TGIF: 22 Things To Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media

Aug 11, 2017

Blink a few times and fall will be here before we know it -- right? -- so enjoy summer while you can. Meanwhile, 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. Is it more politically damaging to let the PawSox leave Rhode Island for another destination, or to support the team's proposal for a new $73 million stadium in Pawtucket? That's one of the fundamental questions quietly playing out as Pawtucket's Boys of Summer wind up the final weeks of their 2018 season. Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty is expected to introduce a resolution Tuesday expressing support for a pursuit of the PawSox by the second-largest city in Massachusetts. But a resolution is just an expression of interest, and it remains unclear what kind of financial commitment Worcester is willing to make to land the PawSox. Members of Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker's administration have met with PawSox ownership to discuss different Bay State options (Springfield and Montreal are also considered among the potential options). But Baker's office declined to specify if the governor would support a particular level of financial support to attract the team. “The administration is always willing to assist partners like the City of Worcester in exploring potential economic development initiatives,” Baker spokesman Billy Pitman said. Back in Rhode Island, the PawSox' TV and online PR campaign went dark around the end of June, suggesting that Larry Lucchino & Co. are tired of dealing with cranky Rhode Islanders. To some, this is a squandered opportunity to shift public opinion in support of the Pawtucket stadium. It would be relatively easy, for example, to collect email addresses from the thousands of fans who attend PawSox games at McCoy, and then use those to contact state lawmakers. But that's not happening -- and the PawSox play their last home game of the season August 27. For now, Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien and Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, a Pawtucket resident, are among the few elected officials publicly supporting the Pawtucket stadium plan. (Governor Gina Raimondo, whose Commerce Corporation negotiated the proposal, has remained largely quiet.) So will Worcester's pursuit focus the attention of RI lawmakers? Or are the PawSox more likely to leave Rhode Island, due in no small part to the long hangover of 38 Studios?

2. Local groups in Pawtucket are trying to fill the void left by the absence of a PR campaign in support of the new PawSox stadium. The Pawtucket Foundation, the Northern RI Chamber of Commerce, and the 20/20 Committee are staging a "Pawtucket is Home" Night, at McCoy on August 25, "with a goal of raising dollars to support a multi-platform media campaign supporting the new ballpark at Slater Mill," according to Lauren Greene, spokeswoman for Mayor Grebien. "There is so much uncertainty at the state level we need to make sure everyone understands that Pawtucket and all of RI could lose this treasure. The mayor is supporting these organizations and will be encouraging residents, fans, and Rhode Islanders to come out to support this once-in-a-life time opportunity for Pawtucket, the Blackstone Valley, and Rhode Island."

3. Could a Rhode Island Republican tilt the political landscape to their advantage by running for lieutenant governor, instead of governor, in 2018? This might be far-fetched. Then again, with Governor Raimondo packing an almost $3 million campaign account, perhaps discretion would be the better part of valor. If a Republican wins the lieutenant governor's office in 2018, they could raise their profile over the next four years, and potentially be well positioned to move up to the top job in 2022. Many Republicans have tried vaulting into Congress without General Assembly experience, so running for LG would also show some patience. But Joe Trillo's not getting any younger at age 74. Cranston Mayor Allan Fung describes the notion of his running for LG as "another false rumor being spread about me!! I'm NOT running for LG." And House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan said she's not interested in running for lieutenant governor. So who will run for the post? State GOP Chairman Brandon Bell said he's talking to people, but doesn't yet have any names to share.

4. On the Democratic side of the LG race, Dan McKee is expected -- as we've noted -- to face a challenge next year from state Rep. Aaron Regunberg of Providence. In the 2014 primary, Ralph Mollis topped McKee by more than 3,000 votes in Providence and Mollis' hometown of North Providence. But that margin was less than the spread McKee ran up in his town of Cumberland, along with Pawtucket, Johnston, and East Providence. So will the ring communities outside Providence help McKee to win the primary? Or will Regunberg's status as an unabashed progressive help him to beat McKee, a la Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in Rhode Island's 2016 presidential primary?

5. Former U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha tells me he's talked with Democratic consultant Tad Devine, a Providence native, as he mulls running for attorney general next year. But Neronha said he remains undecided about shooting for AG and has not hired any campaign staff. "I've talked to lots of people," including a number of consultants, Neronha said, "but I'm not ready to pull the trigger just yet." Neronha, who registered as a Democrat earlier this year, worked in the AG's office in the 90s, under Republican Jeff Pine, and his first assignment including prosecuting cases at the Traffic Court on Harris Avenue. Neronha stepped down as US attorney in March, following a request from the White House (which doesn't appear to be in any hurry to pick a successor). He said he's spending the summer with family while reflecting and asking himself whether he can make a difference in the AG's office. (Incumbent Peter Kilmartin is prevented by term limits from seeking re-election.)

6. The latest installment in the long-running fight over access to public records in Rhode Island came when the RI ACLU announced a lawsuit this week against the Pawtucket Police Department. AG Kilmartin's office didn't comment on the specifics, but defended its stance on open records and shot back that the ACLU was "mixing a heavy dose of innuendo with the law in an attempt to reach a self-serving political outcome." But the civil liberties group and its allies said getting access to public records remains a serious problem. (R. Kelly Sheridan, a volunteer lawyer in the Pawtucket matter, was part of a precedent-setting case on public access to police records back in 1982.) Meanwhile, "In Pawtucket, we have seen that this has been a definable endemic problem for almost 20 years," said Linda Lotridge Levin, a former head of the RI Press Association and a founder of the group ACCESS/RI. Citizens are also pushing the fight. Back during the waning Buddy Cianci years in the late 90s, a young Brown graduate named Derek Ellerman founded a group called CPAC to push for more openness. Now, the Rhode Island Accountability Project is pursuing a similar mission. 

7. Short takes from Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea's appearances with us on RI Public Radio's Political Roundtable and Bonus Q&A this week: 1) She doesn't necessarily endorse moving enforcement of the state's open records law from the AG's office. Gorbea said it's most important that the open records law offers an opportunity to appeal decisions, to the state Supreme Court; 2) No enforcement actions involving fines have come up since the state's new lobbying law went into effect January 1; 3) Gorbea said evidence has not surfaced that voting by undocumented immigrants is a problem in Rhode Island. "There are some serious legal repercussions" for impersonating a voter, she said; 4) The secretary of state points to Rhode Island's use of paper ballots, as a back up, as an ultimate safeguard against hacking the vote; 5) Gorbea on whether she could ever see herself running for governor: "Hypotheticals about the future will be left to the future."

8. Former state rep Robert DaSilva is the first announced candidate for mayor in East Providence. The news comes from The Reporter, a shopper mailed to homes in East Providence, Seekonk and Rehoboth, showing how even small publications help to fill a bit of the void left by changes in the mediascape.

9. Secretary of State Gorbea on whether she backs any changes to improve the General Assembly process after the legislature's recent month-long budget stalemate: "Every legislative process -- it's its own world, and it depends on people," Gorbea said on RIPR's Bonus Q&A. "I'm not sure that you can legislate human interaction quite as much as you would like."

10. One of the most impactful players in Rhode Island's media landscape is someone most Rhode Islanders have never heard of. Jay Howell, named this week as the new GM for KOVR-TV and KMAX-TV in Sacramento, led WPRI-TV for 11 years, making the CBS affiliate into what it is today. Howell took a calculated shot on three guys who had never been on-camera before -- Tim White, Ted Nesi, and Dan McGowan -- and those moves look pretty smart in hindsight. WPRI's current GM, Pat Wholey, was Howell's protege. And while Howell comes from the sales side of the business, he's a political junkie who recognized the merit of adding value to the news side while adding new efforts like The Rhode Show. "Jay is a visionary," said Nesi. "He understands how important it is that local TV stations innovate, and invest in news-gathering, to stay competitive in the digital age. You couldn’t ask for a better boss -- smart, passionate, engaged, risk-taking, fiercely loyal and supportive. And personally speaking, I really owe him my career." White adds: "Fewer people have had a greater impact on my career than Jay. He saw the value in a strong newsroom and invested in investigative journalism, knowing that was how an outlet was going to stand out from the rest. I will forever remember during the recession -- when newsrooms across the country were slashing their staff -- Jay doubled down. He felt strongly the community we served needed a watchdog more in down years. He's an energetic leader, and you always, always felt like he had your back. Even when you knew a story was likely going to make his phone ring with some unhappy people."

11. "Inside the Partisan Fight for Your News Feed"

12. Bisnow, a new online business publication, takes a look at efforts to reinvent Rhode Island's economy. Here's the lede: "Rhode Island's leaders know their state ranks as one of the least business-friendly in the country, but they have been making an increased effort lately to shed the image." Meanwhile, Bisnow is staging an October 17 event in Boston, entitled, "The future of Providence & Rhode Island"

13. Politico media critic Jack Shafer offers a defense of Sinclair Broadcasting, owner of WJAR-TV, which is under criticism both for its conservative ideology and its attempt to add 42 stations to the 173 it already owns: "These complaints might make sense if we were still living in 1950, when cable television barely existed; spectrum licensing limited the number of over-the-air TV stations a region could receive to a maximum of six or maybe seven; satellite television, satellite radio, any mobile devices were a thing of science fiction; and the internet had only barely been imagined by Vannevar Bush. Today, the United States has 1,775 total television stations, about 5,200 cable systems run by 660 operators reaching 90 percent of homes and so many cable channels that TV executives complain about their number. The idea that Sinclair, with 215 stations reaching 72 percent of U.S. households, might banish competing viewpoints from the marketplace reeks of stupidity. Add the competition offered by rising over-the-top television networks like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, iTunes, YouTube and others, and the Newsmax argument all but dissolves."

14. Via Jeff Jarvis: "If I ran a newspaper .... The burning house sits on the foundation of media’s old business model, which is built on volume: reach and frequency in mass media terms, unique users and clicks online. This house is doomed to commoditization as the abundance and competition the internet spawns drive the price of the scarcity we once controlled — media time and space — toward zero. Yet this is the model that still makes us our money and so, just to survive and perchance to invest in an alternative future and home, we must still feed that fire with cats, Kardashians, and every new trick we can find, from programmatic ads and so-called content-recommendation engines (which commoditize media yet further) to native advertising (which, when it fools our readers, only depletes the seed corn that is our trust and brand). We know where this ends: in ashes ...."

15. Scott MacKay wonders whether Governor Raimondo vetoed the wrong labor bill.

16. Details on Defense Innovation Days, coming to Newport August 28-30, via SENEDIA Executive Director Molly Donohue Magee: "A former Secretary of Defense once referred to our region as the “Silicon Valley of undersea technology.” One key goal of Defense Innovation Days is to bring that talent together and provide an opportunity to strengthen relationships and collaboration with government officials and companies who are producing the leading-edge innovations that support our armed forces. This networking helps foster the advanced innovation that makes our country safer and boosts our economy. Our goal is to spur innovation and keep our nation’s edge as the world’s defense technology leader.

17. Walking a purple tightrope on issues like immigration and healthcare has helped Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, to repeatedly poll as the best-liked governor in the nation.

18. Congrats to Tim White and co-authors Randy Richard and Wayne Worcester on how author Don Winslow has optioned their book on the 1975 Bonded Vault heist.

19. How did a composition written by a Russian -- about fighting the French -- become a staple of  the summer-time classical music circuit? Via RIPR's Ximena Conde and John Bender: Everything you wanted to know about the 1812 Overture, but were too afraid to ask.

20. Via the Newport Historical Society: "Newport was one of the earliest American seaports to engage in the transatlantic drug trade during the first third of the eighteenth century. On Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 5:30 pm, the Newport Historical Society will host Dr. Elaine Forman Crane for a lecture titled A Culture of Corruption: The Apothecary’s Tale. At a time when both the production and sale of pharmaceuticals were unregulated on this side of the Atlantic, Newport’s unlicensed apothecaries were free to advise and dispense the most dangerous substances. Drug ingredients from several continents were compounded in London, tampered with en route to New England, and costly when prescribed locally. Even more threatening to the consumer, apothecaries often adulterated drugs, a tactic that reduced the product’s efficacy while enhancing the apothecary’s profit."

21. Every week, millions of bananas move through New York City. Here's the story of how it happens.

22. Is the HBO hit Game of Thrones about Donald Trump, nuclear war, both, or neither?