Nesi’s Notes: Aug. 7

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. Eric Adams’ victory in the New York City mayoral primary was a reminder of how much a city’s politics can be reshaped by crime — and it’s possible something similar could happen in Providence as voters prepare to choose a new mayor next year. Public safety was often a second-tier issue in Providence in the 2010s, following the huge decline in offenses over prior decades. Much of that success remains: Providence Police data shows most types of crimes are down in 2021 versus the five-year average. But homicides have doubled, car thefts are up 40%, and weapons offenses are up 28%. “Safety is very much a feeling, and convincing people that they’re safe with statistics just never works,” mayoral candidate Brett Smiley said on this week’s Newsmakers. “There is a sense that Providence is not safe right now.” The issue is a serious political liability for Jorge Elorza as he considers challenging Dan McKee for governor, one McKee has reinforced by arguing the mayor should be accepting more help from the state police. Elorza insisted Friday that the state police are already working with the city police but added, “Any good-faith effort from anyone who wants to be part of the solution, that’s welcomed here in the city.” The political effects could go beyond Elorza: City Council members who opposed this year’s budget for spending too much on the police are facing renewed scrutiny over those votes. (Nirva LaFortune, a top mayoral contender, called the spending “imprudent” at the time.) From the other side of the spectrum, any push to expand the role of law enforcement will raise the ire of progressives who see police officers as part of the problem, not the solution. Smiley is among those trying to square that circle. “Creating a safe city involves more than just police, but for me it includes police,” he said.

2. For more on the causes and consequences of the rise in urban violence nationwide, read this new story from Alec MacGillis in ProPublica: “What Philadelphia Reveals About America’s Homicide Surge.”

3. Here’s a dispatch from my Target 12 colleague Eli Sherman: “COVID-19 is back on the agenda. Rhode Island’s top health officials say the surge of infections fueled by the highly contagious delta variant is on track to peak locally sometime around Labor Day, suggesting the current spike is more than a blip on the radar. The average number of cases has risen from just 15 a day in June to about 200 as of Friday. And while Governor McKee has been reluctant to reinstate any public health restrictions so long as hospitalizations and deaths remain low — which has been the case so far — the fast-rising infections are clearly demanding more of his attention. After ending regularly scheduled coronavirus briefings during the spring, McKee’s office has announced the governor’s weekly news conference Tuesday will be focused on the pandemic. And he is slated to be joined there by Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, who was the face of the state’s pandemic response under Gina Raimondo but who has made few public appearances since case counts dropped.”

4. Congress has appropriated over $2 billion to help cover funeral expenses for COVID-19 victims, but Tim White found more than half of Rhode Island families who’ve applied have yet to see a dime.

5. How much will money matter in next year’s race for governor? That’s one of the key questions for anyone trying to forecast the outcome of the Democratic primary. The newly filed reports for the second quarter show an unusual situation: despite being the incumbent, Dan McKee actually ranks third among the so-called “Big Four” gubernatorial contenders for cash on hand, and even fourth-place Nellie Gorbea is only about $50,000 behind him. Advisers to Seth Magaziner insist the conventional wisdom is overrating McKee’s strength, pointing out that the treasurer’s $1.5 million war chest is more than twice the size of the governor’s. Jorge Elorza has over $1 million, too, which could help convince him to jump into race even if his chances of winning look marginal. At the same time, the enormous amount of free media McKee can generate as a sitting governor surely offsets some of his cash disadvantage. And in the era of super PACs, a deep-pocketed outside group could make a big splash if it decided to get involved.

6. Good political operatives always say the same thing: staff should never become the story. Thus R.I. Democratic Party chief strategist Kate Coyne McCoy violated that cardinal rule with her late-night tweet hinting she wanted Lindsay Graham to die of COVID. The post was a gift to the state GOP, which worked to keep the story alive all week, flagging other offensive tweets and calling on top Democrats to get rid of Coyne McCoy; by Friday, she had deleted her entire Twitter account. For now she retains the support of Speaker Shekarchi, who effectively controls the state party apparatus and has known her for years.

7. Eye on Congress … the bipartisan infrastructure bill could mean over $2 billion for Rhode IslandJack Reed reached a temporary détente with Kirsten Gillibrand over reforming military courts … Sheldon Whitehouse traveled to Wyoming on Friday to attend the funeral of his late colleague Mike Enzi, a kindred spirit on allowing personal tech in the SenateDavid Cicilline is working to get his bills cracking down on Big Tech to the House floor by OctoberJim Langevin praised the recruitment of those same Big Tech companies to join the feds’ newly established Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative … Politico spotted Jake Auchincloss dining with colleagues at Charlie Palmer Steakhouse … Bill Keating pressed the IMF not to allocate funding to Belarus in light of Alexander Lukashenko’s repression.

8. East Providence Mayor Bob DaSilva already has a challenger for next year: Maureen Gomes Lopez, who briefly worked for DaSilva at City Hall as his initial chief of personnel administration. She is critical of the incumbent over issues including the Metacomet redevelopment, the First Street traffic redesign, and summer camp programming in the city. DaSilva, a former state rep, is EP’s first-ever elected mayor and currently serving a four-year term.

9. The R.I. Supreme Court had to intervene in the strange saga of the Providence city clerk.

10. Speaker Shekarchi goes deep on Rhode Island’s housing crunch in a Q&A with the Builders.

11. CVS CEO Karen Lynch, who succeeded Larry Merlo back in February, made her broadcast TV debut this week with an interview on CNBC to tout the company’s strong earnings report and new $15 minimum wage for employees. “All of our businesses are performing strong. Each of our businesses beat our expectations in the quarter,” Lynch told the network. “We feel confident about how we’re positioning the business for 2022.” Yet CVS stock slipped despite the solid quarterly report, with investors nervous about the outlook once vaccinations slow down. The Wall Street Journal’s Charley Grant isn’t worried. “Don’t be fooled by a sour reaction from Wall Street,” he wrote Wednesday. “Second-quarter results from CVS Health show the pharmacy and insurance giant has excellent vital signs.” (Also of note: Grant thinks CVS’s $70 billion acquisition of Aetna three years ago “looks like a winner” these days.)

12. Citizens Bank is closing its branch at 1 Citizens Plaza downtown after sprucing up the nearby location at 30 Kennedy Plaza. But Citizens spokesperson Bennett Griesmer says it doesn’t signal any broader rethinking of the bank’s commitment to 1 Citizens Plaza. “We’re not pulling back or scaling back in the tower,” he said. “This really is just part of our ongoing effort to modernize and transform our branch network.” The Providence-based bank has been making some big moves of late, most recently the $3.5 billion acquisition of Investors Bancorp, which will expand Citizens’ branch footprint along the East Coast.

13. Fall River and Attleboro will both have contested mayoral races this fall. (Taunton won’t.)

14. When is Rhode Island going to hold the lottery for the new marijuana dispensary licenses?

15. I’ll be joining WGBH’s “Under the Radar” this weekend for a regional news roundup, along with host Callie Crossley and co-panelists Arnie Arnesen and George Brennan — tune in Sunday at 6 p.m. on 89.7 FM or listen online here.

16. Glad to know I’m not the only one who still misses Google Reader all these years later.

17. A longtime glioblastoma survivor talks about how he keeps surviving despite the odds.

18. The Globe’s Jack Thomas shares his thoughts on learning he has just months to live.

19. Here’s why Monday is a holiday in Rhode Island — and only in Rhode Island.

20. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — Providence mayoral candidate Brett Smiley; a closer look at the latest coronavirus data in Rhode Island. 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.

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, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram

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