April fools! This is Eli Sherman, filling in for Ted on his weekend column while he’s out of town — you can send your takes, tips and trial balloons to esherman@wpri.com and follow me on Twitter and on Facebook.

1. Love him or hate him, former President Donald Trump has a knack for setting precedent. He was the first president to win office without any past government or military service. He was the first to be twice impeached. And he was the first to refuse the prospect of a peaceful transfer of power, spurring the unprecedented Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. This week, he set precedent again when a Manhattan grand jury indicted him for his alleged role in paying hush-money to porn star and ex-lover Stormy Daniels on the eve of the 2016 president election. The decision marks the first time in American history a president or former president has been criminally indicted, and the political repercussions are likely to play a significant role in the coming year. The immediate political response has been predictable, with Republicans dubbing it a “political witch hunt,” and Democrats heralding the country’s rule of law. “Nobody is above the law,” Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, a Democrat, said in a statement. “A grand jury of ordinary citizens heard evidence and voted to indict – that is how our legal system works.” How it plays out long-term, however, is less predictable. Trump’s legal strategy for decades has been to draw out legal battles, making it conceivable a trial could be underway in a year at the same time he’s in the throes of campaign for president. And with polls still showing him as a leading GOP candidate, he could very well be the Republican nominee at the time. If or when it gets to that point, Roger Williams University Law Professor Andrew Horwitz tells Tim White one particularly thorny issue will be finding a group of Trump’s peers to sit on the jury. “If you actually find someone who didn’t have an opinion on Donald Trump, you would wonder where that person has been living and whether they are sufficiently integrated into society and sufficiently attentive to be the kind of juror you would want,” Horwitz said.

2. It was another week of tough headlines for some of Rhode Island’s biggest development projects, and Gov. Dan McKee is pointing a finger at the U.S. Federal Reserve and its chairman, Jerome Powell, for steadily raising interest rates over the past year. “We’re going to be calling on the Federal Reserve and hope other governors will join in,” McKee told reporters last week when asked about financial uncertainty shrouding the $124 million Tidewater Landing soccer stadium project led by developer Brett Johnson in Pawtucket. “We’re going to call on them to make it known that they’re done with raising and they’re going to start lowering.” A day later, however, McKee changed his tune when it came to questions about the $220 million Superman building redevelopment project in downtown Providence. “I don’t look at interest rates as a reason that would stop that project,” he said. “They’ve had plenty of time to move forward.” Superman developer High Rock has said the cost has increased by millions of dollars and spokesperson Bill Fischer fired back at the notion that rising interest rates aren’t negatively affecting the project: “If anybody is surprised that this impacts the Superman building and other projects, they should turn on CNBC and watch Chairman Powell’s press conferences,” he said.

3. On Friday, Governor McKee sent a letter to Chairman Powell, writing in part that the raising rates are “hampering our economic progress and stability and creating a significant risk of recession.” The full letter, which can be found here, immediately evoked criticism from Rhode Island Republican National Committeeman Steve Frias, who noted that the controversial Tidewater soccer project wasn’t mentioned. “He knows that the Fed’s job is to bring down inflation for everyone, not to save idiotic boondoggles for RI pols, insiders and special interest groups,” Frias tweeted.

4. Speaking of massive development projects, here’s a dispatch out of Providence from my Target 12 colleague Steph Machado: “With the yearslong Fane Tower saga in the rearview mirror, the next question is: what is going to be built on Parcel 42 instead? We put that question to Marc Crisafulli, the new 195 Commission chairman on this week’s taping of Newsmakers. ‘There’s plenty of interest in putting another residential project there,’ Crisafulli said. ‘We may come to that. But our first priority is to try and find a commercial use. I don’t know if that will be viable or not.’ The parcel is a prime spot that only got more desirable after the construction of the pedestrian bridge and Innovation Park abutting the parcel, which is right across from the Wexford building on Dyer Street. Crisafulli also insisted it was Fane who ultimately walked away from the controversial project, not the 195 Commission that pulled the plug. But he added that the commission was not willing to continue extending Fane’s deadlines indefinitely. With the current inflation and interest rate environment squeezing development projects, Crisafulli said the construction projects in the pipeline for the 195 land, including the new State Health Lab, appear to be on track. (Ground has not yet broken on the lab building.) But he signaled some concern for the future. ‘I think the pressure may come on making it harder to do some more commercial projects,’ he said. ‘So we’re going to have to evaluate that as it happens.'”

5. The race to replace Congressman David Cicilline in a special election for the 1st Congressional District continues to heat up in the wake of prominent and well-funded House Speaker Joe Shekarchi and former CVS executive Helena Foulkes announcing they wouldn’t join the fray. Former secretary of state candidate Stephanie Beauté and Providence Council Councilman John Goncalves announced their candidacies last week. They join six other Democrats who have kicked off campaigns or filed with the FEC: former Raimondo administration official Nick Autiello, political newcomer Mickeda Barnes, state Rep. Nathan Biah, state Sen. Sandra Cano, Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos and 2022 Republican nominee Allen Waters. It’s safe to assume the list of Democrats will continue to grow, as there are several others considering a run. Here’s an up-to-date list of who’s in, who’s considering and who’s out.

6. The candidates have until April 15 to file their first-quarter fundraising reports, but some of them were ready to share numbers after the reporting period ended Friday. Senator Cano said she’s raised $125,000 through the first 11 days of her campaign, with a large chunk ($80K) coming from her own money. “The momentum has been great,” she said. Nick Autiello said he’s raised about $105,000 in his first 10 days. He said money has come from Rhode Islanders, national LGBTQ+ groups and $12,000 of his own money. “It’s overwhelming the amount of support that’s coming in,” Autiello told me Friday. Sabina Matos’ campaign said the lieutenant governor has raised more than $125,000, including $20,000 in personal funds. Waters said he’s raised $3,800. The other candidates didn’t immediately respond to requests for fundraising totals.

7. No Republicans have announced plans yet to run for the 1st District, but the party is undergoing a leadership change and expressing optimism about the future. Joe Powers was elected head of the Rhode Island GOP last weekend, replacing Sue Cienki, who moved into a new position as Rhode Island Republican national committeewoman. The Projo’s Kathy Gregg has a good write-up about Powers, a 52-year-old real estate agent, and where he stands on issues including abortion, guns and COVID-19 policy. Powers is now responsible for helping the party grow in a state where Republicans hold zero statewide offices and only 14 of 113 legislative seats. “Our team is ready to hit the ground running and show Rhode Islander’s that it makes sense to be a Republican,” Powers said.

8. The candidates also know now when they will be competing for the 1st District seat. Governor McKee and Secretary of State Gregg Amore announced the schedule for the special election, and it ended up looking a lot like a normal election year. The primary is set for Sept. 5, the day after Labor Day, and the general election is set for Nov. 7. The dates are still technically considered tentative, as they depend on Congressman Cicilline formally resigning from the seat as planned in June. He’s leaving to replace the retiring Neil Steinberg as head of the Rhode Island Foundation.

9. A familiar face has resurfaced on the political scene. Governor McKee’s campaign has hired his former chief of staff, Tony Silva, to coordinate fundraising and political activity for the organization. Silva stepped down as McKee’s chief of staff in August 2021 amid mounting criticism that he tried to sway Cumberland officials over a land deal involving his family. He was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing after a lengthy investigation by Attorney General Peter Neronha, but the state’s top prosecutor still lambasted Silva for exercising “very poor judgment” and undermining public confidence in government. Silva has argued he was “treated unfairly and with political motivation.” That line drew a response from Neronha after the news of Silva’s new job came out. “Always loved the unfair and politically motivated line,” he tweeted. “Unfair? How? Politically motivated? Please. The silence is deafening. Facts are facts.”

10. Ted Nesi (heard of him?) had a startling report this week about how much voter turnout has plummeted in Bristol County, Massachusetts, in recent decades. For example, only about 24% of eligible voters went to the polls for Fall River’s municipal election in 2021; back in 1975, turnout was 77% in the Spindle City. Advocates argue part of the problem is that local elections in many Massachusetts municipalities happen during odd-numbered years when there aren’t presidential or gubernatorial elections, and simply shifting them to even-numbered years could vastly improve turnout. “We know that when you move the elections to even-number years that you could possibly double and oftentimes triple the turnout,” said Cheryl Clyburn Crawford of MassVOTE. Read Ted’s full report here to see what local mayors think about the idea.

11. While electric regulatory policy may sound like a snooze-fest to many, the biannual rate setting at the R.I. Public Utilities Commission affects most Rhode Islanders, dictating how much residents and businesses will pay to keep the lights on and machinery going for the next six months. Last week, state regulators approved a Rhode Island Energy proposal to charge 10.3 cents per kilowatt hour rate for the summer months, offering some respite from the winter months when costs skyrocketed. But the new rates are still higher than last summer, and they come at the same time several municipalities – including Providence – are offering competitive pricing for plans proponents argue will bolster spending on renewable energy resources. The rates for all plans, however, are only good for the next six months, meaning ratepayers in search of the cheapest deal must be proactive about tracking rates twice a year. “A lot of folks are asking our consumer team, ‘Do I have to keep checking every six months?’” PUC spokesperson Tom Kogut told me. “The short answer is, kind of, ‘Yes.’” Below is a chart showing how Rhode Island Energy (formerly National Grid) rates have changed over the past several years.

12. Medicaid recertification begins today. It may sound wonky, but one of every three Rhode Islanders is covered by the public health insurance program and the state must now recertify all of them for the first time in three years. The process is likely to cause headaches for the McKee administration and consternation for the more than 350,000 Medicaid enrollees across the state. The annual process was put on hold during the pandemic, meaning this hasn’t happened since 2020. At least 25,000 Rhode Islanders are expected to get kicked off the program and have to find coverage elsewhere as a result, and the number could be much higher. My colleague Sarah Guernelli and I have a full report on the issue coming up on Tuesday, examining where there could be problems, what people need to know and why some argue the state isn’t prepared.

13. Tim White got his hands on jailhouse recordings of ex-New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez in the days leading up to his 2017 death, which was later ruled a suicide. The recordings – which were released after a lengthy legal battle brought by The Boston Globe and WBUR – reveal Hernandez expressing a fair amount of optimism about his circumstances. The recordings are worth a listen and somewhat uncanny, considering what happened next.

14. Good news: Superior Court Judge Richard Licht is finally home as he continues to recover from getting hit by a car in February. He was hit while crossing Smith Street near the State House and the collision left him in serious condition. Licht has since spent time at both Rhode Island Hospital and a rehabilitation center where he’s been recovering from some nasty injuries. “Richard is home recovering and making good progress,” family spokesperson Joy Fox said in a statement Friday. “He and his family continue to be grateful to all those who have offered support and well wishes for his recovery.”

15. Remember Governor McKee’s campaign ad last year featuring him and his mother, Willa McKee, playing cards? The ad was easily the splashiest and most talked about during the gubernatorial election, and it’s now receiving accolades from the world of elections advertising. Campaigns and Elections Magazine awarded the ad, dubbed “Motha,” top marks in three categories: Best 30 second TV Ad, Best Gubernatorial Ad and Best Use of Humor in TV Ad. Congrats to team McKee and Willa.

16. The Rhode Island Democratic Association of City and Town Chairs has elected new officers for a two-year term. The new slate includes President Thomas Kane of the Cumberland Town Committee; 1st Vice President Erich Haslehurst of the Bristol Town Committee; 2nd Vice President Anne Geertman of the North Kingstown Town Committee; Secretary Maria Bucci of Cranston City Committee; and Treasurer Anne Livingston of Jamestown Town Committee.

17. Senate Republican Leader Jessica da la Cruz has announced the creation of a new political action committee dubbed Senate Republican Leadership PAC, which she said will help GOP candidates running for office in 2024 and beyond. “It is no secret that election cycle after election cycle, Democrats outraised Republican candidates at every level,” de la Cruz said in a statement. “My goal is to raise the necessary funds to assist our state Senate candidates in the upcoming cycle.”

18. This Wall Street Journal profile about its reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was detained by the FSB and charged with espionage in Russia, is well worth your time.

19. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — I-195 Redevelopment District Commission chair Marc Crisafulli. Watch Sunday at 5:30 a.m. on WPRI 12 and 10 a.m. on Fox Providence, or listen on the radio Sunday at 6 p.m. on WPRO. You can also subscribe to Newsmakers as a podcast on iTunes (or wherever you get your podcasts). See you back here next Saturday morning.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Editor’s note: This column was updated after publication with fundraising totals from additional congressional candidates. Correction: The Autiello campaign originally gave an incorrect fundraising total. The article has been updated.