1. Italians have a saying when a papal conclave rolls around: “After a fat pope, a skinny pope.” The idea is that the winner of an election often represents a course-correction from the winner of the last one. Mayoral hopeful Brett Smiley certainly seems to think that will be the case in Providence, where he made an all-but-explicit case against the approach of term-limited incumbent Jorge Elorza (his former boss) at a campaign kickoff this week. “We can no longer get distracted by shiny new initiatives that are better left to the state or federal government,” Smiley said, later acknowledging to our Steph Machado he was referring to Elorza projects such as a universal basic income. Smiley finished 2021 as the financial leader in the mayoral race (though he drew a $4,500 ethics fine along the way). He used his kickoff to signal he can broaden his coalition beyond the East Side, touting support from the police union and city councilors like James Taylor and Mike Correia. Among the other three Democrats running, longtime political operative Gonzalo Cuervo had raised the most after Smiley, and looked to keep up the pace Wednesday night with a University Club fundraiser co-hosted by former Mayor Angel Taveras, lobbyist Mark Ryan and his law partner Tom Moses. (As Dan McGowan flagged, the Cuervo campaign still sent an email the next morning criticizing candidates who take money from lobbyists.) Cuervo is positioning himself as a more progressive alternative to Smiley, and he’s as well-connected as his rival, having worked for Taveras, David Cicilline and Nellie Gorbea. Yet Cuervo could face competition on the left from City Councilor Nirva LaFortune, who ranked third in fundraising at last check and has carved out a progressive voting record at City Hall. LaFortune’s candidacy is historic — she would be Providence’s first woman mayor and its first Black mayor — but insiders will be watching closely to see whether her fundraising pace has picked up. And then there is former City Council President Michael Solomon, who has seeded his campaign with $250,000 but otherwise been quiet. Solomon told Steph he’s planning a formal kickoff soon, which could mean there will be four credible Democrats on the September ballot.
2. Here’s a dispatch from my Target 12 colleague Steph Machado: “The mayor’s race may be the highest-profile contest in Providence this fall, but don’t forget all 15 City Council seats will also be on the ballot, and a third of them will have no incumbent due to term limits kicking in for the first time ever. The term-limited councilors are Nicholas Narducci (Ward 4), Michael Correia (Ward 6), John Igliozzi (Ward 7), Carmen Castillo (Ward 9) and David Salvatore (Ward 14). Even more seats were expected to be open, but three of the term-limited councilors resigned early and were replaced in special elections. The 10 incumbents who are eligible to run again have until late June to decide; we already know Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3) is running for mayor instead. Lots of new candidates are already jumping into the council races, while others are waiting for the final ward map to be drawn. The council is currently tweaking the map after a public hearing earlier this week, and a final version is likely to be approved in mid-April.”
3. Thursday was the last day of 2022’s first fundraising quarter, as was apparent to just about everybody with an email inbox and any connection to politics. Candidates have a few weeks to close the books before they report their numbers publicly, and many weren’t willing to get specific on Friday. But some gave glimpses. In the race for governor, Democratic incumbent Dan McKee reports raising more than $400,000, the most he’s ever pulled in during a single quarter. (Campaign manager Brexton Isaacs added that the governor received donations from all 39 cities and towns.) None of McKee’s Democratic rivals offered numbers of their own, but newly announced Republican Ashley Kalus said she’s put $500,000 into her campaign account. “I will raise and write whatever amount is necessary to make this a competitive race,” Kalus declared.
4. In the Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District, David Segal said he raised roughly $252,000, reinforcing that he’s serious about the race. Financial leader Seth Magaziner’s campaign hasn’t provided an update since a few weeks ago, when a spokesperson said he’d taken in $750,000 so far, but it’s expected he padded that number further. Sarah Morgenthau is being closely watched since she’s seen as having the personal wherewithal and professional network to raise large sums; “whisper numbers” for her run as high as $500,000. Joy Fox offered no hints about where she ended the quarter, but this was her final pitch in an email to supporters: “We need a candidate who can connect with people not just in Providence or in South County, but in Johnston and Coventry. In places where Jack Reed won but Joe Biden didn’t in 2020.” Omar Bah also declined to share a number.
5. With nearly three months left before Rhode Island’s candidate filing deadline, it’s still possible more candidates will jump in. One person to keep an eye on is Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor, who for months has been flirting with a run for general treasurer, where former Central Falls Mayor James Diossa is currently the only Democrat running. Diossa, who has the support of Governor McKee among others, has been using his time alone in the spotlight to staff up, lock down support, and raise money. Newly hired Diossa campaign manager Rob Craven Jr. told me Friday they have raised over $100,000 since announcing in December, and will report over $150,000 on hand as of March 31 — a number that compares favorably with other winning downballot candidates in recent cycles. Still, Pryor is a visible presence in his day job, with a host of McKee’s most important initiatives running through Commerce, and he has a deep Rolodex he could tap for contributions. Asked Friday whether he’s made a final decision yet about a treasurer run, Pryor told me, “Stay tuned for an update soon.”
6. Massachusetts voters will elect a new governor this fall, too, and the early favorite to replace Republican incumbent Charlie Baker is Democratic AG Maura Healey. But CommonWealth Magazine’s Bruce Mohl reports Bay Staters are still waiting for the race to really get going.
7. With the arrival of spring, state lawmakers are getting closer to making some massive budget decisions. The first question is what to do with the unprecedented $618.4 million budget surplus expected this fiscal year. Governor McKee has proposed spending the bulk of it on one-time items, mostly infrastructure, as well as some operating expenses; rivals like Nellie Gorbea and Helena Foulkes have suggested using a portion for a temporary tax cut due to rising prices. The second question is how to spend $1.24 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds. McKee has put forward a proposal that would lock in how all the money will be used over the next five years, but lawmakers could also decide to reserve a portion for later use since federal law doesn’t require the money to be allocated until the end of 2024. And then there is the “regular” state-funded section of the budget, paid for with state general revenue — which has also risen markedly in recent years. McKee’s budget plan proposes spending $4.7 billion paid for with general revenue next year, up from about $4 billion before the pandemic, and it’s expected that number will tick up even higher when official revenue estimates are revised in May.
8. Speaking of federal money, The New York Times did a deep dive on Friday into which members of Congress brought home the most bacon now that earmarks — ahem, “Community Project Funding” — are back. Jack Reed came out on top among local lawmakers, obtaining $108.7 million for projects either on his own or in joint requests with others. That’s no surprise, since Reed holds a coveted seat on the Appropriations Committee (and helps explain how he beat out both Massachusetts senators, who shared credit for $82.7 million in earmarks). Sheldon Whitehouse was next, with $66.5 million in earmarks to his name. On the House side, none of the chamber’s 435 members got as much as Southeast New England’s four senators — the No. 1 House earmarker, Missouri Republican Blaine Luetkemeyer, topped out at $56 million. Among the region’s four House members, freshman Jake Auchincloss got the most earmarks at $16.2 million, followed by Bill Keating ($10.8 million), David Cicilline ($9.6 million) and Jim Langevin ($7.9 million). Overall, though, The Times found Rhode Island got more per resident than the Bay State.
9. The National Grid-PPL deal is on hold again, this time in Rhode Island.
10. Here’s a dispatch from my Target 12 colleague Eli Sherman: “For the first time since the pandemic started, Rhode Island is providing a breakdown between people who were hospitalized because of COVID-19, and those who were hospitalized for some other reason – such as a broken leg – but also tested positive for the virus. For a hospital, the distinction isn’t all that important, as the protective measures required to treat a COVID-positive patient – such as wearing protective gear and separating them from non-COVID patients – are the same, regardless of what illness brought them through the ER doors. But people have been clamoring to know the difference, as the topic has become a flashpoint in arguments surrounding the severity of the pandemic. Here’s what the new data shows: last August, about 81% of COVID-19 patients were hospitalized because of the virus; by February, the rate had fallen to 44%, meaning more than half of all COVID-19 patients were hospitalized for some other reason that month. State health officials attribute the shift to a rise in vaccine inoculations, which has helped fend off severe illness and death. But also because the more contagious, but less severe omicron variant displaced the less contagious, but more severe delta variant as the dominant strain in Rhode Island. Another way to think about it: Rhode Island saw record-shattering levels of COVID-19 infections around New Year’s, but fewer and fewer of those people ended up in the hospital because of the illness.”
11. Governor McKee told reporters Friday he is confident the FBI investigation into the controversial ILO Group contract won’t reveal any wrongdoing by his administration.
12. The end of winter is also bringing to an end to temporary programs that provide shelter for Rhode Islanders who are homeless. My colleague Tolly Taylor reported on a Motel 6 in Newport where nearly 80 people had to leave their rooms this week, and The Globe’s Alexa Gagosz found a similar situation in Warwick. “The solution to homelessness is housing, and there is just not sufficient housing,” Crossroads Rhode Island President Michelle Wilcox said on this week’s Newsmakers. Yet Wilcox said it’s not new for her organization to see its core challenge as inadequate housing options, citing an 80/20 rule among shelter providers. “About 80% of people experiencing homelessness, it’s episodic — it’s going to happen once, it’s hopefully brief, and once we help them resolve their homelessness, they’ll never be homeless again,” she said. Then, she continued, there are “that 20% of folks [who] are chronically homeless, and those are the folks that have multiple challenges.” David Salvatore of the Rhode Island Association of Realtors said the housing shortage is a problem up and down the income spectrum, from the individuals served by Crossroads to middle-class families. Salvatore (who is also a Providence city councilor) is currently serving on two State House commissions looking at housing policy, and he thinks the most effective way to increase the supply of housing is to reduce resistance at the city and town level. “I think we need to incentivize municipalities to build more housing,” he said, suggesting ARPA funds could be used to ease local concerns about the cost of new residents.
13. Taunton Mayor Shaunna O’Connell was sworn in three months ago, but she’s finally holding her inaugural ball next weekend. A committee has been soliciting donations from individuals and corporations — with tickets to a private reception running as high as $10,000.
14. The late Jim Taricani will be remembered on Tuesday as URI’s Harrington School of Communication and Media holds the annual Taricani Lecture Series on First Amendment Rights. This year’s event, a virtual discussion starting at 5 p.m., will feature Tampa Bay Times reporters Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi in conversation with CNN’s John King (URI Class of ’85). More information is available here.
15. There’s so much advice out there about what every household should have on hand to be ready for an emergency, it can sometimes feel hard to boil it down. That’s why I liked the succinct list that former Homeland Security official Juliette Kayyem offered Josh Barro this week: “Water (3 gallons per household member), non-perishable food, flashlights and batteries, candles and matches, a first-aid kit, special medications or glasses, infant formula and diapers, pet food. A manageable list and you’ll be done shopping in under an hour. Plus, keep a couple hundred dollars in the house should you need it if connectivity or electricity fall apart.”
16. What does the future hold for Vermont’s beloved country stores?
17. It turns out that when Tom Cruise fights Paramount, Tom Cruise always wins.
18. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — Michelle Wilcox of Crossroads Rhode Island and David Salvatore of the R.I. Association of Realtors; week in review. Watch Sunday at 5:30 a.m. on WPRI 12 or 10 a.m. on Fox Providence, or listen on the radio Sundays 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.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook
An earlier version of this story misstated the timing of the state’s $618 million budget surplus.