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TGIF: 20 Things To Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media


The Follies is gone, but Rhode Island politics remains the gift that keeps giving. Where else could a long-ago neighborhood dust-up include a current candidate for governor and the current speaker of the RI House? Thanks for stopping by for my weekly column. As usual your tips and comments are welcome, and you can follow me through the week on the twitters. Here we go.

1) When news broke this week that Joe Trillo had been charged with assaulting a young Nicholas Mattiello back in the 1970s, it seemed almost too improbable to be true. Yet Rhode Island is a very small place as we know, with both good and not so good effects for the body politic. In this case, the simple assault charge against Trillo was dismissed (even though the candidate himself thought he had pleaded nolo). While Republican Allan Fung’s campaign denied dropping a dime on Trillo, the Fung forces seized on the long-ago assault as evidence that Trillo is unfit to be governor. For a while, it seemed like the revelation might just accrue to Republican-turned-independent Trillo’s colorful campaign persona. Now, though, WPRI and the ProJo have obtained the original police report. From WPRI's story: "There seems to be no question that Mr. Trillo did actually strike young [Mattiello] with a tube of caulking compound after he had been provoked into doing by [redacted] who is an ill-mannered, undisciplined little brat who has been a source of aggravation to other residents of this area as well as to school authorities." Whether Trillo can become a contender in the closing weeks of the campaign was always unclear, although Fung and other critics will highlight the details in the police report. Polls by WPRI/RWU and The Public’s Radio/Providence Journal/ABC6 show the Republican-turned independent with less than 10 percent of the vote, although Trillo points to a finding by John Della Volpe, showing him with 17 percent, as evidence that he was moving in the right direction. If that’s the case, it’s more good news for Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, who has led the pack in all of the recent polls (after spending more than $5 million on her campaign, with millions more expended by supporters). Meanwhile, Raimondo, Fung, Trillo and Moderate Party candidate William Gilbert will take part in a The Public’s Radio/ProJo debate at 7 pm Monday, October 15 at URI’s Edwards Hall. The debate will be broadcast live on The Public’s Radio (89.3 FM) and streamed online by the Journal.

2) The Public's Radio? Yep, that's the new name for what used to be Rhode Island Public Radio, which used to be WRNI. For a succinct explanation of the reason for the name change, give a listen to the audio of an interview with our GM, Torey Malatia. Torey's explanation defies a short explanation, but part of the reason involves how since acquiring 89.3 FM we're now serving both Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. "Our identity should be about more than the geography we all share," Malatia said. "It should be about the sharing itself. About the stories of the people around us. All of the people here." The best part is how our radio station continues to grow, with plans for a New Bedford bureau, an investigative reporting unit, and additional reporters.

3) Back in November 2011, hundreds of union members staged a protest outside the Statehouse, with one guy holding a sign reading, "Gina Raimondo is the Grinch who stole my pension." Almost seven years later, the National Education Association Rhode Island PAC endorsed Raimondo for re-election. “We recognize this will be a difficult recommendation for some of our members due to the impact of pension changes,” NEARI President Larry Purtill said in a statement. “After due consideration, committee members felt the governor’s remarks [at a NEARI meeting] and her record as governor – specifically her work promoting all-day kindergarten, preschool, gun safety, the school construction bond, Rhode Island Promise, as well as addressing mental health concerns and strengthening equal protection for all students – merit a recommendation to NEARI members to support her in the election on November 6." Without naming Allan Fung or Joe Trillo, Purtill said, "Her two main opponents are and will be supporters of the Trump agenda which does not benefit children, families or workers. For all these reasons and to move Rhode Island forward, we encourage members to vote for Gina Raimondo for governor. We do not agree with the governor on all issues. NEARI remains committed to and will continue to lobby the governor and General Assembly for changes in the state pension system, continuing contracts, and a responsible contract resolution mechanism.”

4) The poll released earlier this week by The Public's Radio/Providence Journal/ABC6 showed double-digit leads for Gov. Raimondo and U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse over their closest GOP challengers. The findings by the UNH Survey Center show that Rhode Islanders have mixed feelings about both Raimondo and GOP front runner Allan Fung; Raimondo’s approval/disapproval rating was 46/43, while Fung’s was 40/41. Yet Andrew Smith, director of the Survey Center, said Raimondo remains well-positioned due to enthusiasm among Rhode Island Democrats and the high disapproval for President Trump in the Ocean State. In the Senate race, the UNH poll showed Whitehouse leading Flanders, 57 percent to 33 percent. Meanwhile, Flanders turned in a spirited performance during a WPRI-TV debate earlier this week, and Whitehouse touted his own record.

5) Fall River Mayor "Jasiel F. Correia II had all the makings of a rising Democratic star," writes Antonia Noori Farzan in The Washington Post. ".... Then, early Thursday morning, federal agents arrested Correia on charges that he stole almost a quarter of a million dollars from seven people who had invested in his start-up, and spent the money on adult entertainment, airfare, a dating service, designer clothes, hotels, jewelry, trips to casinos and a Mercedes-Benz. Hours later, he pleaded not guilty to 13 counts of wire and tax fraud." Farzan goes on to note how Correia -- who has proclaimed his innocence -- "now joins the list of mayors of struggling postindustrial New England cities who have faced criminal charges while in office. Some of the more notable examples include former Providence mayor Buddy Cianci, who was celebrated as the city’s first Italian American mayor before being charged with racketeering and extortion in 2001, and Mayor Joe Ganim of Bridgeport, Conn., who won reelection in 2015 after spending six years in prison on federal corruption charges from his first stint as mayor."

6) For an example of the challenges facing down-ballot Republicans in Rhode Island this year, consider the GOP candidate for secretary of state, Pat Cortellessa. As of his most recent campaign finance report, Cortellessa had less than $450 on hand, compared with more than $440,000 for Democratic incumbent Nellie Gorbea. During an appearance on The Public Radio’s Bonus Q&A this week, Cortellessa likened his uphill fight to Donald Trump’s upset win over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Yet it’s clear that Cortellessa and other GOP candidates for down-ballot offices face tough sledding. LG candidate Paul Pence has been all but invisible, Republicans didn’t mount a challenger to Democratic AG heir-apparent Peter Neronha, and GOP treasurer candidate Mike Riley discouraged people from contributing to his campaign after he called it a long shot.

7) Some right track/wrong track info from The Public Radio/ProJo/ABC6 poll: “Overall, registered voters in Rhode Islanders are pessimistic about the direction of the country. Thirty-seven percent think things in the country are going in the right direction while 58% say things are seriously off on the wrong track and 6% don't know or are unsure. Opinion on the direction of the country is closely tied to partisanship: three-quarters (75%) of Republicans thinks things are heading in the right direction but only 37% of Independents and 15% of Democrats agree …. Many Rhode Islanders have differing opinions on the directions of the state and the country. Overall, Rhode Island voters are a good deal more optmistic about the direction of the state than the direction of the country as a whole. Sixty-five percent of those who believe the country is going in the right directon think that the state is going in the wrong directon, while 64% of those who think the country is going in the wrong direction think the state is going in the right direction.”

8) The Providence school bus strike – a problem in search of a solution -- one that may be at hand.

9) Denmark-based Orsted this week unveiled an agreement with D.E. Shaw Group to acquire Deepwater Wind for $510 million. “The two companies’ offshore wind assets and organizations will be merged into the leading US offshore wind platform with the most comprehensive geographic coverage and the largest pipeline of development capacity,” Orsted said in a news release. Deepwater’s Jeff Grybowski said the company will continue to increase its local footprint. Supporters of Deepwater have touted the company as a way for Rhode Island to build a renewable energy sector. At the same time, critics questioned whether the cost to ratepayers was worth it to launch Deepwater’s initial Block Island wind farm.

10) A national study has rated Rhode Island among the top states for laws meant to prevent corruption by public officials. But as recent history shows, strong laws and institutions like the Ethics Commission do not stop some public officials from running afoul of the law.

11) After delay, two significant developments moved ahead on the legal front this week. Aaron Weisman, long seen as the front runner to become Rhode Island's next U.S. attorney, got nominated for that post by President Trump. Weisman is moving up from a role as a prosecutor in the AG's office. In a joint statement, U.S. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed praised Weisman: "He’s dedicated, well-respected, and has a record of exemplary service in the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office. We are confident he will do an effective job serving and protecting the people of Rhode Island.” .... Meanwhile, Mary McElroy moved closer to confirmation as a U.S. District Court judge in Providence, after Trump revived her nomination in April.

12) Via CJR: "Do journalists pay too much attention to Twitter?" Excerpt: "Although there are potential downsides to journalists relying so much on Twitter, the researchers did highlight one potential positive: The social network may be broadening the range of sources beyond traditional information gatekeepers."

13) When Providence Place emerged on the scene in 1999, there were questions about how it would affect the city's downtown arts scene. In the time since, more business and residents have located downtown, while the mall has drawn people into the city. Dee Dee Witman, who is challenging Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, points to Nordstrom's decision to close its store at the mall as a symptom of wider problems. Yet there are a number of Nordstroms in Massachsetts now, unlike when the retailer opened its Providence location.

14) Rhode Islanders overwhelmingly support the November ballot question to borrow $250 million for school repairs and construction, according to the poll out this week from The Public's Radio/ProJo/ABC6. On one hand, the 77 percent level of support is noteworthy, given Rhode Islanders' cool feet about the PawSox. Then again, voters usually rally behind ballot questions, particularly those with a demonstrated need like crumbling school infrastructure. In related news, Partnership for Rhode Island, the business group formed in response to a Brookings Institution recommendation, is backing a campaign to pass Question 1. “We believe voting to approve Question 1 on November 6 is a bona fide no-brainer,” Tom Giordano, executive director of Partnership for Rhode Island, said in a statement. “Our students and educators deserve to spend their schooldays learning and teaching in warm, safe, dry and up-to-date facilities. By voting Yes on Question 1, we’re giving every city and town in Rhode Island a unique opportunity to immediately invest in their communities and improve the day-to-day lives of their students. Plus, we’re giving our employees a peace of mind that comes with knowing they are sending their children to high-quality learning environments.” .... Meanwhile, the Greater Providence Chamber, ProJo, Providence Foundation, and RI Association of School Principals are among those who have supported Question 2, which would steer $70 million to the state's institutions of higher learning.

15) The Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership has some suggestions for assessing leadership qualities of the candidates for governor.

16) With the emergence of sports betting in Rhode Island and other states, is betting on political races the next big thing?

17) The hits keep coming for T.F. Green Airport, with announcements this week that Regional Sky will start service to Montreal on November 5, and JetBlue will next year begin daily nonstop flights to West Palm Beach

18) Native Rhode Islander Sara Gideon (h/t Bob Plain) who serves as speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, is contemplating a challenge to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins -- the Republican who played a high-profile role in the confirmation of US Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh.

19) Meet Mike Costa, who’s running an independent write-in campaign for U.S. Senate and not accepting campaign contributions. “Our politics won’t get better if we keep sending the same people back to Washington or sending back people wearing the same ‘team jerseys’: Republicans or Democrats,” Costa writes on his web site. “We need people who think differently and act differently. That means you have to vote differently.” Costa said he is an environmental engineer and also an investor for non-profits. His issues include ending US involvement in foreign wars, supporting term limits for judges and politicians, and providing universal healthcare.

20) Politico’s Jack Shafer on why The New York Times’ blockbuster on the roots of President Trump’s wealth failed to gain more traction: “Perhaps it’s because a tax fraud story doesn’t burst with the crowd-pleasing juices of pieces about mistress payoffs, Russian meddling, the firing of FBI Director James B. Comey, the hurricane response in Puerto Rico, Hope Hicks’ lies, and Kellyanne Conway and the Hatch Act. A story—no matter how long—about tax evasion is too dry to arouse the public into acts of viral chatter. Stories about mistresses and spies and firings and lies give every reader a platform where they can stand to voice their opinion. But a tax story provides no scaffold. Taxes are so painfully complex that most of us outsource our own filings to an accountant or a piece of software. Sure, the Trumps might have swindled various tax collectors out of hundreds of millions, but even devoted followers of the news have trouble following a narrative dealing in grantor-retained annuity trusts, illegal loans, dubious gifts, and fraudulent mark-ups of expenses. If only Trump had robbed a bank!”

TGIF: 20 Things To Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media
TGIF: 20 Things To Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media