As the year comes to an end we're rounding up the top stories from our region.
10. New Bedford Fishing After The ‘Codfather’
Coming in at number ten is a story that offered fishermen in the city of New Bedford some relief. After an eight-month freeze on groundfishing for some boats, federal regulators lifted the ban. This unprecedented punishment was caused by the actions of Carlos Rafael, better known as “The Codfather.”
Rafael lied to federal regulators from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration about how much and what type of fish his boats were catching out of the New Bedford port. Between 2012 and 2015, he misreported more than 700 thousand pounds of groundfish.
Now, the federal fishing group his boats dominated, called sector 9, is operational again, but just as a lease-only sector. Meaning fishermen still can't fish but can make money by leasing their allotted quota to other fishermen.
9. A Battle Begins Over a Skyscraper in Providence
An issue that will spill into the New Year is a proposal by a New York developer for a 46 story luxury apartment tower on the downtown Providence waterfront.
The $300 million plan by New York developer Jason Fane would place the development on land cleared by razing Interstate 195. Mayor Jorge Elorza and the city council battled over the project. Elorza vetoed the tower, but the council overrode his veto.
The council action came after a strenuous lobbying campaign by some business leaders and building trades unions whose members would get constriction jobs.
The tower has been criticized as too big and out of scale with historic East Side neighborhoods. As 2018 ended, state lawmakers promised legislation to move the project forward in the New Year.
8. Legal Sports Betting Comes to New England
After a short delay, sports betting began in Rhode Island this year, making it the first state in New England to legalize the practice.
An eager crowd was ready and waiting to place the first above-board sports bets in November at Twin River Casino in Lincoln. Sports betting has since expanded to Twin River’s second location in Tiverton, near Fall River.
Officials hope sports betting will prove to be a windfall for the state, estimates for this fiscal year put revenues at more than 10-million. They also hope it will stave off competition as more casinos open in the region.
And now that physical sports-betting is here, state leaders are already eyeing online gambling on sports.
7. A New Standardized Test, Similar Results
Another year, a new test. 2018, marked the first year Rhode Island students took the RICAS standardized test, and the results were mostly disappointing.
The RICAS are modeled almost exactly on the MCAS, the standardized test Massachusetts schools have used for more than a decade. This is the latest standardized test Rhode Island officials have decided to use for its students.
In the first year, about one third of middle and elementary school students are proficient in reading, a little more than a quarter are proficient in math.
The results are about the same to prior tests, but this time, the state education commissioner says Rhode Island will stick with the RICAS test for the long run.
6. Fall River’s Young Mayor Indicted
Just a few years after he was elected the youngest Mayor of Fall River, Jasiel Correia was indicted for fraud and embezzlement by federal prosecutors.
Then 26-year old Jasiel Correia was charged in October with thirteen counts of defrauding investors in a startup he helped found. Federal prosecutors accused the young mayor of using thousands in investor money to pay for a lavish lifestyle, including travel and a luxury car.
Correia denies the charges calling them politically motivated, and said he would not step down. However he soon may not have the choice. After a successful petition by residents, Correia may now face a recall election early the New Year.
5.Recreational Pot Shops Open, Portends of Things To Come
Recreational marijuana became legal in Massachusetts in 2018.
The first two pot stores opened in rural parts of the state in the college town of Northampton and the central Massachusetts community of Leicester.
The shops did so much business in the days after opening that Leicester residents complained about traffic jams. Massachusetts will soon have more weed stores, including one in Fall River, where the city has lured investors to house marijuana growing outlets in vacant textile factories.
Rhode Island lawmakers who want to make pot legal in the Ocean State vowed a campaign to establish recreational marijuana stores when the General Assembly convenes for its session on New Year’s Day.
4.A Major Healthcare Merger Moves Forward
Boston-based Partners HealthCare made a bid to take over Providence-based Care New England, Rhode Island’s second-largest health system.
Care New England operates Women & Infants, Butler & Kent Hospitals. Partners is Massachusetts’ largest hospital system. It operates Mass-General and Brigham & Women's Hospitals.
How will Partners’ proposed takeover of Care New England will impact health care services and pricing in Rhode Island? That’s a question Rhode Island health regulators will have to try to answer as they review the deal. The regulators will have 90 days from when they determine the merger application is complete to rule on the plan, which also has to be reviewed by Rhode Island’s attorney general.
3. Progressive Women Make Local Gains
We’re counting down our top stories of 2018. Coming in at number three … harassment fallout at the Statehouse, and an uptick in female progressive lawmakers.
A lack of progress on bills meant to curb harassment upset progressive lawmakers in the Rhode Island House. They were also irked by changes to a bill meant to promote equal pay for men and women.
Then, in November, WPRI.com broke a story involving allegations of sexual harassment involving two state reps. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello defended his response to the situation. But nearly a third of the 75 members in the House, many of them women, voted against Mattiello during a Democratic caucus.
Meanwhile, more female lawmakers won election in November, raising the number of women in the General Assembly from 36 to 42, out of 113 seats. Many, but not all, of the new female legislators are progressives.
2. Raimondo Holds onto Her Seat in Re-election
Governor Raimondo became Rhode Island’s first woman governor when she won election in 2014. But less-than-stellar approval ratings raised questions about whether Democrat Raimondo would be vulnerable in her quest to win a second term.
Former Rhode Island secretary of state Matt Brown emerged as a surprise primary challenger to Raimondo in April, raising concern in the governor’s campaign. But the incumbent went on to beat Brown by almost 15 points in the September primary.
Republican Cranston Mayor Allan Fung took another shot at the governor’s office, but his campaign never gained steam. Raimondo beat Fung by 15 points while outspending him by a factor of three to one.
1. The PawSox Make Their Final Decision
Coming in at number one; the decision by the PawSox to leave for Worcester and how that will affect Pawtucket’s future.
The multi-year drama involving the PawSox ended in August when the team announced plans to move to Worcester. Efforts to keep the team in Rhode Island were marked by a lack of unity among elected officials,
And Worcester also offered tens of millions dollars more in subsidies.
The PawSox will play for two more seasons at McCoy Stadium. But the team’s decision to leave is the latest in a series of tough blows for Pawtucket, including the closing of most of Memorial Hospital.
Pawtucket officials had hoped to use a new PawSox ballpark to spark development near the city’s downtown. Now, the city is worried about losing another of its best-known businesses, toy-maker Hasbro.