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TGIF: 18 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media

Judge Berman's decision arrives in time to salvage a disappointing sports season in New England, as, meanwhile, the future home of the PawSox hangs in...

Judge Berman's decision arrives in time to salvage a disappointing sports season in New England, as, meanwhile, the future home of the PawSox hangs in the balance. Thanks for stopping by for my weekend column. As usual, feel free to share your tips and thoughts at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org, and to follow me on the twitters. Here we go.

1. The big question with the PawSox is: what's next? Is the Triple A affiliate more likely to leave Rhode Island now that the team's preferred ballpark site on the former I-195 land faces a growing number of obstacles? That's the view of a number of observers. PawSox spokeswoman Patti Doyle maintains the team remains focused on the ex-195 site due to its particular qualities, although she acknowledged the cost of buying part of the land from Brown University raises serious questions. Of course, the PawSox bear responsibility for how they got into this situation, ignoring Rhode Island's post-38 Studios atmosphere and underestimating the level of state and city support, and the cost of achieving their goal. So what's next? Does Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza back Victory Place as alternative location? Do the PawSox go to Mansfield, Massachusetts, or some other out-of-state location, or make a new investment in Pawtucket's McCoy Stadium? David Norton of the opposition group Organizing for Pawtucket believes the PawSox have been bluffing when they consistently ruled out staying at McCoy. "To rebuild this [franchise and following] elsewhere would require enormous investment and time," Norton said via email. "The team hasn't had any legitimate offers from any other cities, and recent developments in MA concerning the Olympics indicate that it is unlikely that they will get any from MA .... I think that the PawSox owners used a formula that has worked all across the country but miscalculated, and failed to see the necessity of being able to change tactics and adapt to what the opposition was doing." Time will tell, right?

2. If the PawSox do stay in Pawtucket, the story could mark a folkloric turning of the tide in what some call "The Impossible Fight Against America's Stadiums."

3. Close readers of the Providence Journal have noticed the absence of Bill Malinowski's byline in the paper for most of the year. Sadly, Bill is battling ALS -- better known as "Lou Gehrig's disease" -- and he's been on a medical leave from the ProJo since late April. Bill decided he wanted people to know about his situation, so I asked some of those who know him well to share a few thoughts. From former ProJo investigative reporter Mike Stanton: "Bill is a great reporter and a better friend: loyal, steadfast, and unflappable. His commitment to journalism is matched by how grounded he is in family, friends and community. Bill and I have worked together on many high-pressure stories. It was always comforting to walk into a room with loaded guns, knowing that Bill had my back. We first worked together in the 1980s, when we heard Pete Rose had placed bets with a Mob-connected bookie in Fall River. Over the years, I’ve marveled at Bill’s vast network of sources, his knack for unearthing secrets, and his ability to find anything in the mountains of paper on his desk in the newsroom. He seems to know every cop, crook and character; every dive, greasy spoon and rundown neighborhood, in Rhode Island. He’s a great shoe-leather reporter who taught me the value of patience ­ in following a story, or in waiting for our beloved Red Sox to finally win the World Series. The news of his illness came as a blow to those of us who know and love Bill. We’ll be there to support him and do what we can to help him face this with the same perseverance that has marked his brilliant career." .... From WPRI-TV investigative reporter Tim White: "Readers of the Journal know what a dogged reporter Bill is, someone who has the rare ability to weave beautifully constructed narratives on even the thickest of topics. What those readers don’t know is Bill has an amazingly sharp and quick sense of humor, and a gentle, fair, but relentless approach in getting the information he needs. News is a competitive sport, but Bill has always been there to help reporters with advice and guidance. I know, I’ve been the recipient of his generosity on countless occasions. The absence of his byline is surely felt by readers, and his presence in the field feels like a gaping hole to all of us in the press corps." .... From former ProJo political columnist M. Charles Bakst, a former Barrington neighbor of Malinowski and his wife, ProJo photographer Mary Murphy: "Although the first things that come to mind about Bill are his reportorial expertise and his intensity as a baseball fan, the most important impressions I have of him are of his devotion to daughter Molly and bonding with her in her athletic pursuits. When she was a little kid, he'd be out there with her at the soccer fields, and she was into basketball, and eventually specialized in -- and excelled at -- high school cross-country. I used to see them at Seven Stars Bakery in Providence after she'd be working out up and down the neighborhood. My friend Dave Reid, another Journal ex-pat, says Bill used to come into the old East Bay office, personally handing him the results of the  high school's meets, and proudly pointing out Molly's performances."

4. A bonus Bill Malinowski item: despite his illness, Bill has been working to complete a book project about Charles "The Ghost" Kennedy, a Mob associate from Warwick whose spectacular criminal career included major heists and drug trafficking; a podcast is possible, Bill said, and he's also talked with Marc Smerling, who put together The Jinx, the lauded HBO series on Robert Durst .... On a lighter note, yours truly had the good fortune to be present in a US District Court hallway for what became a classic Rhode Island anecdote. It happened during the 2002 Plunder Dome trial of Buddy Cianci, when Providence police chief Urbano Prignano was compelled to appear in court. Prignano charged that Malinowski was unduly aggressive in reporting exposes about the Providence police "because my last name ends in a vowel." Bill noted how his own surname ended in a vowel, and he spelled it out when Prignano disputed him. "Well, it's the wrong vowel," Prignano responded, as Stanton recounts in "The Prince of Providence."

5. With Ken Block remaining less than happy with the RI GOP, it's worth recalling how the Moderate Party founded by Block played an impactful role in last year's race for governor; Moderate candidate Robert "Cool Moose" Healey attracted 22 percent of the vote in the three-way race with Republican Allan Fung and Democrat Gina Raimondo. Yet Block said it's very difficult to predict whether the Moderate Party will hurt future efforts to elect GOP governors: "Is it possible, yes," he said. "Was the performance of the Moderate Party in 2014 more about a general unhappiness with the electorate in their choices for governor? I think so, given the relatively small amount of effort Healey put into the race." Regardless, Block said, he previously renounced the Moderate Party "as ineffective and not a good way to bring the change that RI needs -- and I still believe that."

6. "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past," as the great novelist William Faulkner said. So it is with 38 Studios, which threatens to overshadow a special fall House session, due to the impending release of thousands of pages of court documents. The mantra from House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has been that the House isn't an investigative body. Yet might legislative hearings, led by a credible prosecutor, help resolve lingering public discontent over 38 Studios while lessening the political fallout? Mattiello believes the State Police investigation and the release of court documents is the best way to go. "I don’t think the 38 Studios debacle will overshadow our legislative work, because we can learn from the mistakes made by others in the past and never repeat them," the speaker said in a statement. "My focus has always been on moving the state’s economy forward and I look to a much brighter future.” Meanwhile, Common Cause of Rhode Island's John Marion said Mattiello is wrong to say that the General Assembly isn't an investigative body. "A true system of separation of powers includes checks and balances including legislative oversight of the executive branch," Marion said via email. "Because separation of powers is barely a decade old in Rhode Island (as opposed to centuries old in most states) these checks and balances are not a norm in our state. They should be. Now in the case of 38 Studios there still may be the need for an outside investigation because it involved both executive and legislative action. But to say that the legislature should never investigate is really a dereliction of the General Assembly's role in a Madisonian democracy."

7. Since Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea's attempt to overhaul lobbying regulations failed to attract legislative support this year, Gorbea said her office is focused on enforcing the current statute. Yet when the state dropped unregistered lobbying cases in May against two individuals linked with 38 Studios, flaws in the current approach were cited as part of the reason. During an interview on this week's RI Public Radio's Bonus Q+A, Gorbea adopted a diplomatic stance on the issue: "Sometimes change needs to be looked at from a number of angles, so I'm not going to fault the legislature for doing its job in terms of examining what it is that I'm going to propose," Gorbea said. "And it's my job now to continue the conversation, to push ahead, and to answer any questions that they might have."  Asked if subpoena power in her lobbying bill was the main stumbling block, Gorbea said, "I don't think there's one thing that made it not pass." She seemed a bit more optimistic on the outlook for passing another bill to create an online voter registration system and to make Rhode Island part of a multi-state effort to clean up voting rolls; it was the second item on the Senate calendar when the General Assembly abruptly recessed last June. "We have had conversations with both the speaker and the Senate president's office, and the legislators about this, and I am encouraged that this will be taken on in the next session," Gorbea said,

8 The ProJo editorial board and op-ed contributor Steve Frias say a new state contract with unionized private daycare workers is a bad thing for taxpayers. Secretary Gorbea sees the issue very differently. "I think what's good for the state is investing in these people that are dealing with our children," Gorbea said during this week's RI Public Radio Political Roundtable. "And I say this as a working mom who actually did have her children in a home daycare and saw the quality and the improvements that happen when you do invest in the training of the home daycare moms and dads that we have out there. This is an absolutely critical economic development program for our state."

9. Newcomer Daniel Denvir makes the case that the Ocean State shouldn't delay in legalizing pot: "If Rhode Island beats its neighboring states to the punch, this lovely but economically slumped sliver of a state could reap serious economic rewards, lure a stampede of tourists, and transform hip but vacancy-plagued downtown Providence into a major marijuana retail center," Denvir writes in Citylab. Of course, although legislative ties made RI something of an early adopter on medical marijuana, Speaker Mattiello has been reluctant to put his support behind full-blown legalization. Advocates say a majority of Rhode Islanders support legalization, but it will be a surprise if there's forward movement during 2016, an election year.

10. How President Obama has won the fight over his nuclear agreement with Iran, even with Republicans holding majorities in the House and Senate. Meanwhile, with the fight over public opinion continuing in Rhode Island, Democratic Congressmen David Ciciline and Jim Langevin are still undecided on the deal.

11. A bracing read from Josh Benton on the outlook for local news: "As giant platforms rise, local news is getting crushed." You should read the whole thing. Here's an excerpt that underscores the stakes of the changing media landscape: "There will still be success stories, sure. But the most important job that local news has done for decades — providing a degree of accountability to thousands of local communities across the country — is increasingly going undone. And the chances of any true digital substitute arising seem to be on the decline. It’s worth stepping back for a moment to consider why things have gotten as bad as they have — and why I suspect they’ll get substantially worse in the next few years."

12. With the Labor Day weekend upon us, Scott MacKay detects better times for the labor movement.

13. A fundraiser for the College Republican Federation of Rhode Island is set for Wednesday, September 23, 4-7 p.m., in the Campus Center Memorial Room (229) on the Brown University campus, 194 Meeting St. The headliner is House Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, vice chair of the House Financial Services Committee.

14. General Treasurer Seth Magaziner has a big decision to make, as Ted Nesi reports, regarding the management of Rhode Island's $7 billion 529 college savings fund.

15. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, whose office won a $35,000 Knight News grant to seek innovative ways to increase voting by young people, is getting ready to roll out the next step. Gorbea said plans call for selecting at least a dozen civic fellows who will focus on increasing voting by millenials.

16. Rhode Island Democrats are hosting a series of workshops for Rhode Islanders interested in learning about seeking election as a delegate for next year's Democratic National Convention. Here's the schedule: Wednesday, September 9, at 6 p.m., Rogers Free Library, 525 Hope Street, Bristol; Thursday, September 10, at 6 p.m., Peace Dale Library Meeting Room, 1057 Kingstown Road, Wakefield; Wednesday, September 16, at 6:30 p.m., Warwick Democratic City Committee, Knights of Columbus Hall, Sandy Lane, Warwick; Thursday, September 17, at 6 p.m., Woonsocket Public Library, 303 Clinton Street, Woonsocket; and Wednesday , October 7, at 6 p.m., Meeting Street School, 1000 Eddy Street, Providence.

17. Common Cause of Rhode Island has a new assistant director, Vimala Phongsavanh, who previously worked as program director for the Center for Southeast Asians and was a two-term member of the Woonsocket School Committee. Her focus at the good government group will include operations and development, and building Common Cause's organizational capacity.

18. A few interesting reads for your weekend: "Why phone fraud starts with a silent call;" "US Navy SEALs conquer fear using four simple steps;" "The underground cycle gangs of LA"

TGIF: 18 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media
TGIF: 18 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media