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 tnesi@wpri.com. For quick hits all week long, follow @tednesi.

1. Quite a week in Rhode Island politics, eh?

2. Here’s some news WPRI 12 broke late Friday that you might have missed – the state has reached a 38 Studios legal settlement with Moses Afonso Ryan and Tony Afonso. “I hope this is going to be the first in a series,” state attorney Max Wistow tells me.

3. If you’re wondering whom to thank – or blame – for the improbable comeback campaign of Buddy Cianci, put the Great Recession near the top of the list. The economic meltdown that began in 2007 was a body blow to Rhode Island and its capital city, one whose effects are still being felt seven years later. The downturn’s cascading financial fallout nearly drove Providence into bankruptcy, and although Angel Taveras avoided that drastic step, the city is still stuck with high unemployment, high taxes, too many potholes and too few prospects. Voters are looking for a savior – and Cianci thinks he’s well-positioned to play the part. His checkered past is real, but so is his love for Providence, and his name is synonymous with the happier days of the 1990s. The ironies here are numerous. For one thing, as Tim White reported Thursday night, some of Providence’s biggest financial problems have their roots in the Cianci days – as his opponents will remind voters in the coming months. For another, the stage for Cianci’s comeback was partly set by the actions of his successor and nemesis, David Cicilline, whose East Side allies are appalled at the prospect of his return to City Hall. To the extent that the Cicilline administration mismanaged the city’s finances in 2009 and 2010 – and then misled voters about the situation – they undercut their own case that post-Cianci Providence is better than what came before.

4. Nobody has been more on top of the Cianci story – since long before most believed it was real – than my WPRI.com colleague Dan McGowan. Here’s his weekly dispatch to The Saturday Morning Post: “More than a few longtime Buddy Cianci allies – including former city solicitor Charles Mansolillo and former state rep and teachers union president Steve Smith – showed up Wednesday night for the newly announced mayoral candidate’s impromptu campaign kickoff on Federal Hill. But if you think Cianci is simply getting the old gang back together for his race, think again. The former mayor knows he can’t afford to give his opponents an opening by surrounding himself with questionable figures – Frank Corrente isn’t walking through that door – which is why we’ve seen former Mayor Joe Paolino functioning as his biggest cheerleader for the better part of the last year. In Paolino, Cianci has a wealthy, well-respected businessman who was not tied to either of his previous tenures as mayor, one who is ready and willing to vouch that things will be different this time around. That’s the message he’s sending as he helps Cianci recruit a staff, and it’s likely the one he’ll use on those who are reluctant to forgive the two-time felon. For his part, Paolino reminded me this week that he has his own campaign to run this year – the Newport table games referendum – and said ‘the only role I’ll have in the [Cianci] campaign and in the administration is just to be a good friend.’ For Cianci, he’s not a bad friend to have.”

5. More from Dan McGowan on the Cianci situation: “City Democrats would probably feel a lot more confident they could avoid a third Cianci administration if they could rally behind one of the three candidates running in the primary, but that is going to be far easier said than done. Why? Because all three can make the case that they’re in the best position to knock off Cianci and all three have different paths to victory. For City Council President Michael Solomon, mayor is the last political job he plans to hold. The stars have aligned to help him move from a little-known member of a dysfunctional legislative body to the perceived frontrunner among the Democrats, and he’s got all the institutional support a candidate could ask for. With Lorne Adrain running as an independent, Brett Smiley should own the East Side, and if he can put up an Angel Taveras-like vote tally – Taveras won nearly 73% of the vote in Wards 1, 2 and 3 in 2010 – he’s got a legitimate claim for why he should be top dog. He’s also quickly establishing himself as the anti-Cianci candidate. Then there’s Jorge Elorza. Those who meet the former Housing Court judge say he’s got a bright future and he should get a boost from Taveras turning out Latinos in the gubernatorial primary. But he lacks the money and campaign organization of his two opponents. The inability to settle on one candidate is only reinforced by the fact that Taveras has no plans to endorse any of the three, all of whom are friends of the mayor.”

6. One last thought on Buddy Cianci – this was the O.K. Corral for him. Cianci turned 73 in April. Let’s say he hadn’t run: that means one of the other candidates would have become mayor in January. That person would have been a heavy favorite to win re-election in 2018. (The last Providence mayor who lost re-election, Dan McGowan reports, was Joe Doorley in 1974; Cianci beat him.) Under the city’s new term limits, that person would have had to leave office in 2022, opening the seat up again. But at that point, Cianci would be 81 years old – an extremely unlikely age for a comeback. If he was going to go for it, this was the moment.

7. A vote by Massachusetts to scrap its casino plans would be a game-changer for Rhode Island.

8. The Allan Fung campaign was riding high after Thursday night’s Rhode Island Republican State Central Committee endorsement convention, where Fung defeated Ken Block for the party’s gubernatorial endorsement by a lopsided vote of 120 to 46. Their excitement wasn’t so much about getting the endorsement – though they’re glad to have it – but rather because they think it demonstrates a strong level of support for Fung among the small but hearty band of active Republicans in Rhode Island. Naturally, Block and his team say they aren’t concerned the endorsement went to Fung, and they have some compelling history on their side: Jim Bennett and Ron Machtley both won the party endorsement but lost the primary. But the Fung campaign was ready with a rebuttal from Republican National Committeeman Steve Frias. Frias, who knows Rhode Island history backwards and forwards, gave me the numbers on recent endorsement votes. Both Machtley (124) vs. Lincoln Almond (92) and Bennett (111) vs. Don Carcieri (92) split the State Central Committee roughly 55%-45%; Fung vs. Block was 72%-28%, closer to John Robitaille’s 2010 margin over Vic Moffitt.

9. Meet the 48 lucky General Assembly lawmakers who are unopposed for re-election.

10. The final field running for general treasurer looks a bit different than expected. The Sept. 9 Democratic primary will be just Frank Caprio vs. Seth Magaziner, with their former rival Ernie Almonte making a last-minute leap onto the November ballot as an independent; Almonte has the tacit support of Republican leaders, who aren’t fielding a candidate of their own. Magaziner allies were elated at the news; as Cara Cromwell explained on her blog, they think he’s set up well to win a two-way primary with Caprio, especially if Bill Clinton lends Magaziner high-profile support. Naturally, Caprio’s camp disputes that – they think the 2010 gubernatorial hopeful is making inroads by railing against Wall Street on the 38 Studios bonds and will be able to paint Magaziner as Gina Raimondo’s candidate. Caprio has also continued to lock up institutional support, from the Rhode Island Democratic Party endorsement to the state’s biggest public-sector labor union, Council 94. Still, Magaziner’s supporters have a point – if a sizable number of Democrats are unwilling to back Caprio after 2010, he could have a problem topping 50%.

11. Few people made a more memorable debut on Rhode Island’s public stage than Kara Sundlun, who was revealed to be then-Gov. Bruce Sundlun’s hitherto unacknowledged daughter during his second term. Kara, a former WPRI 12 intern who is now an anchor at WFSB-TV in Connecticut, reached out to me this week to say she has a book chronicling the saga coming out this fall: “Finding Dad: From ‘Love Child’ to Daughter.” Should be an interesting read for Rhode Islanders. (She scored a jacket blurb from “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brezinski.)

12. Kevin Hively, a former Lincoln Almond aide who’s now an in-demand consultant, gave a short presentation Monday evening to the R.I. Commerce Corp. board that told them some hard truths about the 21st-cenutry economy. The core of Hively’s message was that Rhode Island’s huge inventory of vacant mills and old industrial buildings are not actually as big an asset as many think, because modern manufacturing companies are rarely looking for those sort of spaces. Among those who seemed disappointed to hear that was Governor Chafee, who lamented that so many of the buildings are beautiful and historic. Hively’s reply: “Some buildings are historic, and some buildings are old.” In other words, Rhode Island might be better off tearing down some of those aging relics and replacing them with up-to-date structures.

13. I joined Rhode Island PBS for this weekend’s edition of “A Lively Experiment,” along with Ian Donnis, Jim Baron and Ed Fitzpatrick. Watch tonight at 7 p.m. on WSBE Learn (Ch. 36.2), Sunday at noon on WSBE-TV (Ch. 36.1) or online at the RI PBS blog.

14. If you missed them earlier this week, here are some of the other things we posted this week … on the Buddy Cianci beat, he jumped into the race (which I analyzed here), defended his record on pensions (and is eligible for one himself) … Ralph Mollis set a hearing in the Mike Corso lobbying caseGina Raimondo stood by hedge-fund adviser Cliffwater, though Massachusetts dropped them … and Catherine Taylor kicked off her lieutenant -governor campaign.

15. Here’s a roundup of the latest Campaign 2014 endorsements we’ve received: the Rhode Island Democratic Party endorsed Ralph Mollis, Guillaume De Ramel and Frank Caprio … the Rhode Island Republican Party endorsed Allan Fung, Catherine Taylor, Dawson Hodgson, John CarlevaleMark Zaccaria, Cormick Lynch and Rhue Reis … the Jamestown, New Shoreham and North Smithfield Republican Town Committees endorsed Allan Fung … the Lincoln Republican Town Committee endorsed Ken Block (his first one) … the Rhode Island AFL-CIO executive board endorsed Ralph Mollis and Guillaume De Ramel (but stayed neutral in the governor’s race) … AFSCME Council 94 endorsed Angel Taveras, Ralph Mollis, Guillaume De Ramel and Frank Caprio … the United Service and Allied Workers of Rhode Island union endorsed Angel Taveras … the Providence Democratic City Committee endorsed Michael SolomonRalph Mollis, Guillaume De Ramel and Frank Caprio … the Bristol and North Smithfield Democratic Town Committees endorsed Ralph Mollis … the Rhode Island National Organization for Women PAC endorsed Frank Ferri … the Bristol Democratic Town Committee and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Providence Local 23 endorsed Seth Magaziner … the chairs of the Pawtucket, East Providence, Warwick, North Smithfield and North Kingstown Democratic City or Town Committees endorsed Frank Caprio … and the Carpenters Union Local 94 endorsed Michael Solomon.

16. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – a political roundtable featuring Joe Fleming, Scott MacKay, Cara Cromwell, Tim White and yours truly. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive SuiteScott Wolf, executive director, Grow Smart Rhode Island; Mark Gray, health care coordinator, The Providence Plan, and Stephen Boyle, president, Greater Cranston Chamber of Commerce. 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 ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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