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. It’s time for Rhode Island to take a deep breath about the old I-195 land – particularly the state’s politicians, who’ve been promising big things from the 19 acres of potential redevelopment for years now. I-195 Commission Chairman Colin Kane said on this week’s Executive Suite he doesn’t expect construction on any buildings to begin there before the fall of 2015, with the spring of 2016 more likely. And as Jef Nickerson has pointed out, Providence already has plenty of undeveloped land in prime locations in the form of surface parking lots (not to mention Victory Place); the fact that developers aren’t snapping those up suggests weak demand. But why should demand be weak, at least for residential construction, when almost all downtown apartments are occupied? Because Providence’s cost structure is out of whack. “Where our challenges are from an economic perspective – in all secondary cities and tertiary cities, not just Providence – is that our rents are not high enough to support appropriate investor returns,” Kane said. Jan Brodie, the 195 commission’s executive director, said property taxes are 30% to 40% higher in Providence than in Boston. Fixing that equation – whether by lowering taxes, raising incomes, loosening labor laws or easing building restrictions – would not only help spur the 195 redevelopment, it would also make other proposed projects such as the Superman building conversion more viable.

2. Speaking of the I-195 land, Gina Raimondo suggested this week it could be given away or sold at low cost to provide a campus of her proposed Rhode Island Innovation Institute. That may or may not be a good idea, but it’s definitely not cost-free. Last April the EDC borrowed $38.4 million on the 195 commission’s behalf to buy the old highway land from the state, which helped defray the original costs of the Iway project. The 195 commission must repay those bonds – plus $7.5 million in interest – over the next 19 years, and if the land isn’t sold at market value Rhode Island taxpayers would presumably have to pay off the bonds instead.

3. Clay Pell’s wandering Prius makes for a good punchline, and it’s given the young candidate’s detractors fodder to argue he’s not ready to be governor. But as Scott MacKay noted, there’s still nearly six months left before the Democratic primary, plenty of time for Pell’s campaign to make people forget about the Prius – and his aides are adamant that if someone drops out of the race, it won’t be him. Look for Pell to try and reset the narrative in the coming weeks with more announcements and endorsements, an effort that began this week with his push for an immediate $10.10 minimum wage and his endorsement by the United Nurses & Allied Professionals union. The next 12 weeks will be a crucial period for Pell to prove he has what it takes to win and to build on his initial 15% support.

4. A recommended read – The Boston Globe’s John L. Allen Jr. on the first year of Pope Francis.

5. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from reporter Dan McGowan: “The plan to bring a streetcar to Rhode Island’s capital city isn’t dead yet. After being denied a federal grant that would have made the project possible last year, Providence officials say they again plan to submit an application to the U.S. Department of Transportation by April 28. ‘The city has advanced its plans to bring streetcars to Providence, and we will again pursue federal funding for the project through the upcoming TIGER grant application process,’ David Ortiz, a spokesman for Mayor Angel Taveras, told The streetcar would connect the Upper South Providence neighborhood near Rhode Island Hospital to College Hill on the East Side, and has a projected price tag of around $114 million. The cost has scared some folks: City Council President and mayoral candidate Michael Solomon supports the concept, but has said he believes adding more trollies might be a ‘better bang for our buck.’ But Jef Nickerson, who writes the must-read Greater City Providence blog, believes that with RIPTA’s upcoming R-Line rapid bus, proposed new downtown Providence bus hubs and a bike-share system all in the works, the ‘Providence Streetcar creates needed ‘last mile’ connections for our region’s transportation system.’ The I-195 Redevelopment District Commission is set to discuss the city’s proposal next week.”

6. Here’s the glass-half-full view on The Providence Journal’s 2013 revenue: the money brought in by the newspaper itself (from advertising and circulation sales) dropped 7% to $75 million, which was the smallest year-over-year decrease since 2007. On the other hand, it’s also less than half the $165 million that advertising and circulation brought in back in 2005. If you’re wondering why the paper is thinner these days, those numbers tell the tale. “The Projo’s results are largely in line with the overall industry, though still below the halfway mark,” media analyst Ken Doctor told me. In Doctor’s view, a crucial challenge for The Journal’s new owners – who could be selected by May – will be finding “the right formula to grow circulation revenue; other publishers have found that easier than turning around ad loss.” As for the bright spot in The Journal’s revenue picture – printing other newspapers, which now brings in $15 million – the next owners will have to look at how much physical capacity there is left to take on more outside contracts. Doctor also suggested they could look at emulating the Projo’s Dallas sister paper by building up a social and digital marketing business.

7. Speaking of The Journal, a fond farewell and best wishes to Phil Marcelo, who is leaving the paper’s vaunted State House Bureau to join The Associated Press in Boston. Like his colleagues Kathy Gregg and Randy Edgar, Phil has logged many late nights being the public’s eyes and ears at quietly consequential General Assembly hearings. It seems likely the paper will hire or promote someone to keep the bureau staffed with three people.

8. Rhode Island’s all-Democratic congressional delegation had a notably bipartisan week. Jack Reed logged a major win by reaching a compromise with five Senate Republicans to extend jobless benefits, though it remains to be seen if the House GOP will go along … Sheldon Whitehouse got New York Times attention for his work with Texas Republican John Cornyn on prison sentencing (though his #Up4Climate speech-a-thon was labeled “a uniquely Washington combo of inspiration and cynicism” by Slate’s Dave Weigel) … and David Cicilline successfully amended a Republican bill to require a regular accounting of how much Congress spends suing the Obama administration over immigration enforcement.

9. The delegation’s other member, Jim Langevin, is perceived in some quarters as less liberal than he should be considering how safe a Democratic seat the 2nd District is – Betsy Dennigan, for instance, challenged Langevin from the left in 2010. But an intriguing new website suggests Langevin isn’t as out of step with his party and his seat as those like Dennigan think. The site – Primary Colors – uses an algorithm to point out which Democrats could and should be safely primaried by liberal activists. Langevin, it turns out, is right in step with the 2nd District – his voting record is slightly more progressive than the site’s algorithm would expect based on the seat’s fundamentals. (Side note: it would be fascinating to see a similar analysis of the General Assembly and its many heterodox Democrats.)

10. Allan Fung made another key hire this week, picking The Shawmut Group to be general consultant on his campaign for governor. Shawmut is, of course, best known for its close ties to Mitt Romney through the former Massachusetts governor’s longtime aides Eric Fehrnstrom, Beth Myers and Peter Flaherty. Shawmut also advised Scott Brown on his shock 2010 special election victory, as well as John Loughlin on his losing bid for Congress the following November. (Loughlin later told The Huffington Post he couldn’t recall the work Shawmut did for him.) Fung is taking a different approach from Brendan Doherty by dividing his big consulting work between Shawmut, pollster Gene Ulm of Public Opinion Strategies, and a media consultant yet-to-be-named; Doherty used one firm – OnMessage – for all three.

11. Here’s a roundup of the latest Campaign 2014 endorsements we’ve received: the Smithfield Democratic Town Committee endorsed Angel Taveras for governor (it’s Gina Raimondo’s hometown, but the committee chairman is Taveras’s new acting director of administrationLawrence Mancini) … the United Nurses & Allied Professionals (UNAP) endorsed Clay Pell … Senate Majority Whip (and Taveras deputy chief of staff) Maryellen Goodwin endorsed Mike Solomon for Providence mayor … the Smithfield Democrats also endorsed Guillaume de Ramel for secretary of state and Ernie Almonte for treasurer … Johnston Mayor Joe Polisena endorsed de Ramel, too … and the PAC endorsed Jack Reed.

12. I’ll be on 89.7 FM WGBH’s recently expanded Under the Radar this Sunday at 6 p.m. Tune in!

13. If you missed them the first time around, now’s your chance to check out some of the other items we published this week: the FBI subpoenaed PEDP for records related to a 2009 loan … Gina Raimondo started unveiling her jobs plan, while Angel Taveras proposed a new training program … most of the candidates for governor oppose NECAP, which is here to stay through 2016 … and former Sen. Max Baucus paid touching tribute to the late John Chafee.

14. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – R.I. Department of Transportation Director Michael Lewis, plus Ed Fitzpatrick and John Marion on “Sunshine Week” and open records in Rhode Island. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission’s Colin Kane and Jan Brodie. 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

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

  1. “Give away public lands or sell at low cost” Gina’s got lots of experience “giving away public moneys” . Why look how much money she has given away to hedge fund managers whose results have predictably trailed the earnings and returns of more efficient index funds. All she needs now is to come up with a name for the new institute. Let’s see — How about the Gina Raimondo Pie in ths Sky Institute ? Or — How to use public money to enrich your friends and gain power? Maybe Allan Shaw Feisnstein can name another public space after himself. God help this state with the direction it’s going.

  2. Ted, no mention of Republican Warwick city worker Ray McKay who’s was told by the city’s Personnel Dept that he would loose his job if he he declared candidacy against Jack Reed AND the ACLU weighting in on this?

  3. So, Gina would prefer to have the I-195 public lands given away or sold at low cost … TO HER PET PROJECT… while leaving the taxpayers on the hook to repay the $38.4 million bonds plus $7.5 million interest. Her true colors are showing again.

  4. note to file—there is still undeveloped land from the capital center project
    which is decades old…

    the market place has spoken…. ri is driving an edsel…

  5. Thanks, Ted, for alerting us to item #2. When I heard of the Treasurer’s proposal for “campuses” to be built as a first step in her RI Innovation Institute, I wondered where the money would come from. Why isn’t this being reported in the Providence Journal? I hope that you and/or Tim White will have the opportunity to question Ms. Raimondo on this issue in a future Newsmakers program.

  6. Union members and Retirees—Be sure to vote No on the pension Settlement Ballot…
    Why lock yourselves in to Gina’s plan, when you will have a new State Treasurer to negotiate with by January…? (less than a year away)

    • WHY?! Because giving away the pension farm to you will leave nothing for current union members. If we’re all in this together, I would expect that you want our benefits to be the same. Before you say “I want your benefits to be higher too”, look around…there is no money here, we’re heading the way of Detroit.

      A true liberal believes that government should do more, and that’s only possible if we’re operating in a sustainable fashion. If not, we’re sacrificing long-term services in favor of short-term transfer payments to retirees. You’re marching in your own parade.

      • You’re drinking the kool aid if you think the retirees fight for their contractual rights isn’t ultimately in the beneficial interest of current workers. Let the clearly contractual agreement spelled out in ERSRI own form be broken and current workers can look forward to retirement promises at the convenience of politicians. Sometimes in life you have to take a stand for what’s right and not be cowed into fear. As far as comparing the retirement crisis in Detroit, it’s been repeatedly cited that cities and towns are not in the same situation as sovereign states.

      • union guy—i have no idea how your leadership could be pushing for colas and a $500 payment for retirees that are wealthy by many standards and the current workers are left with a 401k plan that is virtually nothing.

        how much of your dues has been used to advocate for the retirees who pay no dues and apparently don’t give a hoot about current workers.



      • How and why did the judge convince all the parties (union reps) to Promote, Support and Sell the Settlement agreement to the members?
        Whatever happened to the duty of Fair Representation?
        Hopefully someone will file a complaint with the Labor Board,
        or at least ask for a refund of their union dues.

    • Gina, get out before a Federal investigation gets
      Rolling . You got enough now walk away, forget
      The Govorners chair. , no one is dumb enough to
      Put you there. All I know, is your friends made tons
      You made tones , then the state pension fund makes
      1.75% are you kidding walk away before they take
      You away in handcuffs .

  7. With respect to voting on the pension settlement:

    Only after the courts decide whether or not it was legal to break written agreements with retirees, can we begin to negotiate compromises regarding cola’s and other issues. And maybe at that time, it will be done a lot more fairly so that All retirees, including judges, will “share the pain.”

    The current settlement tries to bribe retirees with a one-time $500 payment in exchange for the loss of our legal right to future litigation on these issues. Wording in the proposed final court order says we will not be able to raise these issues again if we accept the settlement.

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  9. 1. I support Providence working with the private sector to help intelligent development in the city. The Superman building is too far under water for it to be a viable project without hosing the taxpayers.

    3. In August when the writing is on the wall for Clay Pell’s gubernatorial ambitions his union overlords will tell him to stand down and throw his endorsement behind Angel Taveras.

    Lastly, I don’t see why any union member or retiree would vote yes. Lets get this adjudicated.

  10. Smallest state with the most corruption, you suckers keep letting them take what’s your and do nothing about it! Rediculous really it is. Move to Massachusetts cheaper taxes hands down with less corruption.

  11. The process for voting for the pension settlement is beyond being seriously flawed. No due diligence to ensure a fair vote was made. Based on reports of mail received and not received, no effort was made to update mailing lists or ensure that they were complete. Updates to mailing lists can be contracted out to companies specializing in this type of activity at a cost of one to two cents per name. National databases are used. Again based on reports these lists were not updated for at least three years if not back to the time of Noah’s ark (AFT keeping lifetime members on forever). No effort was made to “merge and purge” lists to take out duplications. The judge will never hear these issues under current conditions unless outside private attorneys bring the matter forward through an injunction or other means. The union, the pension board and the Raimondo will all tell the judge the process was fair and based on the evidence before her, she will rule it fair. If you disagree, join one of the groups hiring an attorney such as Sean O’Leary of Warwick to oppose the law. For those of you who are math impaired, the “settlement” actually took additional money away from retirees. 2% of $25,000 every four years is less than 3% every five years. They are trying to “snow” you with $500 up front.

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