food available to food banks. And that’s just not true anymore.” Yet even as donations have decreased, demand has grown. The latest federal data shows 17% of Rhode Island’s population – 180,294 residents – are on food stamps, and the monthly payment to a family of four was cut by $36 on Nov. 1. “The economy just hasn’t improved enough for the people we serve,” Schiff said. “Folks are back to work, but at low-wage jobs that don’t give enough earned income to afford enough adequate food for their families.” But he rejects the idea the food-stamp program is creating dependency: “Folks would much rather have an increase in their wages or a better job and get off the benefit completely, to be able to afford food themselves.”
2. I hope you and your family had a safe and happy Thanksgiving, and that you’re continuing to enjoy the festivities if you’re celebrating Hannukah. Like all of you, I’m thankful for the love and support of family and friends, and the blessing of a good job in a great country. I’m also deeply grateful to all the loyal readers who’ve made The Saturday Morning Post and Nesi’s Notes a success over the last three years. Thank you.
3. Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee has some advantages in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, including $176,000 in his campaign account – nearly four times more than rival Ralph Mollis – and veteran operative Bill Fischer advising him on communications. But a big question hangs over his campaign: can a politician so closely associated with the push for charter schools win a Democratic primary over strong opposition from teachers’ unions? While McKee could benefit from the big national money that usually flows to ed-reform candidates, that wasn’t enough to elect John Connolly mayor of Boston. “I think that there’s going to be some positions taken by the [union] leadership, but I don’t think necessarily from the teachers,” McKee told Tim White on this week’s Newsmakers. He suggested rank-and-file educators will be won over by his advocacy for the statewide school funding formula and enrolling more teachers in Social Security. “The unions have a job to do and that’s to protect their membership, which represents about 1% of the state of Rhode Island,” McKee added. “My job as lieutenant governor would be to represent that 1% and the 100%.”
4. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com reporter Dan McGowan: “The quote of the week comes from Federal Hill restaurant mogul Gianfranco Marrocco, who was upset with Providence’s plan to crack down on hookah bars across the city. ‘Outlaw hookahs and bottle service, what a world-class Mickey Mouse city,’ Marrocco told WPRI.com. City officials maintain that they’re simply enforcing a ban on indoor smoking that’s been in place since 2005, but restaurant and club owners like Marrocco say offering hookah is a way to attract patrons who’ll ultimately buy more food and drinks. Aside from the public health argument, the emergence of hookah bars on Federal Hill has added fuel to a longstanding battle between Marrocco and some of the neighborhood’s more traditional establishments. The owners of some of those restaurants have said they want to maintain in the integrity of Federal Hill, while Marrocco says he wants the neighborhood to evolve into a place with a vibrant nightlife. In a 2011 Providence Monthly article, Marrocco told me those who dislike his vision for the Hill are forgetting that the so-called glory days of the neighborhood were when it was controlled by a Mafia boss. ‘They’re saying old man Patriarca is spinning in his grave with what’s going on up here,’ he said at the time. ‘That was 30 years ago. It’s over.’ Don’t expect Marrocco or other supporters to go quietly on the hookah issue: they plan to challenge any sanctions with the Board of Licenses.”
5. As a Christmas music connoisseur, I’m always listening for new records to play during the holidays (whether newly recorded or just new to me). A discovery I made this week that I recommend: “Wonderland,” a new release from jazz pianist Ted Rosenthal on the Playscape label. Too many jazz Christmas albums – even by some of the genre’s greats – are pedestrian affairs. Not so with Rosenthal’s. If you like Vince Guaraldi’s “Charlie Brown Christmas” soundtrack, I think you’ll like this. $9 on MP3, $16 on CD.
6. Last week in this space I suggested some enterprising state lawmaker should use our Target 12 findings to push through a law mandating that municipalities produce regular, thorough financial reports on the investment track records of their independent pension funds. It turns out someone is already on the case: state Sen. Ryan Pearson, the 25-year-old freshman Democrat from Cumberland. Pearson introduced a bill this year that would, among other things, require the general treasurer to publish an annual “performance dashboard” tracking the investment performance and fees for all public pension plans in the state. (The dashboard could be improved by tracking returns over longer time periods, as well.) The bill would also empower the treasurer to withhold non-education state aid from cities and towns that don’t make their full pension contributions. Pearson’s legislation passed the Senate on June 25 but died in Helio Melo’s House Finance Committee.
7. Former WPRO and WLNE anchor Andrew Gobeil has a cool new project: he’s writing a book about the local TV reporters who covered the civil rights movement. Andrew is trying to raise $30,000 by Dec. 28 through the crowdsourcing site Indiegogo to fund the project – you can donate here.
8. It looks like Edesia will be staying in Rhode Island. The four-year-old nonprofit founded by Navyn Salem has quickly outgrown its 15,000-square-foot factory in Providence, where about 50 workers produce ready-to-eat food for malnourished children in developing countries. Salem confirmed on this week’s Executive Suite that the social enterprise is preparing to expand to a roughly 100,000-square-foot factory, though actual production will be scaled up gradually. She’s not revealing the new location yet, but she did confirm Edesia isn’t going to leave the state – good news considering everyone from Bill Clinton on down is praising her work.
9. A bonus Saturday Morning Post dispatch from our own Dan McGowan: “Money isn’t everything in politics, but it sure can buy you a lot of consultants. That’s the message Michael Solomon and Brett Smiley are sending as they continue staff up ahead of what’s likely to be a bruising Democratic primary for mayor of Providence. Solomon made a splash this week when he hired The Hamilton Group (a firm that will include city political expert Matt Jerzyk as of January) as his strategic and fundraising consultants. In addition, Solomon has signed up veteran pollster John Della Volpe and AKPD Inc., the firm responsible for the highly regarded ‘Dante’ TV ad that many say changed New York City’s mayoral race this year. Solomon also has brought in Josh Padwa (the son of City Solicitor Jeff Padwa) and Alex Ferguson to handle day-to-day operations. Smiley, who will formally declare his candidacy Tuesday, has brought in well-known communications specialist Rob Horowitz, media experts RSH Campaigns (which handled Gina Raimondo’s 2010 campaign for treasurer) and Connecticut-based Mission Control for direct mail. Smiley has also hired D.C.-based pollster Jill Normington and Checkmate Consulting to assist with the campaign. Jorge Elorza, the only candidate who has formally declared for mayor, has hired Emily LaPlante, who ran Congressman David Cicilline’s Providence operation during his re-election campaign in 2012. East Side businessman Lorne Adrain has yet to make any direct hires, but is being advised by Garry Bliss, the former director of community development and deputy director of planning and development for the city of Providence.”
10. I’ll be on 89.7 FM WGBH’s newly expanded Under the Radar this Sunday at 6 p.m. Tune in!
11. 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: Angel Taveras wants the state police to help fight crime in Providence through Sept. 6 … he also wants universal pre-K across Rhode Island … Ralph Mollis hired a 52-year-old to fight fires in North Providence, and now Charlie Lombardi is unhappy about his pricey pension … the judge’s next pension lawsuit update will be on Dec. 9 … one in three urban students isn’t graduating on time … HealthSource RI’s sign-up deadline is now Dec. 23 … Matt Jerzyk will join The Hamilton Group … West Warwick provided its pension investment data … Perry Como and Lena Horne sing of New England … and remembering how Thanksgiving caused a fight between Thomas Jefferson and the General Assembly.
12. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee, a candidate for lieutenant governor, plus Rhode Island Community Food Bank CEO Andrew Schiff. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Navyn Salem, founder of Edesia. 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.