TGIF (Thanksgiving Edition): 21 Things To Know About RI Politics & Media

Nov 27, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend! I'm grateful for our listeners/readers at RIPR, my excellent colleagues in the local media, the staffers and spokespeople on the beat, and of course, Rhode Island politics -- the gift that keeps giving. With that in mind, feel free to drop me a tip or comment via email and to follow me through the week on the twitters. Here we go.

1. Will Rhode Islanders be thankful for progress on the economic development front in 2016? Jim Berens, the president of Baltimore-based Wexford Science & Technology, certainly sounded bullish notes about Providence and the state's political leadership when he spoke Monday during the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting. To recap, Berens validated the long-sought notion of remaking the 195 District as an innovation hub. He touted "seamless cooperation" from Governor Gina Raimondo and legislative leaders, and praised Raimondo's "toolbox" of economic incentives, some of which are being sought by Wexford for its project. (It augured well for Wexford's interest in RI when it emerged over the summer as the funding source for the unfolding development at South Street Landing.) For her part, Raimondo said she "soon" expects to complete a purchase and sale agreement with Wexford for the five-acre 195 District project. The governor, characteristically, used the chamber event to sound a broadly upbeat message about turning around Rhode Island's economy; suffice it to say, there's far more of a mind-meld between Raimondo and her business audience at the Convention Center than there ever was with her less dynamic predecessor, Lincoln Chafee. The future direction of the US economy -- which always has an outsized effect on RI -- remains a wild card. Yet if Raimondo can score some tangible victories in the new year, particularly locking down Wexford and activating construction crews with a legislatively approved RhodeWorks plan, those will become important elements in her narrative and the state's search for a better economy. 

2. We RI political reporters are always thankful for an election season, not to mention one that could coincide next year with the possible move to trial of the state's lawsuit over 38 Studios. One of the big related questions is the fate of the GOP ranks in the General Assembly. GOP chairman Brandon Bell has injected fresh vitality into the party, and as he notes in item #20, he thinks Rhode Islanders are becoming more demanding in what they expect from politicians. Yet the GOP's modest presence in the legislature faces a number of challenges, particularly in a presidential election year like 2016 when Democrats will vote in particularly large numbers. For starters, Senator Elaine Morgan (R-Hopkinton), one of just four Republicans in the Senate, has emerged as a Democratic target because of her controversial remarks about Muslims. Then there's how House Democrats plan a big push to get ex-Rep Lisa Tomasso back in office, following her 2014 defeat by West Greenwich Republican Sherry Roberts. A coalition encompassing the RI Progressive Democrats and even former GOP senator Christopher Ottiano is rallying behind Democrat Jim Seveney in his attempt to win Ottiano's former seat. And then there's the question of how Joe Trillo (R-Warwick), the dean of the House GOP's 11 member caucus (including independent Blake Filippi of New Shoreham), will fare in his first challenge in many years, from young labor lawyer Evan Shanley (see #2).

3. Brown University President Christina Paxson dropped the most tangible news during Monday's Greater Providence Chamber event: that Brown plans to develop a translational science center, focused on stuff with commercial applications, in the Jewelry District. (On a night when ears were tuned to Wexford's proposal, Paxson arguably had more news value, talking up Brown's intention to play an ongoing and prominent role in new development targeted for the 195 and Jewelry districts.) All this marks a big distance from the time, about a dozen years ago, when Brown was far more guarded about the university's role in bringing innovative new products to market. It also reinforces how one of the key differences between Worcester and Providence is the presence here of an Ivy League university.

4. Here's an update on the problem of hunger in Rhode Island. It's worth remembering, too, that the network of emergency food pantries that aid those short of adequate nutrition is a relatively recent phenomenon. As I learned while researching a newspaper story 20 years for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, the pantry movement began as a temporary response to a bruising recession in the early 1980s. While the economy got better, the number of nationwide food pantries only grew in response to a spiraling need and cutbacks in government food programs.

5. A classic from the archives: Fellini's famous Thanksgiving pizza (pretty tasty!)

6. Give a listen to Bob Kerr's latest essay for RI Public Radio, on the importance of a live well-lived.

7. Another excellent listen: RIPR's Ambar Espinoza details how some inmates at the ACI are thankful for an opportunity to give something back by learning how to garden.

8. Coming & Going: Drew Allsopp, formerly charter school coordinator for the state Department of Education, is in as the policy director for LG Dan McKee ....  David Sullivan, who was appointed as state tax administrator by Don Carcieri in 2006 and has also served more recently as acting head of the state Department of Revenue, is leaving for a private sector job with the global tax services firm Ryan LLC .... Mark Rhoades, a former staffer with Gina Raimondo and Seth Magaziner, is now with Deloitte Consulting.

9. Dan Kennedy's take on how Spotlight -- an otherwise excellent movie that underscores the importance of investigative reporting -- "demonstrates how Hollywood distorts reality."

**Thanksgiving special. We asked some leading Rhode Island politicos about what they are thankful for this year. Here's what they said**

10. Governor Gina Raimondo: "I am thankful for my incredible husband and kids, and their constant support. I am thankful for my Mom, who is always there for us, and the delicious meals we make together as a family. I’m thankful for the compassion and generosity of Rhode Islanders, who take care of one another. And with all the unrest throughout the world, where people are separated from their loved ones and their homes over the holidays, I am thankful for the brave men and women who keep our country safe and ensure our freedom. I wish all Rhode Islanders a safe, happy, and peaceful Thanksgiving!"

11. Senator Jack Reed: "I am thankful for my family and friends and the many blessings of our community.  I am particularly grateful for the sacrifice and dedication of the men and women who serve their fellow citizens -- whether they be teachers, volunteers, first responders, or members of the Armed Forces. As Americans, we pride ourselves on independence, but Thanksgiving also reminds us how lucky we are to live in a place where so many people come together, look out for one another, help those in need, and sacrifice to uphold the rights and freedoms we all cherish."

12. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello: “I am thankful for my wonderful family, friends and supporters, and a warm and vibrant Rhode Island community. I am also thankful that the state’s economy has been moving in a positive direction and the coming year looks more encouraging than the last for all Rhode Islanders.”

13. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed said she "is thankful for a loving family and good friends, a great team in the Senate, and Rhode Islanders returning to work in an improving economy."

14. Congressman: David Cicilline: "I am thankful for my loving family, who I will be hosting at my home tomorrow night for Thanksgiving Dinner. I am thankful for our brave men and women in uniform. Many are spending this holiday thousands of miles from their own families. They deserve our profound gratitude for all they have done in the service of our country. I am thankful for the opportunity to serve the hardworking families of Rhode Island’s First District, and of course I am especially thankful to be an American."

15. Congressman Jim Langevin: “I am thankful for my supportive family and friends, and for the incredible opportunity to serve my state and constituents. Happy Thanksgiving, Rhode Island!”

16. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza: I am thankful for all of the people who care so much about Providence and for all they do to make this such a great city. I am also thankful for my wonderful family and friends who inspire me to do more and to reach further every day."

17. Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee: “I’m thankful for the progress we have made this year in improving the state's economy and building a better Rhode Island where our young people will want to stay and develop their entrepreneurial ideas and talents. I’m thankful there are incredibly bright spots in some of our public schools, including the mayoral academies, which are showing that all children can perform at high levels. We can’t stop pushing ahead until we have excellence in every classroom. Of course, I’m also thankful for the Patriots’ undefeated season so far. Let's go all the way!”

18. Attorney General Peter Kilmartin: "This is a time of year when we reflect upon all the things for which we are thankful. I am most thankful for my family and friends -- especially my loving wife and best friend Kristine -- and I am thankful to be able to spend the holiday with loved ones. I am also incredibly thankful to serve the state of Rhode Island as Attorney General, working alongside the dedicated employees of the office to uphold justice and advocate for victims every day. As we celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends, let's give thanks to the brave men and women who serve in our armed forces, many of whom are away from their own families as they work to ensure our freedom. May we also give thanks to our first responders -- our police, fire, EMTs, emergency room staff, and other safety personnel -- who are working on Thanksgiving to keep us safe. As someone who prefers eating pumpkin pie and watching football with family and friends over standing in line for door-buster deals, I am heartened by the growing trend of retailers choosing to stay closed on Thanksgiving, giving their employees the opportunity to spend time with their own families. It is important to remember that the true meaning of Thanksgiving isn't about getting great deals on flat screen TVs, tablets, or designer labels. It's about celebrating family and friends, and for being thankful for and appreciating what we have."

19.  Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea: As a working mom who happens to be an elected official, I am thankful every day for the support that allows me to work for change in Rhode Island. I am thankful first and foremost to my husband, daughters and family for their love and support. I'm thankful for my staff at the Department of State that makes me look good every day with their hard work and commitment to Rhode Island. And I am thankful to the people of Rhode Island for the opportunity to serve them."

20. State GOP Chairman Brandon Bell: "We have a lot to be thankful for this year. I am thankful that the so-called 'Taylor Swift' tax was killed and that horrendous idea to subsidize a new stadium went nowhere, and that people of Rhode Island are not incurring massive debt/taxes on the proposed truck tolling plan. I am optimistic that Rhode Islanders are waking up and demanding that our elected officials change the way the public business has been done in this state for decades; that hard-working Republican legislators are proposing real solutions to providing value based public services to make Rhode Island a place of opportunity. I am so appreciative of the dedicated public servants that protect and teach our children. And I'm grateful that we see stronger communities where citizens are working to build a fairer, happier and more prosperous Rhode Island. So important to remember: 'It's not happy people who are thankful, it's thankful people who are happy.' "

21. State Democratic Chairman Joseph McNamara: "You'd asked what I was thankful for. Given the recent tragedies in Paris and across the globe, I think we are all more aware of and appreciative of the life we have as Americans. I am most thankful for the blessings of my family; our democracy and the rights it accords us; living in a country where all men and women are recognized for being created equal; the basic freedoms we enjoy -- speech, religion among them; and the right to vote and 'one-man, one-vote' where each citizen has an equal opportunity to have a voice in who represents us in government."