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TGIF: 16 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media

It's a somber Friday as we pause to remember 9/11 and the lives lost 14 years ago. Thanks for stopping by for my weekly column. As always, your tips...

It's a somber Friday as we pause to remember 9/11 and the lives lost 14 years ago. Thanks for stopping by for my weekly column. As always, your tips and thoughts are welcome at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org, and you can follow me through the week on the twitters. Here we go.

1. As headlines go, Governor Gina Raimondo could do a lot worse than "Raimondo Pushes to Boost Rhode Island Economy." This Bond Buyer story (subscription required) outlines the governor's focus ("action-packed on a lot of fronts,” she said), as well as the many challenges facing the Ocean State economy. Yet after the South County Independent broke the news Thursday about ex-Rep. Donald Lally of Narragansett getting hired for a state job, this part of the Bond Buyer piece jumps out: "Raimondo has insisted it’s not business as usual on Smith Hill. 'It’s not the same old, same old,' she said in the interview. Raimondo emphasizes the data-driven and systematic and, in the face of parochialism, has hired from out of state when necessary. 'Top talent. People who believe in the mission.' " The administration maintains that hiring Lally, four months after he left as a rep, does not violate the state's revolving door law since his hire meets an exception for "a senior policy-making, discretionary, or confidential position." But Common Cause of Rhode Island's John Marion isn't so sure; he's talking with lawyers and considering filing a complaint. At minimum, Marion said, Lally's hiring violates the spirit of the revolving door law. Similarly, given Raimondo's stated emphasis on ethics and doing things differently, the perception of hiring an ex-rep for an $87,000-a-year job six months after he left the House isn't golden. The governor's administration could have spared itself the heat by seeking a state Ethics Commission opinion before making the hire. Yet Lally had something more valuable -- the support of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, "I gave Don Lally a positive recommendation based on his years of working with him in the House," Mattiello said in a statement. "I told [the governor] he is a very talented individual with a unique skill set of having served in the legislature for 26 years and that he would be a very valuable asset to whatever role he would fulfill on her staff."

2. House spokesman Larry Berman says a special fall session to consider Governor Raimondo's truck-toll proposal is anticipated, if not yet a 100 percent certainty. A decision will be firmed up, Berman said, after a consultant hired by the governor's office makes its findings, possibly next week. It's clear that Speaker Mattiello won't call a fall session unless something is going to get a favorable vote. For his part, House Minority Leader Brian Newberry (R-North Smithfeld) is skeptical about whether the special session will happen, and he remains sharply opposed to Raimondo's truck-toll plan. "I was surprised the Senate passed it as quickly as they did," Newberry said on this week's RI Public Radio Political Roundtable (at 4:15). "No, I don't plan to support the plan," because taxing the trucking industry while posting electronic gantries at points around the state doesn't make sense, he said. Newberry believes the state's ongoing toll debate has its roots in unsuccessful efforts to establish a toll booth on I-95 in Hokinton, and that debate over a Sakonnet River Bridge toll poisoned public opinion. "If you study this issue from an engineering perspective, the only logical place, if you're going to put a toll at all, is in Hopkinton," Newberry said. "The governor's plan is to try to get around the fact that we can't do that, and to try to work within the confines of federal law. So it's kind of like this Rube Goldberg-like contraption." So the solution is ....?

3. Is there a credible justification for keeping confidential any of the 38 Studios documents? Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein will hear arguments on that question, starting with a hearing Tuesday morning. Some observers expect the pending release of the documents to bring embarrassment, rather than bombshell news. Yet Curt Schilling tweeted that expects something more dramatic.

4. When the news director and general manager of Rhode Island Public Radio left in in close proximity last January, it marked a lot of change in a short amount of time. In fact, the timing was more coincidence than anything else, and Rhode Island's NPR station cranked along with interim leadership. Elisabeth Harrison ultimately won the gig as news director, to the delight of our newsroom. And a new era in the history of RIPR will kick off on Monday when Torey Malatia takes over as general manager, president and CEO of the station. Torey is a rock star in the world of public radio; he led Chicago's WBEZ for about 20 years, co-created with Ira Glass "This American Life," and we're excited to welcome him aboard. To learn more about Malatia and his plans, read my story or check out the coverage in Current.

5. Congrats to former ProJo investigative reporter Mike Stanton on the signing of his second book deal, with Henry Holt, about boxer Rocky Marciano. Stanton, who started on Fountain Street as a sportswriter, said his boxing fascination "dates back to my days working for the AP in Detroit in the early 1980s, when I covered some fights there involving Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns and promoted by Don King." Now a journalism professor at the University of Connecticut, Stanton said his curiosity about Mariciano grew out of research for his first book, "The Prince of Providence": "When I was writing the Buddy Cianci book, I researched the colorful history of Providence in the 1940s and '50s, and it was this real Damon Runyon culture of Mob guys and boxing was really big on the scene at the old Rhode Island Auditorium. And the big draw there was Rocky Marciano, and he really kind of epitomized this really colorful, romantic era to me in American history, the mid-1900s, when boxing was as big as baseball and it really reflected a lot of American culture. I just thought he was a fascinating character."  

6. Did the Republican House contingent -- which unanimously backed the FY16 budget in June -- get too enthralled with the leadership of Speaker Mattiello? Here's the response from Minority Leader Brian Newberry, as he put it on this week's RI Public Radio Political Roundtable (at 5:35): "Next session will be different because, for one thing, it's an election year, and that's just a fact -- it tends to make things a little more rocky in terms of relations. But the truth of the matter -- I wouldn't call it a love-fest [this year] -- but the reality is, given the numbers that we had, we pretty much were able to maximize our influence to get some things done. Given that, I was happy about that. Next year, we'll see how next year goes. We'll see what's in the budget."

7. Nancy Cook, who reported back in the day for the entity then known as WRNI, is heading to Politico, as she reports via Facebook: "After four years at National Journal, I'm decamping to Politico in late September to cover the business and economics of health care and how that will play out in 2016. I'm thrilled to join a newsroom that's growing so rapidly and where I already know so many damn people. Onward." Congratulations to Nancy, whose significant other is Boston Globe DC bureau chief Chris Rowland, ex of the ProJo.

8. After defeating Buddy Cianci last November, does Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza have the coattails to influence a mayoral race across the border in Connecticut? That's the hope of Mayor Bill Finch, who invited Elorza to endorse him this week, in his fight with challenger Joe Ganim. A former mayor, Ganim was convicted back in 2003 on 16 corruption charges. This time around, he won's the support of the police union, and his opponent is responding with a Web site dubbed, "The Truth About Joe Ganim."

9. Scott MacKay has a good read on whether Bernie Sanders can maintain his momentum.

10. In a move that could close off a possible alternative location for a new PawSox stadium, Lifespan has bought the Victory Place site, Ted Nesi reports.

11. While Suffolk nights might remain the law school of choice for many lawmakers, Roger Williams University Law School has turned out a number of grads from the world of local politics in recent years. Now the university is introducing a "master's in law for non-lawyers." Here's part of law school Dean Michael Yelnosky's explanation for the new offering: “Law now influences human activity as never before. One consequence is that a growing number of non-lawyers come into contact with lawyers and the law as a regular part of their work. As a result, many people would benefit from some rigorous legal training, but don’t need a J.D. Our MSL program is designed to serve people who are seeking that edge.”

12. ecoRI News, an excellent reader-supported source on the environmental beat, is staging a "Zero Trash Birthday Bash" to mark its sixth anniversary. It's on for Wednesday, September 16, 6-9 pm, at Machines with Magnets in Pawtucket.

13. New York Times columnist Charles Blow is coming to Brown University this Thursday, September 17.

14. Rhode Island Future is hosting an event Saturday, September 12, from 5-7 pm, at AS220 featuring Providence College professor Cedric de Leon, the author of "The Origins of Right to Work." Here's an interview Bob Plain did with de Leon, and a review of his book.

15. As McCoy Stadium faces an uncertain fate, the owner of another Pawtucket institution -- the ziggarut-like Apex building -- is facing criticism from city officials for a lack of upkeep. As Tim Lehnert wrote in the Phoenix back in 2004, the site could be important in the redevelopment of downtown Pawtucket. Apex also has an interesting backstory: it was designed by a protege of Raymond Loewy, "The man who designed everything."

16. The current baseball season hasn't been without some pleasures for Red Sox fans, the team's last place standing in the AL East notwithstanding. David Ortiz's ability to slug even at an advanced athletic age is a story worth cheering. And the Sox have an exciting nucleus of younger players in the form of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. Yet baseball "breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart," as the late Bart Giamatti wrote in "The Green Fields of the Mind." And so it is whether a player being paid millions to play a kid's game won't deign to sign autographs or a team decides, seemingly against all reason, to ax a beloved broadcaster like Don Orsillo. Time waits for no one, and many Red Sox fans will move past their pique. True, too: If you told people when the new ownership came in that the Sox would win three world championships within a dozen years, they would have thought you were crazy. Yet Orsillo's dismissal stands as a stark reminder of how ownership does what it wants, the fans be damned.

TGIF: 16 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media
TGIF: 16 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media