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. Once Joe Shekarchi and Helena Foulkes took a pass on the 1st Congressional District race, it was expected their decisions would open the floodgates for other candidates. And at this point, that flood is resembling the 2010 deluge that drowned the Warwick Mall. There are already 10 candidates who have either formally announced or filed with the FEC, and more are poised to join the pack in the coming weeks — check out our updated candidate tracker here. One of the leading hopefuls, Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, isn’t surprised. “I’m expecting a crowded race,” Matos said on this week’s Newsmakers, as she laid out a campaign message that emphasizes affordable housing, abortion rights and gun control. Of course, just because you have over a dozen candidates in April doesn’t mean you’ll still have that many when voters go to the polls in September. There will likely be a winnowing of the field as it becomes clear which candidates have a real shot at victory — through fundraising success, grassroots support, major endorsements, or media savvy. Veteran Democratic powerbroker Bob Walsh offered another intriguing idea Friday: perhaps one candidate might consider resigning early from their current position in order to trigger a second special election for that office on the same day, which would juice turnout on their home turf. “Some play checkers, some play chess, and some play 3-D chess,” Walsh quipped.

2. The unexpected 1st District vacancy has shifted attention off the brand-new congressman in the 2nd District. Still, Seth Magaziner has been working to solidify his political position as Washington Republicans suggest they are gunning for him. Magaziner’s team reports he raised about $360,000 during the first quarter, and will be able to bank most of the money once he pays off $40,000 in outstanding debt leftover from last year’s campaign.

3. David Patten is the sort of highly paid state bureaucrat who usually flies under the radar; the McKee administration didn’t even issue a news release announcing his hiring when they brought him on last year. But the $174,000-a-year properties chief saw his name recognition rise this week after my colleague Eli Sherman reported allegations that he behaved inappropriately during an official business trip to Philadelphia in March. Governor McKee has so far refused to release an email his office received detailing the accusations against Patten, who has been on paid medical leave since a few days after the trip. “It certainly is a situation where it’s a human-resource issue, and we’re going to leave it right there for the moment,” McKee told Steph Machado on Thursday. “I understand your curiosity but I’ll just tell you that’s all I’m going to say.” Meantime, the Patten controversy has only added to the fraught situation around the future of the Cranston Street Armory, which is still being used as a warming center for homeless individuals. Patten was in Philly to visit Scout Ltd., the company the state has hired to come up with a plan to rehab the Armory. McKee has seemed cool to Scout’s proposal, and so far he has declined to amend his budget bill to fund the project. Yet Scout has some powerful allies in its corner, including Providence Mayor Brett Smiley and Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, who said she met with McKee recently to press for the funding. The state currently spends about $3 million a year just to maintain the Armory in its current form, and has been wrestling with its future for years now. “I believe that Scout has the best proposal that we have ever seen,” Matos said on Newsmakers.

4. Governor McKee’s letter to Fed Chairman Jay Powell criticizing interest-rate hikes hasn’t drawn a response yet from the central bank. “We have received the letter,” a Fed spokesperson told me earlier this week, declining to elaborate on whether Powell will reply. The letter did, however, earn McKee a quick rebuke from The Wall Street Journal’s conservative opinion page; columnist Allysia Finley accused the governor of an “outburst” and called the Tidewater soccer stadium project a “dubious” use of taxpayer money. McKee shrugged off Finley, telling reporters, “The Wall Street Journal must have their own motivations there. I don’t know what they are — certainly not the best interest of the state of Rhode Island relative to sharp increases and continued increases on the interest rate.” McKee has allies in his critique, like prominent progressive economist Dean Baker, who spoke out following Friday’s jobs report. “Seriously, if wages are growing at a 3.2% (annualized rate from last three months) what is the story where we have a problem with inflation going forward?” Baker tweeted. “I’m not smart enough to be able to think of one that passes the laugh test.” A more upbeat assessment from Goldman Sachs economists: “This week brought encouraging news about the prospects for achieving the gentle rebalancing of the labor market needed for a soft landing.”

5. Another familiar face is returning to the State House. Former Senate Majority Leader Dan Connors has landed a $158,000-a-year job at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. As with a number of Governor McKee’s hires, there’s a Cumberland connection: Connors represented the governor’s hometown in the Senate for years, and McKee confirmed to reporters he has known the Connors family “for a long time.” But the ex-lawmaker’s last Smith Hill sojourn ended abruptly in 2020 when he had to resign as a senior advisor to Governor Raimondo after trying to use his position to get out of a potential DUI charge. “I think people learn from their mistakes,” McKee told reporters. “I know his family, I know he’s raising young kids and his lifestyle now is, you know, significantly different than it was at that point in time. … Dan’s a talented and skilled attorney that has a great deal of experience and we’re fortunate to have him back in the fold, and I expect that we’re going to get good outcomes from his leadership.” The governor added, “I think as we ask these questions we’ve got to understand that, you know, the family’s listening to these questions, as well.”

6. The R.I. Department of Education just rolled out a new rating system to measure how the state’s multilingual learners are doing, and 31 school districts and charters got the lowest possible score. Steph Machado has the details.

7. Speaker Shekarchi will make good on a promise next week: he has scheduled the first meeting of the powerful Joint Committee on Legislative Services in 14 years. (Not sure about the significance? Check out this Eli Sherman story.)

8. You don’t have to like Senator Whitehouse to acknowledge that he is relentless when he seizes on a political issue. Whether it’s climate change or the federal judiciary, Whitehouse uses every tool at a senator’s disposal, from floor speeches to books to bipartisanship. Whitehouse has told me he views his advocacy through the prism of his years as a prosecutor, methodically laying the groundwork for his arguments in order to capitalize when the time is right. He got one of those opportunities this week, when ProPublica released a bombshell report about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s ties to a billionaire GOP donor. Whitehouse has carved out a reputation as Capitol Hill’s most vocal critic of the conservative SCOTUS majority — the New York Daily News called him “the Senate’s most dogged court-watcher” — and the Washington press corps instantly sought his reaction to the Thomas scoop. As former Whitehouse staffer Alex Aronson wrote in Slate, the timing of the story is noteworthy in part because it comes so soon after the federal judiciary’s policymaking body agreed to tighten its disclosure rules after prodding from Whitehouse. The senator also seized on the Thomas report to push for his proposed Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act. And he spearheaded a letter calling on Chief Justice Roberts to initiate an ethics investigation into Thomas, which was co-signed by, among others, Jack Reed, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey.

9. Despite the voter turnout woes we recently spotlighted, Bristol County cities will once again hold their mayoral elections later on in this odd-numbered year. It’s already clear that three of the four cities will have interesting races. In New Bedford, Mayor Jon Mitchell still isn’t saying whether he will seek to extend his 12-year tenure; if he steps aside, you can expect a crowded field. In Fall River, Mayor Paul Coogan is seeking a third term, but has drawn a big-name challenger in former mayor Sam Sutter, who was ousted in 2015 by the later-disgraced Jasiel Correia. In Attleboro, Mayor Cathleen DeSimone is already gearing up for a rematch against City Council President Jay DiLisio, whom she defeated in February’s special election to replace Paul Heroux. And Taunton Mayor Shaunna O’Connell — the only Republican among the incumbents — is expected to run again, though she hasn’t announced her plans yet.

10. Speaking of Mayor Mitchell, his team just rolled out “Building New Bedford,” billed as a comprehensive housing plan for the Whaling City as it experiences the same supply shortages and price inflation as other places. Rhode Island policymakers may want to take a look as they wrestle with the same issues. The plan’s provisions include calling on New Bedford’s suburbs — Dartmouth, Westport, Fairhaven, Mattapoisett, et al — to play a role in expanding the regional housing supply. “As the plan makes clear, the more we take a regional approach to the problem, the more traction we will gain,” Mitchell said.

11. Journalists from coast to coast have been aghast at the imprisonment of Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter in Russia arrested by Vladimir Putin’s regime over purported espionage. Congressman Bill Keating, who represents New Bedford, is deeply familiar with the situation there as the top Democrat on the House panel that deals with Europe. “Evan Gershkovich’s arrest by Russian authorities is an unconscionable violation of the free press,” Keating told me in a statement. “But this is how the Kremlin operates — they want to control not only Russian media, but the rest of the world’s reporting as well.” Keating is calling on the State Department to formally classify Gershkovich as “wrongfully detained,” which would add his case to the portfolio of the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. “Make no mistake – Evan Gershkovich was targeted because of the quality of his reporting,” Keating said. “In the United States, society honors journalists who hold our government accountable with Pullitzers, but in Putin’s Russia, reporting like that leads to bogus espionage charges and prison.”

12. Believe it or not, Rhode Island’s 2024 presidential primary is barely a year away, scheduled to take place April 24, though that date may be changed since it falls during Passover. (It wouldn’t be the first time; the last presidential primary was moved from March to June because of the pandemic.) The Rhode Island Democratic Party is seeking comment over the next month on its draft plan for allocating the state’s 30 delegates and two alternates. Per a news release: “The mission of the plan is to ensure that each state makes aggressive outreach to its typically under-represented communities: women, minorities, Hispanic, African American, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, disabled, LGBTQ+, and youth.” Meanwhile, Massachusetts plans to hold its presidential primary on Super Tuesday — March 5 — as usual.

13. Former Providence Police Chief Hugh Clements is settling into his new gig in Washington as head of the COPS Office at the U.S. Department of Justice. COPS stands for “Community Oriented Policing Services,” and Clements is overseeing the distribution of $324 million in federal hiring grants nationwide this year. For his first interview as COPS chief Clements sat down with a Rhode Island native, talking one-on-one with ABC News reporter Luke Barr.

14. Late Friday news dump: the Providence police captain who slammed a man’s face into the pavement at last year’s 4th of July fireworks celebration put in for retirement on Friday, one day after he was sentenced in the criminal assault case. And Steph Machado reports Mayor Smiley plans to let him collect his full pension.

15. Rhode Island policy expert Kelly Rogers teamed up with former DLT Director Scott Jensen — now CEO of the nonprofit Research Improving People’s Lives — for an op-ed arguing that states need to rapidly ramp up their workforce development efforts if they want to benefit from the current flood of federal funding.

16. Via Marc Myers, dig these classic New York City radio jingles from FM’s heyday.

17. WPRI 12 bid farewell to another beloved colleague this week, as Michelle Muscatello gave her final weather forecast after 18 years on the air. I never blame anyone for deciding to start setting their alarm clock later than 2:30 a.m., but Michelle will still be greatly missed as a warm friend and wonderful broadcaster. You can watch Michelle’s final sign-off here.

18. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos. 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.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) 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