1. It appears the phrases “de minimus” and “vegan cheese” will now take their place in Rhode Island political lore, shorthand for the outrageous alleged behavior of David Patten, the state’s property-management chief, during a now-infamous official trip to Philadelphia. An email documenting his “blatantly sexist, racist and unprofessional” conduct finally saw the light of day this week after Governor McKee’s office lost a three-month fight to keep it secret, and the reaction was explosive. The governor has allowed Patten to keep his job while HR and the state police both investigate the trip; in an interview with our Amanda Pitts on Thursday night, McKee neither condemned nor defended his staffer. Patten aside, though, the email also spotlighted the uncertainty surrounding the long-running effort to redevelop the Cranston Street Armory; that was the reason for his trip in the first place, to visit the contractor undertaking the effort, Scout Ltd. While McKee has been willing to allocate tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to other big projects — the soccer stadium, the Superman building, South Quay — he has resisted Scout’s pitch to spend over $55 million transforming the Armory along the lines of Bok, its mixed-use facility in Philly. Scout has strong support from Mayor Smiley as well as West End lawmakers like Sen. Sam Bell and Rep. Enrique Sanchez, but the governor isn’t sold. “We’re going to wait until we see the report that I have asked for to make sure that the representations of it being a good investment are actually true or not,” he told Amanda. No matter what, state money will keep flowing to the Armory, since it costs millions a year just to maintain as is. The Scout executives have their own theories about Patten’s disastrous visit, writing in the newly released email: “We are not sure if this was intended to try to force our hand to walk away from the project — but we are disgusted and shocked by these actions.”
2. Of course, Rhode Islanders still wouldn’t know the details about David Patten’s alleged behavior if not for the successful effort by both WPRI 12 and The Providence Journal to force the governor’s office to release the email under the Access to Public Records Act (APRA). It’s no simple process — Eli Sherman and Tim White spent weeks researching and writing appeals filed with the attorney general’s office, trading legal arguments with the governor’s attorneys as the latter sought to keep the document under wraps. The final decision by the AG’s open-records unit was a vindication for advocates who convinced lawmakers to amend APRA in 2012 by adding a “balancing test” — a provision allowing the AG or the courts to weigh whether on balance the public would be better-served by a document becoming public. Indeed, the AG’s staff noted that one of the legal precedents the governor’s office cited “is of limited application because that case analyzed the withholding of records under a prior version of the APRA that exempted ‘[a]ll records which are identifiable to an individual … employee; including, but not limited to, personnel … records.’ That provision has since been replaced with the balancing test.” (Tim used to joke that under the old version of APRA, any bill signed by the governor could theoretically be exempt from public disclosure just because his name was on it.) Common Cause’s John Marion — one of those who supported the 2012 APRA rewrite — said the email’s release “shows how incredibly important our public records law is, and why the balancing test is a critical tool to unearthing documents like this that are clearly in the public interest.”
3. With less than three months to go until the Sept. 5 primary — and barely two months before the first votes are cast — the 1st Congressional District race remains a pretty sleepy affair. State Rep. Nathan Biah became the first Democrat to exit the primary, swapping out to the smaller-scale special election to replace the late Sen. Maryellen Goodwin. That left the list of Democratic candidates at 15. Aaron Regunberg sought to show a different side of himself to voters, releasing a video in which he talked about his father’s death in a plane crash before he was born. Regunberg was also one of a number of 1st District hopefuls who expressed outrage about the David Patten email; others included Ana Quezada, Sandra Cano and Don Carlson. Quezada was also the latest 1st District candidate to join Kim Kalunian for a live interview on 12 News at 4. There was also some juicy coverage from an unexpected source — Politico’s White House newsletter — about two of the candidates, Gabe Amo and Nick Autiello. Per Politico, Biden administration types are generally supporting their former colleague Amo, who is the first of their ranks to seek federal office. Yet Jill Biden’s former press secretary, Michael LaRosa, has signed on as Autiello’s communications consultant — causing some consternation among Amo’s administration backers. And it’s clear Autiello isn’t going to cede the White House mantle to Amo; a day after the Politico piece ran, Autiello’s campaign released a statement saying he would be attending a Pride Month Celebration on the South Lawn “at the invitation of President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.” Meanwhile in the GOP, a potential Republican candidate filed with the FEC to run: Jamestown’s Gerry W. Leonard Jr. And looking ahead to next week, Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien will roll his endorsement in the congressional race on Monday; hometown candidate Cano is the favorite to get it.
4. Stefan Pryor has his work cut out for him as Rhode Island’s newish housing secretary, seeking to reverse a decades-long trend of underproduction that has left the state with high home prices, soaring rents, and rampant homelessness. During an interview on this week’s Newsmakers, Pryor acknowledged that much of the problem stems from zoning restrictions put in place by the 39 cities and towns to limit growth. But he expressed optimism that major progress can be made just by advancing construction in places where it will be welcomed. “Let’s start with the coalition of the willing,” Pryor said. “Let’s start with the projects that mayors and other municipal leaders and communities want to do and they have legitimate barriers — we can start there and we can get hundreds, even thousands of units built.” Pryor cited two examples of low-hanging fruit for more construction: transit hubs like the new Pawtucket-Central Falls MBTA station, where parking isn’t as big a need, and empty or underutilized properties (think Memorial Hospital and shopping malls). In the latter case, he said, “often they’re accompanied by preexisting infrastructure — water, sewer, roadway — that will support housing.” Pryor is blessed to be in the good graces of Speaker Shekarchi, who has made housing his No. 1 priority and steered over $30 million more to fund housing projects in the new budget. But that blessing can also be a curse: Shekarchi is going to want to see results for all this money and effort before too much time goes by.
5. Perhaps it’s no surprise, but it’s now abundantly clear that the $220 million Superman building redevelopment plan announced with so much fanfare last year is no longer operative. Secretary Pryor, who engineered the deal in his final days as commerce secretary, acknowledged on Newsmakers that the state and developer High Rock are currently in discussions over just how much the project’s cost has risen due to inflation and higher interest rates. And Pryor indicated it will be “months, rather than weeks” before officials can offer any clarity on whether there is a new path forward to revive the state’s tallest building. “I think if there is to be any [financial] ask, and that’s an if — and if we are to embrace any ask, and that, too, is an if — it would be for the next legislative session,” Pryor said. Mayor Smiley, for one, didn’t sound overly concerned when he appeared on 12 News at 4 this week. “These are major projects, and many of the projects like this take many years,” Smiley said.
6. The House zipped through its budget debate in record time on Friday, taking less than three hours to send the $14 billion tax-and-spending plan on to the Senate. Speaker Shekarchi made one significant change at the 11th hour, adding $7 million for early-childhood programs after prodding by rank-and-file lawmakers and advocates. The document won unusually glowing praise from the top House Republican, Mike Chippendale, who praised Shekarchi for working collaboratively on a series of amendments related to Medicaid that the GOP helped craft. However, the budget has left RIPEC CEO Mike DiBiase alarmed about the state of Rhode Island’s education funding formula, which is supposed to dispense K-12 aid on a rational and equitable basis. Various changes made since the start of the pandemic have significantly altered the flow of funds, and DiBiase thinks it’s time for a fundamental rethink. “Enacting an education funding formula some 10-plus years ago was a milestone for our state and brought fairness, predictability and state support to needy districts,” he told me Friday. “After two years of disregarding the formula, this year the Assembly is making formula changes that are so complicated that it is hard to see a coherent policy. If we truly want to improve our school systems we need to take a comprehensive look at the funding formula.” DiBiase has an ally in the R.I. League of Cities and Towns, which joined him in urging the General Assembly to form a joint special legislative commission for a thorough review of the K-12 formula.
7. Two from our new Providence reporter Alexandra Leslie: Alex breaks down the Providence City Council’s revamped budget plan, and highlights the dry-but-crucial decennial review of the city’s comprehensive plan.
8. Former Congressman Jim Langevin was back on Capitol Hill this week, joining former colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee for “a rare open hearing on Wednesday where it heard from five former members who sat on the panel,” per Politico. Once a bastion of cross-party cooperation, the Intel Committee has more recently been the venue for bruising fights, culminating in Speaker McCarthy’s decision to boot Democrat Adam Schiff off the panel this year. Langevin and the others are urging GOP Intel Chairman Mike Turner and his Democratic counterpart Jim Himes to continue their efforts to get back to the old ways of operating on the committee, which oversees the CIA and other intelligence agencies.
9. Massachusetts Congressman Jake Auchincloss is as media-friendly as anyone on the Hill these days, rarely turning down an interview request whether local or national. He’s also been an outspoken defender of President Biden on foreign policy (despite the commander-in-chief repeatedly butchering his last name). Now Auchincloss is dipping his toes into the world of early-state campaign surrogacy, getting ink in the Manchester Union Leader and pixels on Iowa Starting Line. “Our communications strategy was built on going everywhere and talking to everyone,” Auchincloss senior advisor Matt Corridoni told me. “Jake’s bio and work in Congress lends unique credibility to calling GOP presidential candidates out on foreign policy, and his universal appeal allows him to effectively talk to voters no matter their location or party affiliation.” With few political worries in his own district, Auchincloss also continues raising money to support other Democrats around the country, as he did in last year’s cycle. Beneficiaries this time include Maine’s Jared Golden, Kansas’s Sharice Davids, and Missouri’s Lucas Kunce. The latter is a challenger to U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, and like Auchincloss served in the U.S. Marine Corps; the pair co-wrote an op-ed challenging Hawley’s new book on masculinity. “Investing early and in traditionally ‘red’ areas shows Jake is committed to helping Democrats compete anywhere and everywhere this cycle as we work to take back the House and keep the White House,” Corridoni said. (It’s also a good way to lay the very early groundwork for a presidential campaign.)
10. The mayors of our region’s two largest cities, Providence’s Brett Smiley and New Bedford’s Jon Mitchell, were both in Columbus last weekend for a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and both departed Ohio with new titles. Mitchell won a seat on the mayoral group’s Board of Trustees, which charts the course for the organization, while Smiley joined its Advisory Board, which assists in that effort. “I am grateful for the confidence that fellow mayors around the country have placed in me,” Mitchell told me, adding, “We have accomplished much together in recent years, and there is more work ahead to enable our cities to thrive.” Of course, there’s a more important election involving Mitchell that still hasn’t been resolved — the veteran mayor remains coy about whether he will seek another four-year term this fall. But the smart money in the Whaling City is on Mitchell running for re-election.
11. Welcome back to Providence, Dr. Jha. After 14 months leading the White House’s COVID-19 response, the famed physician-academic will be back at Brown on July 1. “We are in a world drastically altered by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Jha said in a statement. “For all we have accomplished to reduce illness and save lives, COVID-19 has exposed the weaknesses in our public health and health care systems. I look forward to returning to Brown to continue our groundbreaking work transforming public health education, research and practice to convert these weaknesses to strengths.”
12. CVS CEO Karen Lynch is the newest addition to the board of the JFK Library, following CVS’s co-sponsorship of their big black-tie event last November headlined by Prince William and Princess Kate.
13. Jonathan Clarke wonders, has society gotten a little too casual?
14. Tyler Foggatt on the phenomenon that is the Taylor Swift “Eras” tour.
15. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — Housing Secretary Stefan Pryor. 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 (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.