The pit of winter has settled over Rhode Island, judging by the combination of snow and sub-freezing temperatures. The governor used the recent blizzard to remind us we're supposed to be hardy, so no mewling here. Instead, we offer thanks for your visit here, welcome your tips and thoughts at idonnis (at) ripr (org), and invite you to follow me on the twitters. Here we go.
1. Governor Gina Raimondo continues to methodically put her stamp on state government, moving this week to remake the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission and the state Board of Education. While the governor's intended chair of the 1-195 panel, Joseph Azrack, is a less familiar name than when Colin Kane was named to the commission, Azrack does have a lengthy history at the intersection of finance and real estate. (In an interview with Columbia Business School, Azrack counted among his proudest accomplishments helping to create the real estate investment trust industry.) Meanwhile, the elevation of former Bruce Sundlun lieutenants continues, with Raimondo picking Citizens Financial Group exec Barbara Cottam to succeed Eva-Marie Mancuso as Board of Education chair. The benefit for the governor in all these changes is Politics 101; the newcomers will be accountable to Raimondo, not someone else.
2. In contrast to the smooth rollout of nominees, the governor's office took close to 24 hours to respond to reporters' questions about how Raimondo and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza chose the six new nominees for the I-195 Commission. The delay was curious since the relevant statutory language is clear: the governor is supposed to give "due consideration" to recommendations by the mayor and, to a lesser degree, the speaker. (I misstated the process in an earlier version of this column.) Time will tell whether this was just a blip or a harbinger of a heavy hand when it comes to releasing basic information.
3. Developer and real estate kingpin Joseph R. Paolino Jr. might have backed losing candidates for governor and mayor last year, but he remains a big wheel when it comes to deals. Asked on this week's RI Political Roundtable about his contingent pact to buy Newport Grand, Paolino cited a confidentiality agreement in keeping his comment limited. Yet it's clear that Paolino thinks he can either overcome Newport's traditional opposition to expanded gambling, or come up with some other profitable plan. Paolino remained in the news this week, suing the City of Providence and announcing the acquisition of a 100-space Weybosset Street parking lot next to a parking deck that he already owns. Not coincidentally, Paolino has hired Kristin Murphy (ex of Guillaume de Ramel's campaign) to tune up his social media presence.
4. Not surprisingly for a former mayor, Paolino sounds most sure-footed (other than discussing real estate) while talking about snow removal: In Providence, "I think they failed it, I think they blew it," Paolino said on RIPR's Bonus Q+A. Rather than being upset, he said, Mayor Elorza's City Hall should take heed: "You always learn from your losses. If I was the mayor, or he asked me my advice, I would say you didn't have enough trucks out there, and you can't depend [only] on Public Works. You need your private vendors and you got to make sure that you pay them timely. You can't have a private vendor waiting three, four months to get a check from the city .... a lot of times vendors won't do business in Providence because they don't think they get paid timely. So call them in, have a beer with them in your office, tell them that you're going to pay them a good rate, and make sure that you have not 97 trucks, but 297 trucks, in the city of Providence. That's how you plow the snow." Here's the response from Elorza spokesman Evan England, who said the city utilized 103 pieces of equipment for the last storm: "The past two weeks have seen an historic amount of snow. We are working around the clock to clean it up and thank the people of Providence for their continued endurance. The administration is determined to return the City to normal business as soon as possible. With more snow forecast for this weekend and early next week, we must make sure that our walkways are clear from the most recent storm. This is a public safety issue. We continue to educate property owners that it is their responsibility to clear sidewalks in front of their property, and have begun ticketing properties that have egregiously disregarded the ordinance on sidewalk snow removal."
5. In other Providence news, Mayor Elorza and City Council President Luis Aponte this week appointed the membership of a city ethics panel that was supposed to start work in 2006. Common Cause of Rhode Island executive director John Marion offered this reaction via email: "On the one hand, it's not clear whether the Providence Ethics Commission will be redundant with state body. But on the other hand, many have long said that Providence government needs a change in culture, and perhaps having its own Ethics Commission that can police and educate City employees and officials will help our capital outgrow its reputation for corruption." Meanwhile, the state Ethics Commission this week made an initial finding against former state rep Peter Palumbo. While a 2009 state Supreme Court decision dealt a sharp blow to the state Commission, Marion says the Palumbo case proves an important point: "There are a number of other significant parts of the ethics law still in place including the state's revolving door prohibition, financial disclosure requirements (as evidenced by the settlement reached by former Speaker Gordon Fox early in 2014), and nepotism provisions. The complaint I filed against Representative Palumbo was for violating another prohibition that is still in effect -- forbidding members of the Assembly from seeking or accepting state work, including contracts. It's good to see the case proceed because it lets both legislators and the public know that all was not lost back in 2009."
6. The most unfortunate thing about the Brian Williams story is how it causes broader cynicism about reporters and the media. Yet as shown by Patricia Smith, the wife of former ProJo reporter-turned mystery writer Bruce DeSilva, there can be a second act even for a disgraced journalist who invented characters and quotes.
7. Back around 15 years ago, there was talk of how Rhode Island's business community was rallying around an economic-development based case to improve public education. Yet as Deborah Gist prepares to decamp for a new job in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the state seemingly remains divided between ed reformers pushing for additional testing and teacher evaluations and those opposed to such measures. To get up to speed on Gist's RI legacy and where things go from here, listen to the debrief contained in this link featuring RI Public Radio education reporter Elisabeth Harrision. Scott MacKay has some thoughts on the subject, too.
8. Our esteemed news director at RI Public Radio, Catherine "Cat" Welch, aptly chose a Friday when the mercury hit zero to mark her last workday before heading to a new gig in Orlando, Florida. Cat is a sweetheart, an ace at radio, and she's done so much to make RIPR a stronger newsroom. She's even kept her sense of humor while working with print refugee reprobates like myself and Scott. You can listen to an interview with Cat explaining her decision to pick up stakes after almost five years in Rhode Island. Fortunately, RIPR's newsroom will remain in good hands, with the superb and aforementioned Elisabeth Harrison taking over as acting news director.
9. With grumbling setting in about all the snow and bitter cold of late, keep in mind that you're a lot more likely to die from extreme heat. As the CDC reported in 2013, "Heat waves kill more persons, on average, than any other extreme weather event in the United States."
10. The latest in my mini-profiles of new lawmakers: state Representative Lauren Carson (D-Newport), who ousted three-term rep Peter Martin in the primary last September. Carson cites Jimmy Carter as one of her top political inspirations, due to how he's remained active long after his checkered presidency. That persistent example could serve Carson well in the House, since passionate environmentalists like her are relatively few and far between on Smith Hill.
11. Democrats have rallied around raising the minimum wage to $10.10. In Rhode Island, there's a move to hit that target next January 1, up from the current wage of $9. But it's not only chamber types who are opposing the pay hike. In San Francisco, a move to lift the minimum wage from $11 to $15 over three years is seen as a threat to a beloved independent bookstore. Closer to home, community health center workers picketed this week in Pawtucket and Central Falls while calling for a $15 wage. In a statement distributed by 1199NE of Service Employees International Union, administrative medical assistant Anabel Garcia-Campos called the $15 hourly wage a matter of survival: "We’re proud to provide great health care to our community,” Garcia-Campos said. “But many of us who work here can barely afford to live—some employees earn less than $25,000/year, and we have to pay $5,000 for family health care. Management can definitely afford to pay us living wages, but while they’re getting richer, they’re leaving us behind!”
12. US District Court Judge Mary Lisi has informed President Obama that she plans to retire from regular active service on October 1. The support of then-US Senator Claiborne Pell was crucial when President Clinton nominated Lisi in 1994 for the seat vacated by Francis J. Boyle. So Jack Reed, as Rhode Island's senior senator, can be expected to have considerable influence in determining Lisi's successor, along with Sheldon Whitehouse.
13. The true story of how a guy struck gold through those little packets of takeout soy sauce.
14. As Mark Schieldrop keeps fighting the good fight hereabouts, Digiday asks, "Has Patch finally cracked the code on hyper-local?" Excerpt: "Since [Patch's] viral experiment ended, traffic has grown 45 percent to 14.6 million monthly uniques, according to Google Analytics. (For its part, comScore shows that since AOL sold it, Patch’s traffic declined sharply to 3 million uniques in August from 15 million at the time of the sale, but that traffic has climbed to 5 million uniques in December.) In another positive sign, people also are returning more; monthly sessions are up 62 percent to 32 million in that same time, according to Google Analytics."
15. With the group knock as Islamic State stepping up what one analyst calls its asymmetrical information war, here's a thoughtful read on the intersection of journalism and graphic imagery.
16. Ken Block helped focus attention on the master lever before the General Assembly moved to eliminate it last year, and now he's back with his latest initiative -- a campaign to build support for a gubernatorial line-item veto. As Block notes, 44 states have the measure. Yet Sam Howard has argued that the line-item veto is "something which appeals to those who wish to add one more hurdle for legislation to clear. It is another choke point in an already cumbersome legislative process filled with redundancy, speed bumps, and invented tradition."
17. PETA says Nice Slice, the estimable Thayer Street pizza shop, has one of the best vegan pies in the nation.
18. Pultizer-winning author Taylor Branch will speak at Providence College next Tuesday, February 10 (Slavin Center, 4:30 pm), with a lecture titled “From Selma to Ferguson: The Black Freedom Struggle and the Redemption of U.S. Democracy." This couldn't be more timely, since both supporters and opponents of stiffer sanctions for highway protests invoked Selma during a House Judiciary committee hearing Wednesday. It's further evidence, as William Faulkner said, "The past is never dead. It's not even past."