1. Clay Pell is bringing on some top talent to help him with his upstart campaign for governor, which kicks off Tuesday morning at the Rhode Island Convention Center. Pell’s media consultant – the man tasked with putting together those crucial TV ads – will be Tad Devine, the veteran Democratic strategist and Providence native whose previous experience includes Lincoln Chafee‘s 2010 bid for governor, John Kerry’s 2004 presidential run and Ted Kennedy’s 1994 contest against Mitt Romney. (The 32-year-old Pell won’t be Devine’s only youthful Rhode Island client this year, either: he’s also aiding 30-year-old Seth Magaziner with the latter’s campaign for treasurer.) Pell’s other big hire is his campaign pollster: Boston’s Tom Kiley, another longtime Kennedy and Kerry hand who also worked for Patrick Kennedy; Kiley just had a good cycle polling for the winning 2012 U.S. Senate campaigns of Elizabeth Warren, Angus King and Claire McCaskill. Tapping Devine and Kiley is another sign of how seriously Pell is taking his campaign, and his willingness to spend top dollar on consultants; it’s also a reminder of his family’s ties to the close-knit world of New England’s U.S. senators. RIPR’s Scott MacKay, who’s seen many a campaign in his day, thinks Pell has an opening – but it’s a narrow one.
2. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com reporter Dan McGowan: “Tuesday’s announcement at the Convention Center is getting all the attention, but Clay Pell isn’t the only big name kicking off his campaign next week. On Monday, term-limited Secretary of State Ralph Mollis will launch his campaign for lieutenant governor, where he’ll take on Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee in a Democratic primary. Both Mollis and McKee were courting Nick Hemond and Peter Baptista from the Hamilton Group to help with their respective campaigns, but it looks like Mollis won out. Nick Cicchitelli, a former Mollis volunteer and campaign spokesman for Republican Senate candidate Barry Hinckley, will run the campaign. Meanwhile, fresh off winning impressive endorsements from Councilwoman Sabina Matos and former state Rep. Linda Kushner, City Council President Michael Solomon will kick off his mayoral campaign on Wednesday in Olneyville. The Hamilton Group is also consulting with Solomon, and Baptista will serve as his mayoral campaign’s spokesman.”
3. Tune in Monday for the premiere of WPRI 12’s new nightly newscast at 6:30 p.m. on Fox Providence. As I mentioned last week, the new show will be Southern New England’s first local TV newscast at 6:30, and the anchors will be the terrific Shannon Hegy and Steve Nielsen. I may stop by some nights, too!
4. It’s no secret that Vice President Biden and a host of other Washington pols don’t come off too well in former Defense Secretary Robert Gates‘ new memoir “Duty.” One exception, however, is Rhode Island’s own U.S. Sen. Jack Reed: Gates describes Reed as “one of the handful of members of Congress whom I truly respected.” The former Pentagon chief recounts that it was Reed – now next in line to chair the Senate Armed Services Committee – who called him on President Obama’s behalf in 2008 to see whether he’d be willing to stay on after the transition from George W. Bush to the new president. Gates also reports that Obama wanted to make Reed his deputy defense secretary but didn’t want to give GOP Gov. Don Carcieri the power to appoint Reed’s replacement in the Senate. “How did Rhode Island end up with a Republican governor?” Obama marveled to Gates. “I took that state with 65% of the vote.” (It was actually only 63%, Mr. President.)
5. Speaking of Reed, the senator’s office reports his guest at Tuesday night’s State of the Union will be Anne Nolan, the longtime president of Crossroads Rhode Island, the state’s largest homeless shelter. Congressman David Cicilline (who, by the way, is on the cover of National Journal this week) is taking along Central Falls Mayor James Diossa. The other two congressional offices were still keeping their guests under wraps at press time.
6. While Governor Chafee has long been a cheerleader for settling the union lawsuit over the 2011 pension law, Treasurer Raimondo has always been much cooler to the idea – though she’s been participating in the closed-door talks since Judge Taft-Carter first ordered them back in December 2012. Asked by Tim White on this week’s Newsmakers what would happen if the General Assembly ignores a settlement proposal, Raimondo replied: “Then we stay in court. … If a mediated settlement comes out, and they decide to ignore it, that’s certainly their prerogative.” But would she support that? “I want to fix the problem,” she said. “If a mediated settlement can do that, and the General Assembly passes it, and it solves the problem – great. If we have to go through the court system and ultimately it’s the [Rhode Island] Supreme Court that has to say yes, it’s constitutional – great. But one way or another, this state and its leadership has to realize pension reform is in the best interest of everyone.” But she ruled out supporting a settlement that significantly increases taxpayers’ costs, saying, “That wouldn’t be a solution.” The next update on the talks will come Monday morning when lawyers brief Taft-Carter once again.
7. Of course, now that she’s a candidate for governor Raimondo has a lot more to discuss than just pensions. Tim pointed out during the show that her kickoff speech never mentioned taxes, and asked why she left out an issue that consumes so much of the oxygen around Rhode Island’s economic woes. “We need to focus on skills,” Raimondo said. “I want companies to want to be in Rhode Island, and I want companies to stay in Rhode Island, because we have great schools, great infrastructure and a highly skilled work force.” She described taxes as “a tough issue,” saying too many politicians are too quick to call for tax increases. And, sounding much like Lincoln Chafee, she singled out property taxes as the tax causing the biggest headache for Rhode Islanders. But she offered no opinion on whether Rhode Island should lower, say, its corporate tax, saying it’s “very dangerous to look at just one piece of the tax equation” and pledging to “get in there and look at the whole picture” if she wins the governor’s office.
8. Also: I owe Raimondo a correction. I said during the show that Kate CoyneMcCoy of American LeadHERship, the super PAC backing her for governor, was on stage at one point during the treasurer’s kickoff. That was incorrect; CoyneMcCoy was in attendance but was never on stage. I apologize for the error.
9. Michigan’s Republican governor wants to bring 50,000 high-skilled immigrants to Detroit to boost the bankrupt city’s economy and reverse its population losses. Should Rhode Island do something similar?
10. Here’s a bonus item from WPRI.com all-star Dan McGowan: “Look for Education Commissioner Deborah Gist – a registered Democrat – to steer clear of supporting anyone in the governor’s race, but that won’t stop the candidates from weighing in on the NECAP component of the state’s graduation requirements. On Newsmakers, Gina Raimondo indicated she supports graduation standards, but said ‘there are many issues’ with the NECAP. ‘The key to success and opportunity is teaching kids skills for the 21st century,’ she said. ‘We can’t lower the standards. We have to treat teachers like professionals and give them support and autonomy and we have to keep our standards high.’ The treasurer isn’t alone. For more than a year, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras – who is staring at approximately 60% of the city’s 12th graders at risk of not graduating – has been calling for the state to delay the requirement until the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam replaces the NECAP next year. We’ll likely find out where Clay Pell stands on the issue next week. The two Republicans in the race have been closely aligned with the education reform movement in recent years, but even Cranston Mayor Allan Fung says he’s opposed to using the NECAP for a graduation requirement. ‘The mayor is for testing, but not the NECAP for graduation requirements,’ Fung campaign manager Patrick Sweeney told WPRI.com. Fung’s opponent, businessman Ken Block, could not be reached for comment Friday.”
11. The Newport Jazz Festival announced its 2014 lineup this week, and one of the attractions is a rising star whom I learned about just recently: Cécile McLorin Salvant, a French-American jazz signer whose 2013 album “WomanChild” is a strong contender for a Grammy Award tomorrow night. Check her out.
12. Read The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki on the costs of working too much. Then take Monday off.
13. Barth Bracy of Rhode Island Right to Life used this week’s winter weather to take a shot at Angel Taveras. Noting Taveras’s attendance Tuesday at an event organized by the Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Justice as a snowstorm arrived, Bracy remarked: “Mayor Taveras is clearly not cut from the same piece of flannel as the great pro-life Governor J. Joseph Garrahy. … Does Taveras really believe that advocating for Medicaid funding for abortion is more urgent than overseeing the obviously less-than-adequate storm preparations and response?” Taveras campaign manager Danny Kedem wasn’t taking the bait. “Mayor Taveras is proud to stand with Planned Parenthood in the fight for women to make their own health care decisions,” Kedem said in reply. On a related note, Slate’s Dave Weigel had an interesting piece about a shift in the pro-life movement’s strategy.
14. A triple treat this week – one more from WPRI.com ace Dan McGowan: “The key takeaway from the first candidates forum of 2014, which was held at the Institute for the Study & Practice of Nonviolence on Martin Luther King Day: Democrats don’t like violence. But one of the more interesting – and overlooked – moments of the day came when Providence mayoral candidate Jorge Elorza briefly described an incident where he was held up at knifepoint in the city before moving on to share his vision for how the police should work more closely with the community. I tried to find a police report for the incident, but Elorza told me he never went to the cops: ‘The mugging happened when I was about 17 years old, so approximately 1994. I never reported it. As I mentioned on Monday, back then, I was almost as distrustful of the police as I was scared of muggers, just like many youth are today. This is another reason I believe it’s so important to focus on strengthening police-community relationships.’ Watch for the crime conversation to be one of the X-factors in the mayoral race. Jobs, the economy and schools will dominate stump speeches for now, but if the city sees a spike in shootings this summer, whichever candidate bills himself as ‘tough on crime’ might have the opportunity to separate from the pack. So far, only Brett Smiley has offered a comprehensive public safety plan.”
15. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – general treasurer and candidate for governor Gina Raimondo. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – The Rhode Island Foundation’s Neil Steinberg on his organization’s new economic action agenda, plus the five charts you need to see about Rhode Island’s jobs crisis. 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.