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

Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to For quick hits all week long, follow @tednesi.

1. Don’t forget to set your clocks forward tonight!

2. Tomorrow is March 9, which means Rhode Island’s primary election is exactly six months away – and it’s going to be a whirlwind six months for Angel Taveras, Gina Raimondo and Clay Pell. The WPRI/Journal poll suggested all three have a path to victory, if an uphill one for Pell. Three things to watch as the campaign grinds on are money, TV, and field. Like it or not, Raimondo’s big financial advantage over Taveras ($2.5 million to $1.03 million) and Pell’s personal fortune matter a lot. It will determine how many TV ads they can run, and when; how big a paid ground game they can put together; and how much internal polling they can conduct down the stretch. With even Steve Jobs’ widow pitching in, it seems clear Raimondo will have no trouble stockpiling more cash during 2014, putting more pressure on Taveras. A big strategic question now facing all three campaigns: when do they go on the air? The smart money says TV ads will start running in May, before viewers begin to go on summer vacation and tune out. Raimondo and perhaps Pell will have the luxury of running positive ads without worrying about whether they’ll have the money to counter attacks; Taveras will have to keep a close eye on whether he has enough for the crucial final weeks in August and September. (His aides will also be crossing their fingers that Pell fails to catch fire and decides to drop out.) The money and resources being devoted to the ground game will also be crucial – look no further than last year’s successful push to legalize same-sex marriage for evidence of how effective a targeted field operation can be. As for the Republican side, Allan Fung is still treating Ken Block as a nuisance more than a real threat; Block has his work cut out for him to nab the nomination. But never say never.

3. Former BankRI CEO Merrill Sherman isn’t commenting on whether she’s interested in purchasing The Providence Journal. “I have no comment on anything like that,” Sherman told me this week.

4. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from reporter Dan McGowan: “Ask anyone who paid close attention to the 2010 Providence mayoral race and they’ll tell you two early endorsements for Angel Taveras pushed him from a progressive upstart candidate to the favorite in a matter of weeks: state Sen. Juan Pichardo and three-time gubernatorial candidate Myrth York. Both Pichardo and York were still publicly discussing running for the city’s top job in the two weeks before Taveras entered the race – but by early March, they were among his top supporters. Pichardo, now a member of the city’s powerful Board of Licenses, remains firmly entrenched in the Taveras camp as the mayor seeks the governor’s office. But York snagged headlines this week by throwing her support behind Taveras rival Gina Raimondo. So how’d that happen? First, don’t think for a second it was about electing a woman. Second, it was not a surprise to Team Taveras. York co-chaired Taveras’s transition team in 2010 and was reappointed chairwoman of the city’s Zoning Board of Review, but those close the mayor say she left his inner circle right around the time Taveras began publicly discussing the city’s ‘category five fiscal hurricane.’ The mayor’s comments were viewed as an indirect shot at his predecessor and another York ally, Congressman David Cicilline. To be clear, Taveras has never publicly criticized Cicilline; he even endorsed the congressman in 2012. But behind the scenes, a lot of the blame for the city being on the verge of bankruptcy was tossed at Cicilline, and that didn’t make York happy – or help Cicilline in his 2012 re-election campaign. Coincidentally, the man who had to spend the most time deflecting questions about a Taveras/Cicilline riff in recent years was Eric Hyers, the congressman’s campaign manager in 2010 and 2012; Hyers is now running Raimondo’s campaign against the mayor.”

5. Allan Fung has won the endorsement of the Pawtucket GOP, which included in its announcement the allegation from Ken Postle that Block “flatly said there was only room for ‘one alpha dog at the top’ and that he would not assist Mayor Fung at all if he didn’t get the nomination.” Block campaign manager Jeff Britt disputes that, saying in an email: “Ken will support the R and intends to be that person.” That aside, Fung’s campaign had reason to feel good this week. The mayor raised nearly $60,000 at his birthday fundraiser, signed on with the RNC’s Asian Pacific American Advisory Council, and had the negative outlook on Cranston’s bond rating removed. If he can fend off Block, Fung could be in strong position come Nov. 4.

6. Read Matt Yglesias on why covering the fast-food industry “is, to a substantial extent, about covering the future of the American economy and especially the future of working-class employment.”

7. What is going on with Rhode Island’s job numbers? The data currently shows the lowest percentage of adults working in 30 years, despite steady post-recession job growth. A number of possible explanations cropped up after my post Friday. Jason Becker suggested more people working multiple part-time jobs combined with college-educated Massachusetts residents getting many of the jobs being created at Rhode Island companies. Others with local business expertise emailed me privately to back up Becker’s view, saying they think growing Rhode Island firms such as CVS, Fidelity, FM Global and Hasbro are tapping into the Massachusetts labor market to fill their positions. Justin Katz countered by suggesting a reduction in the number of self-employed Rhode Islanders, who are counted toward resident employment (which is flat) but not toward nonfarm payrolls (which are growing). I don’t know the answer, but it seems like Rhode Island needs to dig into the substance of its employment crisis more deeply to figure out what the right solutions are.

8. AS220, the sprawling Providence arts nonprofit, is at a financial crossroads as it prepares for the end of two major multi-year foundation grants. The group has scheduled a March 24 event called “Building AS220. Past. Present. Future” to talk with its supporters about what happens next. AS220 already owns three major buildings in downtown Providence, making it one of the major forces in real-estate development there in recent years. And that process isn’t over: artistic director Bert Crenca told me on this week’s Executive Suite that the future of the organization “inevitably will be another building project, probably.”

9. So far at least there don’t appear to be huge policy differences between the two Democrats running for secretary of state, Guillaume de Ramel and Nellie Gorbea. But De Ramel, like Gorbea, argues the differences in their backgrounds will make the difference. “I’ll tell ya, if you take my two decades of experience in the private sector, working and starting a business here in Rhode Island – I’m the only candidate in this race who has that experience, that firsthand knowledge of how difficult it is to not only run a business but to start one here in Rhode Island,” De Ramel said on this week’s Newsmakers. As for how Rhode Island administers elections, the Newport resident says he supports early in-person voting, online and same-day voter registration, and the elimination of the master lever. And, still smarting from his 2006 loss to Ralph Mollis, this time De Ramel is working hard to pile up as many endorsements from different corners of the state as he can. (Gorbea will have powerful allies of her own: EMILY’s List president Stephanie Schriock mentioned her in an interview this week.)

10. Some very bittersweet news this week for those of us in Rhode Island’s political press corps, as The Associated Press’s David Klepper accepted a new job covering state politics in New York. Dave has been a favorite colleague of mine since he first came to Rhode Island, good-natured and diligent at all hours, with a dry sense of humor. Providence’s loss is Albany’s gain. If you’re interested in filling Dave’s shoes, you can apply here – and while we’re at it, WPRO’s newsroom is looking for a new digital producer and is looking for a new digital media manager.

11. Here’s a roundup of the latest Campaign 2014 endorsements we’ve received: Myrth York, the Foster and East Greenwich Democratic Town Committees, and the Ironworkers Local 37 all endorsed Gina Raimondo … the Pawtucket GOP endorsed Allan Fung … Central Falls Mayor James Diossa, Providence Rep. Grace Diaz and the Johnston Democratic Town Committee all endorsed Frank Caprio for treasurer … Providence Sen. Juan Pichardo endorsed Ernie Almonte for treasurer … and Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin endorsed Guillaume De Ramel for secretary of state.

12. If you missed them the first time around, now’s your chance to check out some of the other items we published this week: Sheldon Whitehouse is traveling to Iowa – to campaign for a climate bill, not for president … Providence mayoral candidate Brett Smiley wants an overhaul of the troubled PEDP … Moody’s downgraded the bond rating of St. Joseph Health Services, which owns Our Lady of Fatima Hospital … Providence City Councilman Sam Zurier called for a study of snow removal in the city … and a Fall River man was arrested for using his iPhone to record a policeman swearing.

13. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Guillaume De Ramel, plus state Rep. Jay Edwards on his bill to nix the Sakonnet River Bridge tolls. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – AS220 artistic director Umberto Crenca. 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

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

  1. The fact that Ted puts in an item led by …ahem…Jason Becker on one side and Justin “don’t call me Shirley” Katz on the other is really kind of sad and shows what leads the media these days.

    At least there were no meatloaf references unless I missed them and already tuned them out like the rest of Rhode Island.

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