Nesi’s Notes: April 24

Ted Nesi
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Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column for WPRI.com — as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi@wpri.com and follow me on Twitter and on Facebook.

1. The Minneapolis Police Department fired Derek Chauvin the day after he killed George Floyd, and nearly a year before Chauvin was convicted of murder. Yet if Chauvin had done the same thing while working for the Providence Police Department, Col. Hugh Clements could not have fired him right away; the chief’s toughest option would have been to suspend Chauvin for two days without pay, then try and terminate him through the laborious Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights hearing process. It’s not a hypothetical situation: last month Sgt. Joseph Hanley was found guilty of misdemeanor assault on a man in handcuffs, but he remains employed by Providence Police today as the LEOBOR process unfolds and he appeals his conviction. Such episodes have long frustrated police chiefs and community advocates alike, and the past year’s racial-justice protests have intensified discussions at the State House about overhauling LEOBOR. The NAACP Providence’s Jim Vincent says he’d like to see LEOBOR abolished altogether, pointing out that most states don’t have such a law and Maryland repealed its version this month. At the least, Vincent wants the General Assembly to enact the three recommendations made by the Senate LEOBOR task force he served on last year. “Anything would be better than what we have now,” Vincent told Tim White and me on this week’s Newsmakers. Multiple LEOBOR bills are in play, including two sponsored by state Rep. Anastasia Williams, who tells me she’s hopeful legislation will pass. Multiple colleagues have told Williams they are flagging LEOBOR legislation to leadership as one of their three top-priority bills for 2021. “It was wonderful to hear that,” she said. “We’re at a time when change is upon us.”

2. I asked Anastasia Williams what went through her mind when she heard the word “guilty” on the first of Derek Chauvin’s three counts: “When I heard that, I got chills,” she said. “Because it was now one — it was like being at a baseball game on the perfect day — the one was that bat that took everybody that was in play to the next play. But it was scary at the same time, because there were two more, and who knew exactly what that was going to be? So by the end of all three, it was like — it’s on, baby. It’s on! This was an awakening that all of us have to take heed to. As it’s often been mentioned, we’re in it together, we’re better together, let’s work it out together.” She added, “Make no mistake about it, either: the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights is not the only thing that needs to, should be, and hopefully will be addressed. We’re talking about throughout the entire doggone state — the state, departments, all of these state-run municipalities — so it’s in everything. So we’re not going to fool ourselves and say, this is a home run and this is what you get.”

3. RWU Law’s Andrew Horwitz explains what’s next for Derek Chauvin.

4. After 14 years in the U.S. Senate, Sheldon Whitehouse has become adept at using all the levers of influence that come with his job. That’s earned him many fans on the left and plenty of enemies on the right — but nobody seems to dispute he’s skilled at shaping the debate. One example is regarding the judiciary, where Whitehouse for years has been making a sweeping critique of conservative efforts to pick judges and shape policy through the courts. He often focuses on potential conflicts of interest, garnering fresh headlines this week when he co-authored a letter to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett demanding that she recuse from a case involving a foundation that spent over $1 million helping her win confirmation. He’s also leading a drive to beef up disclosure around who funds amicus briefs, a topic the federal judiciary is now actively studying. While conservatives frequently criticize Whitehouse’s interventions involving the courts — arguing that he shows a disregard for protecting the independence of the judicial branch — he has gotten Republican Lindsay Graham on board with requiring more financial transparency from Supreme Court justices. On climate policy, meanwhile, this week also brought new evidence of how Whitehouse is affecting the debate: the industry publication E&E News published a lengthy story Wednesday detailing the crucial role he played in shifting the U.S. Chamber of Commerce “from promoting climate science misinformation to now helping the Biden administration shape climate policy.” Whitehouse accomplished that in part by writing letters to the CEOs and board members of leading corporations, asking how they squared their stated climate commitments with membership in the Chamber. As Whitehouse clearly understands, a lawmaker’s power isn’t limited to passing legislation — a letter on official Senate letterhead is usually going to get attention, too.

5. At the same time, Sheldon Whitehouse may not be quite as left-wing as his public image in Rhode Island suggests. Just look across the border and compare him with his Massachusetts counterpart Ed Markey, who fended off Joe Kennedy in last year’s primary thanks to impassioned support from progressives. Markey is also active on the issues of the judiciary and climate — but he’s gone further than Whitehouse is willing to go. On judges, Markey held a major news conference last week proposing to add four seats to the U.S. Supreme Court — but Whitehouse wasn’t by his side, and other Senate Democrats weren’t touching the idea. On climate, this week Markey reintroduced the Green New Deal resolution he co-authored with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — but Whitehouse is not a cosponsor, despite the Rhode Islander’s longstanding passion for climate policy.

6. One week from now, Rhode Island will know for sure whether it’s losing one of its two U.S. House seats. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo confirmed Friday to my Nexstar colleagues Kellie Meyer and Sam Sachs that the U.S. Census Bureau — now under her purview — will release the 2020 Census and reapportionment data by April 30. “You’re going to see some data coming out next week,” she said. “We said we would have it out by next Friday, so we’ll have it out by next Friday.”

7. Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor may be sticking around Rhode Island longer than people expected following the departure of his friend and fellow Yale Law alum Gina Raimondo. One reason for that is the unexpectedly strong rapport Pryor seems to have with his new boss, Dan McKee. Here’s another: Pryor is actively considering a run for statewide elected office in Rhode Island in 2022, multiple State House sources tell me. Pryor is mulling a bid for general treasurer — a job that will be open next year since Seth Magaziner is term-limited — after getting encouragement from a number of influential Rhode Islanders. Asked for comment Friday, Pryor told me, “As we emerge from the COVID crisis, I’m fully focused on helping to reopen our state and rejuvenate our economy. While I’m flattered that there’s such speculation, I’m grateful to be working with Governor McKee and legislative leaders on this critically important effort.”

8. Governor McKee and Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos kicked off a new series of regular news conferences on Tuesday, giving reporters a forum to ask questions apart from the Thursday coronavirus briefings. (Side note: as conditions improve, when will the curtain fall on those briefings?) Much of the discussion Tuesday touched on budget and financial matters, including how McKee wants to spend the $1.1 billion in direct aid headed to the state under President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act. McKee didn’t have any detailed suggestions yet, but said his administration will be prioritizing outreach to Rhode Islanders for input as they craft a “Rhode Island 2030” blueprint.

9. Strange split screen: Senate Oversight Committee Chairman Lou DiPalma has been forced to file an appeal with the AG to force state officials to hand over legal documents regarding Eleanor Slater Hospital’s Medicaid billing — even as the state announced Friday it has submitted $9.9 million in new Medicaid claims for Slater following the state-run facility’s reauthorization by the feds.

10. Here’s a dispatch from my Target 12 colleague Eli Sherman: “If it seems like the Apex building has been in limbo for a long time, that’s because it has. It was exactly two decades ago, in 2001, that the discount-retailer shuttered its locations in Warwick and Swansea and significantly downsized its flagship store in downtown Pawtucket. In more recent years, the retailer known for its pyramid-shaped roof has been at the center of multiple high-profile downtown redevelopment efforts, including the failed PawSox deal and now the soccer-anchored Tidewater Landing project. Since October, however, the land has been the focus of a tense legal dispute, as the city is seeking to acquire it through eminent domain. Apex’s owners filed a lawsuit this month accusing city officials of coercing them into giving up the properties. ‘We can’t negotiate on our own — we need two parties at the table. The city left in October,’ Apex spokesperson Bill Fischer told my colleague Tolly Taylor on Thursday. Pawtucket Commerce Director Jeanne Boyle fired back, accusing the owners of trying to ‘misinform’ the community. ‘Our door is open and has always been open,’ she insisted. Both sides are quick to say they’re willing to return to the negotiating table, but the owners’ lawsuit joins an existing one over Apex that the city filed earlier this year, making it appear unlikely much talking will be happening outside of a legal setting – at least for the time being.”

11. The special election to fill Sabina Matos’s old Providence City Council seat has been set.

12. Steph Machado flags a warning for Providence from Moody’s about the city’s finances.

13. The data points on coronavirus in Rhode Island continue to be encouraging. The state reported zero COVID-19 fatalities on Friday, as average daily infections fell below 300 for the first time since Oct. 20. The White House’s senior COVID-19 adviser, Andy Slavitt, told me on Twitter that Rhode Island is close to becoming the ninth state that has vaccinated at least 60% of its adult population. All those trends are allowing Governor McKee to move forward with plans for a broad reopening of the state over the course of May.

14. I became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, so the next day my wife and I trooped over to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center to get our first shots of Pfizer. The Dunk looked like a well-oiled machine when we got there Tuesday morning; it’s quite something to see the arena floor that usually hosts PC basketball games filled with medical tents in which nurses are administering doses. Noticing that some of the personnel were wearing FEMA jackets, I asked the Health Department’s Joseph Wendelken how many agencies are assisting with operation of Rhode Island’s mass-vaccination sites. “A lot of people are involved,” Wendelken replied. “The Rhode Island National Guard is overseeing the five big state-run sites (Sockanosset, Dunk, Middletown, Woonsocket, and South County). The National Guard is also staffing the Sockanosset site and has leadership (‘Officers in Charge’) at all the others. FEMA is staffing the Middletown site; FEMA and Dunkin’ Donuts Center staff are staffing the Dunk. The Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) is staffing both the Woonsocket site and the South County site.” If you haven’t gotten around to getting your first dose, the Dunk and Sockanosett are both offering walk-in shots all day today — no appointment needed.

15. Walgreens is requiring consumers to hand over a lot more information than CVS before letting you see open vaccination appointments.

16. It’s an odd-numbered year, which means most cities in Bristol County, Massachusetts, will be casting ballots for mayor come the fall. (The exception is New Bedford, where the city switched from two-year to four-year mayoral terms in 2019, meaning Mayor Jon Mitchell isn’t up again until 2023.) At the moment, the other three cities have incumbents who are all expected to seek a new term in November. Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan, who succeeded the soon-to-be-tried Jasiel Correia two years ago, tells me he’s planning to run again. Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux, a former Democratic state rep (and potential candidate for higher office someday), tells me he will run for a third term. Taunton Mayor Shaunna O’Connell, a former Republican state rep first elected in 2019, is being a little more cagey for now. “The mayor has been focused on her job and working for the people of Taunton,” an O’Connell spokesperson told my colleague Sarah Guernelli on Friday. “We will keep you informed of upcoming announcements.”

17. Rhode Island used to have odd-year mayoral elections, too, but those went away over the last decade when Central Falls and Woonsocket switched theirs to even years. Common Cause’s John Marion is a proponent of those changes, pointing to research that shows off-year elections draw far lower voter turnout.

18. The Rhode Island Black Business Association is hosting an event Tuesday at 6 p.m. to mark its 10th anniversary entitled “The State of Rhode Island’s Black Economy and Business.” Moderated by Brown’s Robin Gibbs, the event’s speakers will be Deputy Secretary of State Melissa Husband; the BEI Business Equity Fund’s Anthony Rust; URI College of Education and Professional Studies Dean Anthony Rolle; and the Rhode Island Foundation’s Angela Ankoma. You can register for the virtual event here.

19. A fascinating story about the Kennedy family’s feud with the Harvard Kennedy School.

20. Can we unlearn anxiety? Brown University psychiatrist Jud Brewer thinks so. Brewer is the director of research at Brown’s Mindfulness Center, and has a new book out called “Unwinding Anxiety” — he discussed it at length on Ezra Klein’s podcast this week.

21. Think 2020 was tough? A historian says 536 A.D. was the worst year ever.

22. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — NAACP Providence Branch President Jim Vincent; 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. See you back here next Saturday morning.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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