Nesi’s Notes: Aug. 8

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 @tednesi on Twitter.

1. In sports, there’s an old superstition called the “Sports Illustrated” curse — basically, that appearing on the cover of the magazine jinxes a team and reverses its fortunes. Governor Raimondo seems to have experienced her own version of the curse this summer, in the form of a glowing Politico Magazine feature about Rhode Island’s success battling coronavirus. That interview ran on July 8, which is right about when the state’s COVID-19 trends started to go in the wrong direction. (It was also about a week into Phase 3 of reopening.) Eli Sherman’s WPRI.com coronavirus data page tells the tale. On July 8, Rhode Island was averaging 44 new cases a day; as of Friday that had more than doubled to 97 new cases a day. On July 8, Rhode Island’s 7-day average for coronavirus hospitalizations hit a low of 63.6 patients; as of Friday that had ticked up to 83 hospitalizations. “We are headed into dangerous territory [with] rising cases,” Dr. Jay Schuur, chair of emergency medicine at Rhode Island Hospital and Brown, tweeted Sunday. “This will mean further shutdowns, no schools, sports etc. unless we make IMMEDIATE changes.” There have already been concrete consequences, as nearby states including Massachusetts and Connecticut impose travel restrictions on arriving Rhode Islanders. Cases were always expected to rise once Rhode Island allowed more reopening — the policy question now is, how much of an increase is acceptable, particularly as the Aug. 31 start of school draws closer? The number of new cases per day plateaued in the last week at roughly 100 a day. The governor’s team will be watching closely to see whether that continues as she decides whether to impose new restrictions at her Wednesday briefing.

2. Rhode Island’s rising case count could also complicate the eventual return of the General Assembly to pass a new budget. Already this week most legislative staff were sent home and committee meetings were cancelled due to a “small” number of cases among Assembly workers.

3. Eli Sherman and Tim White examine how Rhode Island plans to distribute a coronavirus vaccine once it eventually becomes available.

4. Just in, late Friday afternoon: the R.I. Department of Health’s guidance handbook for reopening schools during the pandemic.

5. Don’t forget: Sunday is the deadline to register to vote or update your registration information in time for Rhode Island’s Sept. 8 primary. You can do so at vote.ri.gov. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea also flags two other key deadlines: Tuesday is the last day to disaffiliate from a political party to vote in another party’s primary, and Aug. 18 is the last day to apply for a mail ballot. Meanwhile, a court fight continues over whether witness signatures should be required on primary ballots — even though they’re already being printed. Supporters of waiving the rule won a round Friday night.

6. My Target 12 colleague Steph Machado has launched a new WPRI.com interview show called “Pulse of Providence,” where she’ll interview key people about the future of the capital city. If you missed the first two episodes, catch up on them this weekend — the inaugural guest was Mayor Elorza, and the second was Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green. Also on the Providence beat, check out Dan McGowan’s profile of City Councilwoman Kat Kerwin.

7. With analysts increasingly saying Democrats have a real chance of retaking the U.S. Senate in November, the stakes are high for U.S. Sen. Jack Reed and, by extension, Rhode Island. Since the retirement of Michigan Democrat Carl Levin in 2014, Reed has been the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee — but his party’s failure to win Senate control in three straight elections has prevented him from taking the gavel and becoming the panel’s chairman. While Rhode Island has provided leaders to various Senate committees over the years, Reed’s ascension would be the first time a Rhode Islander has led one of the three so-called “Super A” committees since Nelson Aldrich ended his term as Finance Committee chairman in 1911. (Aldrich used the perch to help create the Federal Reserve.) Republicans count Senate Foreign Relations as a fourth “Super A” committee — and Rhode Islanders Claiborne Pell and T.F. Green both chaired that panel in the 20th Century — but Democrats only designate Armed Services, Appropriations and Finance as top tier. First, off course, Reed will have to secure re-election in November.

8. With less than a month to go before the Sept. 1 primary and mail ballots now landing in voters’ mailboxes, all nine Democrats vying to succeed Joe Kennedy in Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District continue to actively campaign. Newton City Councilor Jake Auchincloss is increasingly seen as the frontrunner, with endorsements from The Boston Globe and Fall River’s mayor, as well as the financial backing of an outside super PAC; not surprisingly, he’s taking the most incoming fire, too. Another candidate with buzz is former Brookline Select Board member Jesse Mermell, an establishment-friendly progressive with significant union support, who scored a laudatory column from The Globe’s Shirley Leung this week. Lacking deep pockets, the Mermell campaign hasn’t gone up with TV ads yet. Still, one smart observer in the 4th District told me he thinks it’s becoming a two-person race between Auchincloss and Mermell. Newton City Councilor Becky Grossman would dispute that, and she’s become a significant presence on the airwaves with a gun-control message aimed at mothers. Democratic Socialist Ihssane Leckey has rapidly professionalized her operation using an infusion of her own money, and is on TV with an AOC-esque appeal. City Year co-founder Alan Khazei has money and connections; however, he’s also facing attacks (along with Auchincloss) funded by EMILY’s List aimed at bolstering the women in the field. But wait — there’s more: tech entrepreneur Chris Zannetos began airing his first TV spot this week; Dr. Natalia Linos is urging voters to get behind a medical expert during a pandemic; Dave Cavell is running as a genial mainstream Democrat; and attorney Ben Sigel used an endorsement from R.I. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea this week to remind voters he’d be the first Latino to represent Massachusetts in Congress. Here’s hoping a reputable pollster conducts a survey in the 4th District soon.

9. One thought already in the minds of some forward-thinking Bristol County politicos: how radically will Joe Kennedy’s 4th District and Bill Keating’s 9th District (southern Fall River, New Bedford, the Cape and Islands) get redrawn during the upcoming redistricting process? And will that help or hurt the first-term incumbent in the 4th when she or he seeks re-election in 2022?

10. Meanwhile, the Senate primary that opened up the 4th District seat continues to look competitive. As Ed Markey works to consolidate progressive voters, Joe Kennedy was in Fall River on Thursday to tout an endorsement from manufacturing CEO Charlie Merrow. Kennedy and Merrow have gotten to know each other since Kennedy began representing the Spindle City in Congress in 2013. That highlighted another interesting fact about the race: if Kennedy wins, he would be the first senator in generations who had direct ties to Bristol County. Stonehill’s Peter Ubertaccio, a fount of knowledge on Bay State politics, tells me the only other example since the start of direct election of senators would be New Bedford native William Butler, a Republican who was appointed in 1924 upon the death of Henry Cabot Lodge. Butler tried to win the seat in his own right in 1926 but lost to Democrat David Walsh, and lost again when he made a second try in 1930.

11. 538’s Nate Silver offers fresh evidence of how quickly Rhode Island and Massachusetts are diversifying: the two states are tied at No. 4 nationwide for the largest increases in the nonwhite shares of their populations since 2010. Connecticut ranks even higher, at No. 2. “Not sure people realize the extent to which the Northeast is becoming more diverse,” Silver remarked. It’s only a Southern New England phenomenon, however; Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont all rank near the bottom.

12. Two good reads on the state of journalism: The New Yorker’s Michael Luo examines how the press can best serve a democratic society, and CommonWealth contributor Rick Holmes reviews a new book on the crisis in local news.

13. Julie Tremaine on what Disney World is like with the NBA Bubble in place.

14. “The Girl from Ipanema” turns out to be far weirder song than you thought.

15. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Bryant University President Ron Machtley; Providence College President Fr. Brian Shanley. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. Podcast lovers, you can subscribe to both shows on iTunes — get the Newsmakers podcast here and the Executive Suite podcast here — and radio listeners can catch them back-to-back Sundays at 6 p.m. on WPRO-AM 630 and WEAN-FM 99.7. See you back here next Saturday morning.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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