1. Former Lifespan CEO George Vecchione is a Warwick resident no more. My colleague Tim White reports Vecchione – who took home $39.2 million during his 14 years at the not-for-profit hospital group – sold his Blackstone Avenue compound in October for a cool $1.36 million. That was $512,500 more than he paid for the property back in 1999. Residential Properties’ polished video hawking the house describes it as a “sprawling post-and-beam contemporary home proudly sits on a magnificent 3.2-acre waterfront parcel overlooking Greenwich Bay, delivering panormaic water views from almost every room.” (Seriously, watch the video – the place is gorgeous.) Vecchione may not be entirely through with Rhode Island, however. His wife still owns a waterfront condo in Narragansett, which she paid $1.3 million for in 2007. The condo is registered to a third property of Vecchione’s, an apartment in a co-op on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, which records show cost him $690,000 in 2007.
2. Next year is shaping up to be a great one for Rhode Island political junkies, with the possibility of competitive primary or general elections for all five statewide offices plus Providence mayor. This will be the third election cycle in a row with at least one hard-fought high-profile race – and make sure you enjoy it because, barring unforeseen scandals or retirements, 2016 could be decidedly less exciting. If Hillary Clinton runs it’s hard to imagine any Democrat giving her a run for her money in the Rhode Island presidential primary, considering she defeated Obama by a decisive 18-point margin here in 2008. There’s not much down the ballot, either: no statewide officers or U.S. senators will be up, and David Cicilline and Jim Langevin look firmly entrenched in the U.S. House. That means 2018 could be the next big cycle – but there will be a lot of incumbents on the ballot since this year was so wide open, and incumbents usually have an advantage, especially in lower-profile races. That said, it’s usually safe to bet on Rhode Island politics staying interesting.
3. Via Zach Beauchamp, “5 Reasons Why 2013 Was The Best Year In Human History.” Nice!
4. Like most people, when I get to thinking about what lies ahead in 2014 I pull out the state’s latest Revenue Estimating Conference report. The picture it paints is pretty dispiriting, especially when you consider last month’s updated forecast was a downgrade from the previous May’s, which itself had been downgrade from November 2012’s; like the Federal Reserve, Rhode Island’s official forecasters have been consistently overoptimistic. On the plus side, they’re expecting Rhode Islanders’ personal income to grow 5% to $52 billion next year, even as inflation stays quite low. But the jobs picture remains abysmal. Nonfarm employment is only expected to increase by 6,300 in 2014 – in a state which still has 26,000 fewer jobs than it did before the recession. “Full recovery of the labor market is not expected before the end of calendar year 2018,” the forecasters warn. That’s half a decade from now, and 12 years from the previous employment peak. The majority of the jobs Rhode Island has added since the recovery began are low-wage ones – indeed, the report notes the startling fact that the state has lost more mid-wage jobs since the recovery began than it did during the actual recession.
5. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com reporter Dan McGowan: “The generally cordial relationship between the Taveras administration and Providence’s public safety unions could be something to watch in 2014 now that the police officers and firefighters have filed separate lawsuits alleging that the city incorrectly calculated overtime rates by failing to account for longevity pay. But even the unions appear to be taking different approaches with their respective suits. Taft Manzotti, the police union’s president, has made it very clear he plans to seek back wages from the city (in most cases, the Fair Labor Standards Act has a two-year statute of limitations). Paul Doughty, president of the firefighters union, told WPRI.com the goal is to fix the calculation going forward, although his suit also seeks back wages. For an administration that managed to reach a settlement on pension and health care benefits with the two unions, a squabble over a few million dollars probably shouldn’t be difficult to address, but Taveras administration officials say the city plans to fight the suits in court. With the mayor running for governor, a prolonged battle could lead to sour grapes when it comes time for the unions to make endorsements. Remember, while the statewide firefighters have already backed Taveras, Doughty’s Local 799 still hasn’t made an official decision.”
6. Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, who’s set to face Dawson Hodgson next year in a 38 Studios-focused campaign, sent a fundraising appeal to his supporters Friday that included this: “You and I both know that in 2014 special interests will try to distort the constructive impact we are making every day.” It’s unclear which “special interests” the AG has in mind. But it’s worth recalling that Kilmartin himself was the beneficiary of a $105,000 independent expenditure just a week before the 2010 election. It was made by the “Committee for Justice & Fairness,” a front group for the Democratic Attorneys General Association.
7. BuzzFeed posted a list of 50 indie songs for each of the 50 states. “Rhode Island” by The Front Bottons got the nod for the Ocean State, but a discerning Saturday Morning Post reader suggests “Providence, RI” by Nickel Eye (aka Nikolai Fraiture, the bassist from The Strokes) would have been a better pick.
8. Have you made your New Year’s Resolutions yet? They do work sometimes, you know. If you’re resolving to be more content, AEI’s Arthur Brooks had an interesting New York Times piece earlier this month that argued the surest path to happiness is through the “four basic values of faith, family, community and work.” Those themes, especially the parts about family and community, are echoed in a recent Atlantic article on why relationships are more important than ambition. Or maybe you’re resolving to be better with money – turns out that spending it in certain ways is more likely to make you happy. (Take that vacation.)
9. Check out Patrick Anderson’s great PBN story on the future of Thayer Street, and note this passage: “The numbers suggest a major barrier to diversifying beyond the college market is insufficient commercial and residential building stock.” Wonder if the big zoning overhaul will help with that?
10. A bonus Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com reporter Dan McGowan: “If you thought the standardized test element of the state’s high school graduation requirements was the biggest education story of 2013, you ain’t seen nothing yet. No one expects 40% of the class of 2014 – roughly 4,000 students statewide – to be barred from graduating because they didn’t earn a qualifying score on the NECAP, but what isn’t clear is where the final bar will be set. If that number is cut in half, for example, that would still mean one-in-five Rhode Island high-school seniors would be forced to stay back because of a standardized test, a figure that critics would argue is far too high. Board of Education Chairwoman Eva Marie Mancuso has said she wants to wait until the NECAP scores are released in February before making a final determination on how the state will move forward with the current crop of 12th graders, but she has expressed general support for making standardized tests part of the graduation requirements. Meanwhile school boards in every city and town are scrambling to figure out how to develop a waiver system for students who still don’t earn a qualifying score that is fair and manageable for administrators and doesn’t make a mockery of the graduation requirements already in place. At the same time, while all eyes will be on the class of 2014, so many questions for future graduating classes remain unanswered. Will the class of 2015 see a significant improvement on the NECAP given all the attention it’s received? Is the state’s sophomore class prepared for the PARCC assessment, which replaces the NECAP next year, to decide their fate in 2016? Look for the Board of Education to have some very difficult decisions on their hands beginning in March.”
11. The Washington Post’s Neil Irwin marked the 100th birthday of the Fed this week with a retrospective look at its creation. One of the central figures in the drama was Nelson Aldrich, the powerful turn-of-the-century U.S. senator from Rhode Island. Irwin describes Aldrich (clad in a “silk top hat”) as “the most influential senator of his day on financial matters” and “the favored senator of the Wall Street elite.” (For a less-than-flattering look at him, read Lincoln Steffens’ legendary 1905 exposé.) There’s quite a contrast between Aldrich and his eventual successor Jack Reed, also a powerful Rhode Island senator on banking matters, but one who is rather more skeptical of high finance.
12. Speaking of Jack Reed, he’ll take his Obama-backed campaign to renew emergency unemployment benefits to MSNBC on Monday morning with an interview on Chuck Todd’s 9 a.m. “Daily Rundown” show. Chuck is off for the holidays, so Reed’s interlocutor will be NBC News White House Correspondent Kristen Welker – who, coincidentally, used to be a reporter for WLNE-TV here in Providence.
13. Where are they now: Louis Soares, a former aide to Gov. Don Carcieri on business and economic issues, has joined the American Council on Education as vice president for policy research and strategy and head of its Center for Policy Analysis. Before joining the council he was a fellow and director of the postsecondary education program at the Center for American Progress, the influential Democratic-aligned think tank founded by incoming Obama adviser John Podesta.
14. If you missed them the first time around, we also published items this week on HealthSource RI’s private-plan enrollment doubling during the first half of December and the five best Christmas albums by Rhode Islanders (Eileen Farrell takes first prize).
15. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Gov. Lincoln Chafee (repeat). Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – three local nonprofit leaders talk about their organizations: the Providence After School Alliance’s Hillary Salmons, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Providence’s Nicole Dufresne, and the Ronald McDonald House of Providence’s Michael Fantom. 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.