Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column for WPRI.com — as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on Twitter and on Facebook.
1. Believe it or not, the last time Providence had an open mayoral race without Buddy Cianci on the ballot or just offstage was 1964, when Mayor Walter Reynolds declined to seek re-election. (Reynolds’ successor, the newly departed Joe Doorley, lost to Cianci in ’74.) Nearly six decades later, Providence has been transformed economically and demographically, as evidenced by the trio of Democrats in our live mayoral debate Tuesday night: an LGBTQ candidate in Brett Smiley, a Latino candidate in Gonzalo Cuervo, and an Afro-Latina candidate in Nirva LaFortune. As is often the case in party primaries, they agree about much more than they disagree, so they’re campaigning as much on their personal stories and experience as policy differences. “They had some interesting exchanges,” The Globe’s Dan McGowan said on this week’s Newsmakers. “But there’s nothing that comes away where I say, boy, I remember that moment from the debate.” Cuervo and LaFortune both seemed relieved to finally have an opportunity to criticize Smiley for his $4,500 ethics fine, while Smiley played a frontrunner’s game of defensive ball, eschewing attacks and avoiding gaffes. Policy-wise, clear distinctions emerged between the three on rent control as well as the proposed part-elected School Board. And none of them know the city’s residential tax rate. But what is going to move voters in what’s expected to be a low-turnout primary? Smiley is hoping his campaign’s financial and organizational edge will make the difference, while Cuervo countered Wednesday with a headline-grabbing endorsement from outgoing mayor Jorge Elorza.
2. If you didn’t catch the Providence mayoral debate live in prime time on Tuesday night, you can stream the full one-hour exchange here. Want to get up to speed quick? Eli Sherman has a full recap here and debate co-moderator Steph Machado shares her five key takeaways here. And if you want to hear more from the candidates, Steph is moderating a forum Monday evening hosted by the Jewish Alliance.
3. Nellie Gorbea decided to finally throw some mud on Dan McKee this week, only to have a bunch of it splash back onto her. In a sequence of events that left other political professionals across Rhode Island scratching their heads, Gorbea’s team botched their attack ad on McKee over the FBI’s ILO probe so badly that they’re now on the third version of the spot since Wednesday night. True, it’s doubtful many voters will cast their ballots based on advertising execution, and the end result is still local viewers seeing ads reminding them McKee’s office gave out a state contract that has sparked a federal investigation. But considering the multiple layers of vetting that most campaigns engage in before a spot hits the airwaves, it was a striking misfire at a time when Gorbea’s campaign needs to be hitting bull’s-eyes and avoiding distractions. (Even more so as Gorbea faces continued criticism for her use of “red-boxing.”) Nor is McKee taking Gorbea’s ad lying down: his campaign is preparing a spot that will begin airing within days which alleges Gorbea “is getting desperate,” has been “using extreme MAGA Republicans to make false attacks,” and “got caught lying.” McKee himself closes the spot direct-to-camera, declaring, “Lies and false attacks — it’s the worst kind of politics. I’m focused on what’s best for Rhode Island.”
4. A bit of inside baseball: when the final story of this year’s Democratic gubernatorial campaign is written, one of the interesting subplots will be about the major candidates’ media consultants. Dan McKee started out the campaign using SKDK, then quietly switched to AL Media out of Chicago, and he’s been vindicated with a string of well-received TV ads. Nellie Gorbea stuck with Sway, her longtime Maryland-based media consultant, even after her botched campaign launch last year — and she’s now lost another important news cycle to sloppiness because of this week’s TV ad debacle. Helena Foulkes also switched horses early on, dropping Mark Putnam (who did Gina Raimondo’s ads) for Tad Devine (who did Lincoln Chafee’s, among others). Devine has put points on the board for Foulkes, getting her a roughly 10-point initial polling bump with their 60-second introductory spot, and showing agility by having an abortion ad ready to go as soon as the Dobbs decision came down. But she showed no growth between the June Globe poll and the August WPRI/RWU poll, raising questions about whether the spots Devine’s team have been churning out for her are moving the needle. On the other side of the aisle, Republican Ashley Kalus and her team have been pleased with the work of her ad firm, Content Creative Media, which has surely been spending her long months running effectively unopposed preparing a fusillade aimed at the eventual Democratic nominee.
5. With barely two weeks left before the primary, the confidence of Dan McKee’s campaign is growing daily, and the governor plans to be back out on the campaign trail this weekend after spending the week in isolation due to COVID. Meanwhile, Helena Foulkes advisers see an opportunity for her to capitalize on Nellie Gorbea’s stumbles, and insist the race is much too close to write off a candidate with the resources to get her message out. It wasn’t all bad news for Gorbea, either: she picked up a key union endorsement Thursday, getting the backing of SEIU. What’s breaking through with the electorate? With one in five voters undecided in our WPRI 12/RWU poll last week, the upcoming televised debates between the Democratic candidates could be important moments for all the candidates. Ours will air live Sept. 6 at 8 p.m. on WPRI 12, broadcast from Rhode Island College — and if you’d like to attend in person, you can reserve tickets online.
6. WPRI 12 will host the first TV debate in the 2nd Congressional District Democratic primary live this Tuesday at 8 p.m., pitting frontrunner Seth Magaziner against rivals Joy Fox, Sarah Morgenthau and David Segal. The moderators are Tim White and yours truly. It’s a big moment for the would-be Seth-slayers, who have struggled to gain traction in a race he has consistently led by about 30 points. One reason for that: the Democrats have been loathe to criticize Magaziner, perhaps fearing the blowback if they ding up the party’s eventual nominee. Will they come ready to mix it up on Tuesday night? And is anyone in position to score what would now count as a major upset? Of course, unlike most Democratic primaries in Rhode Island, the winner in the 2nd District can’t take the general election for granted with Republican Allan Fung waiting in the wings. Fung has mostly stayed out of the headlines this summer (with the exception of the two Kevin McCarthy encounters) as he continued to stockpile money and build an infrastructure for the general election. The Fung campaign plans to hold a grand opening Saturday for its headquarters in Cranston’s Rolfe Square, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him on the airwaves soon to start countering Magaziner.
7. Further down the ballot, the Democratic primaries for lieutenant governor and treasurer are getting chippier. In the LG race, Sabina Matos remains under fire from Deb Ruggiero for declining to participate in more debates, the subject of a new Ruggiero TV ad. On Friday, Ruggiero also rolled out a new list of endorsements, including more than a dozen of her House colleagues. But the Matos campaign caught the Ruggiero team with a misleading Facebook ad that appeared to falsely suggest Matos had been opposed to the Reproductive Privacy Act. Over in the treasurer’s race, James Diossa has been working to fan criticism of Stefan Pryor over an outside group’s TV attack ad, as Diossa prepares to go up with his first 30-second spot early next week. The pair have also been trading off in announcing various endorsements. But with 61% of voters undecided in the treasurer’s race as of earlier this month, and the airwaves growing saturated with campaign ads, how much are either of them breaking through?
8. Curt Schilling is still getting 38 Studios into the headlines a decade after it went bust. The failed deal wound up costing Rhode Island taxpayers about $36 million, though the impact goes beyond money. Would the PawSox still be in Pawtucket if it weren’t for Governor Carcieri’s dalliance with Schilling?
9. Hachette Book Group’s Twelve imprint is releasing David Cicilline’s new memoir on Tuesday, and it’s going to be a must-read for Rhode Island political junkies. Titled “House on Fire: Fighting for Democracy in the Age of Political Arson,” the book traces the future congressman’s rise from Narragansett High and Brown to the pinnacle of Providence politics and, eventually, prosecuting Donald Trump as an impeachment manager. Nesi’s Notes obtained an advance excerpt from the book, in which Cicilline discusses the complicated legacy of his father, legendary defense attorney Jack Cicilline. At one point he writes, “I can guess what you are thinking now. ‘This guy Cicilline wants us to believe he hated the corruption in Rhode Island, but his own father represented the top mob guy. How can he square these two things?'” The younger Cicilline goes on to give his answer, and more broadly to lay out how his father’s experiences — including Jack Cicilline’s 1985 acquittal for witness tampering — cemented his own commitment to civil liberties. “In the prosecution of Jack Cicilline, I saw how unconstrained officials can weaponize the power of the government,” his son writes. “Unable to dominate him in the courtroom, these officials hoped to sideline him with a conviction. Although they failed, the fact that they could and would go on the offensive this way was profoundly wrong.”
10. While the federal and statewide races are getting a lot of attention, Rhode Island’s political future will also be significantly affected by the outcomes of next month’s Democratic primaries for General Assembly. A count by independent journalist Sam G. Howard shows Democrat-versus-Democrat races for 23 House seats (about one in three) and 18 Senate seats (almost half the body). Among those facing spirited challenges are four of the Assembly’s longest-serving members. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, first elected in 1980, is fighting a rematch against Co-op Democrat Lenny Cioe after a too-close-for-comfort win in 2020; however, the district has been significantly redrawn in Ruggerio’s favor since then. No. 3 Senate Democrat Maryellen Goodwin, first elected in 1986, is being challenged from the left by Donnie Anderson, former head of the R.I. State Council of Churches. Then in the House, there are races to watch in Providence and Cranston. In District 14, three-decade incumbent Charlene Lima is battling to hold onto her seat against Giona Pacheco, who would be Rhode Island’s first openly transgender lawmaker — and who is capitalizing on Lima’s status as one of the most conservative members of the legislature. Over in District 9, another Democrat who was first elected in 1992 — Anastasia Williams — has an energetic left-wing challenger in Enrique Sanchez.
11. This Rhode Island election season is a barnburner compared with over the border in Massachusetts, where Maura Healey’s expected easy victory is taking a lot of the energy out of the room. “It’s August and we pretty much know who’s going to be governor. I feel bad even saying it,” Tufts University’s Evan Horowitz told CommonWealth Magazine. Still, there are highly contested primaries down the ballot for attorney general, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and auditor. And locally, the New Bedford Light has done a nice job spotlighting some of Bristol County’s most interesting primaries, including the contests for sheriff, district attorney, and the House’s 10th Bristol District. There are also two Republicans vying for the nomination to unseat Congressman Bill Keating, who represents New Bedford.
12. Barrington Police Chief Mike Correia invited a Kristallnacht survivor to address his officers.
13. Meet the 16 new cardinals who will help select Pope Francis’s successor.
14. Paul Fairie offers a brief history of “nobody wants to work anymore.”
15. Congratulations No. 1 to Dave Preston and Lorne Adrain on receiving the National Outstanding Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America Narragansett Council.
16. Congratulations No. 2 to House Majority Whip Katherine Kazarian and her new husband, Sam Daniel, on their wedding at Castle Hill in Newport. As the happy couple surely knows, there’s no better place for a honeymoon than the campaign trail.
17. If you’re looking for something fun to do today, the Flower Festival & Sunset Party is happening at What Cheer Farm in Olneyville, located at the site of the former Colonial Knife factory. It’s the only day of the year the farm is open to the public, and this is the first public event there since 2019.
18. This week on Newsmakers — Dan McGowan returns to the show for a recap and analysis of this week’s Providence mayoral debate. 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
Ted Nesi (email@example.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