Nesi’s Notes: June 6

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. When you grow up in Southeastern Massachusetts, it’s easy to feel overlooked by statewide political leaders. Cities like New Bedford, Fall River and Attleboro are closer to a different state’s capital city than to their own; Bristol County is part of the Providence TV market, after all, not the Boston one. That’s one reason we at WPRI 12 felt it was vital to bring U.S. Senate rivals Ed Markey and Joe Kennedy here to participate in a TV debate originating from Southeastern Massachusetts, putting the region on par with Boston, Worcester and Springfield as its own hub. The circumstances have changed radically, however, since the two Democrats accepted our invitation. Monday’s live 7 p.m. debate, co-sponsored by Gannett’s Massachusetts publications, was originally slated to be held on the campus of UMass Dartmouth — but coronavirus forced us to switch to a socially distanced in-studio face-off. The candidates themselves have spent the past three months campaigning via Facebook Live and Zoom, unable to gather voters in the same room, let alone shake their hands. And polling has continued to show a highly competitive contest. “From what I can see and from what I can tell, Kennedy came into this race because he thought this was going to be an easy race,” UMass Dartmouth’s Shannon Jenkins said on this week’s Newsmakers. “He thought he had a big lead. I think he thought Markey would just sort of roll over. … And I think now, where we stand, I think it’s really anybody’s race. I mean, I do think the oddsmakers might put Kennedy as their favorite, but most of the polling data that I’ve seen are showing that it’s pretty much a tossup at this point.” Even if you live in Rhode Island, the state is so intertwined with Massachusetts that leadership across the border matters, too — tune in Monday night at 7 and size up your neighbors’ options.

2. Joe Kennedy’s decision to run for Senate is freeing up Kennedy’s own 4th Congressional District seat for the first time since he won it in 2012. It’s a gerrymandered swath of territory — fairly cohesive in its Bristol County-dominated south, but jutting wildly in two directions to the north, a little into Worcester County on one side, nearly into Boston on the other. (My Twitter followers suggested the district looks like the Grinch’s dog Max, or maybe a reverse West Virginia.) So while the literal center of the 4th is in the Attleboro area, the district’s power center is really way up at its northeastern edge in Newton and Brookline — the two communities that have produced eight of the nine Democratic candidates who qualified for the Sept. 1 primary ballot this week. (The ninth is from Wellesley.) Two days after the deadline, Newton City Councilor Becky Grossman released an internal poll that showed her leading the field — but with a scant 13% of the vote. Former Brookline Select Board member Jesse Mermell and another Newton city councilor, Jake Auchincloss, came next at 7% each. “It showed that the race is wide open, which isn’t surprising at this point,” Politico’s Steph Murray said on Newsmakers. “Sixty percent of voters said at this point they’re undecided. So it’s really anybody’s game. But the person who’s in the lead, no surprise, is the campaign who released the poll.” The other campaigns didn’t so much downplay the Grossman poll to me as highlight how much opportunity there is with 87% of primary voters supporting either someone other than the frontrunner or nobody yet. (One late-entering candidate, Natalia Linos, took issue with the fact that multiple other female candidates were not named in Grossman’s results.) “The headline should read: ‘Undecided is in the lead,'” said UMass’s Shannon Jenkins. Still, Grossman’s 13% is nothing to sneeze at: Massachusetts Congresswoman Lori Trahan got to Capitol Hill by winning just 21.6% of the vote in the 2018 Democratic primary in the 3rd District.

3. There were many dramatic moments during Friday’s historic protest in Providence, from the afternoon prayer circle involving police and activists to the 9 p.m. moment of silence to the unexpected nighttime appearance of the governor on the State House steps. But among the most compelling was the raw witness of Terrell Paci, a 23-year-old Providence firefighter, who testified on live television that he was racially profiled by police just a few days ago. Watch the video here.

4. Among the many leaders who spoke out this week was state Rep. Anastasia Williams, the 14-term Providence Democrat, who made her voice heard by confronting the governor at a Tuesday morning news conference, holding her own news conference flanked by other lawmakers, and releasing an open letter on the death of George Floyd. “Malcolm X said, ‘You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom,’” Williams wrote. “For the African-American community, we speak of the freedom to walk down the street without being murdered. We speak of the freedom of encountering a law enforcement officer without the possibility of ending up in a body bag while being handcuffed. We speak of the freedom to have the opportunity to achieve the American Dream, not the American Nightmare too many of us currently face.” On Wednesday, Williams laid out 17 policy proposals she argues will help root out systemic racism in Rhode Island government. Among her ideas: diversifying the judiciary, law enforcement, state boards and commissions, and suburban governments; raising the quota for state contracts going to minority businesses from 10% to 25%; providing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants; and instituting body cams for all police departments. Speaker Mattiello joined Williams at her news conference Thursday, but said there is “no assurance anything will pass this summer,” per Projo.

5. Another longtime leader who weighed in was state Sen. Harold Metts, an eight-term Providence Democrat who previously served 14 years in the House. “I was 20 years old during the riots of the late 1960s in South Providence,” Metts recalled in an essay. “They were sparked by police brutality and the assassination of Dr. King, added to the already smoldering piles of injustice. The shopping center on Prairie Avenue was looted and set on fire with cries of ‘Burn, baby, burn!’ (The only black business there, the Brown’s Liquor Store, was spared, since the owner and his family sat out front with shotguns.) The community suffered a devastating blow to the local economy, as the stores never returned. Sadly, today we see a similar scenario, with good protesters marching for justice, while evil looters use them for cover, taking advantage of this opportunity to steal. This included white looters, too.” Metts added, “We need political and social actions that address our pain as well as our economic and societal needs, ranging from political education and voter registration to strengthening of black-owned business efforts and employment. Economic boycotts like the Montgomery bus boycott should also be considered to ensure corporate accountability to our community. We also need to work much harder to improve the relationship of police to the black community. The community police model in the city of Providence has helped, but continued efforts are needed for diversity, training in cultural competency, recruitment and screening of applicants.”

6. The Rhode Island Historical Society found video in our archives of Malcolm X being interviewed on WPRI 12 back in 1961.

7. Remember coronavirus? It’s still out there: roughly 100 Rhode Islanders tested positive for COVID-19 each day over the past week, and at least 47 infected individuals died. You can review all the latest data here. Looking at the picture nationally, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Thursday, “I’m worried about the summer. I don’t think we’re going to see an epidemic in July and August but I think we’re going to be taking an awful lot of infection into the fall.” My colleague Eli Sherman also did a deep dive on the state’s overall death numbers, finding about 10% more people died during the five weeks roughly coinciding with April than passed away in previous years.

8. “For months, health experts told Americans to stay home. Now, many are encouraging the public to join mass protests.” Dan Diamond looks at the tension in public health officials’ messages.

9. After a three-month absence, the full General Assembly will make its way back to Smith Hill the week of June 15. That’s according to emails Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Ruggerio sent Friday to rank-and-file lawmakers alerting them of their plans. Ruggerio indicated they will take up a revised budget plan to bring the current 2019-20 fiscal year, which ends June 30, back into balance. But a plan for the new 2020-21 fiscal year will be put off a bit longer. “It is important that we enact a supplemental to address the serious budget gap in the current fiscal year, and that will give us flexibility to await clarity from the federal government on what additional assistance they may provide, and/or whether restrictions on current aid may be loosened,” Ruggerio wrote. “I firmly believe it would be extremely unfair to all Rhode Island residents and businesses to proceed on an FY2021 budget without additional clarity on federal aid. Any FY2021 budget bill enacted without this aid would be devastating.” One worrying note for budget-watchers: a separate statement issued by the Assembly indicated that in the case of the revised 2019-20 plan, the House will not adhere to the usual seven-day waiting period between Finance Committee passage of a budget bill and the House floor debate over it. That means a document which will need to close a shortfall of over $200 million could be public for only a limited time before final votes are being taken. “While they’re not required to let it sit for seven days, there is absolutely nothing that prevents the House from providing an adequate period of time between the introduction of the supplemental and when they act on the bill,” tweeted Common Cause’s John Marion.

10. It took a few days, but on Friday night the R.I. Board of Elections finished counting tens of thousands of mail ballots and posted the results of Tuesday’s postponed presidential primary. The winners are no surprise: Joe Biden and President Trump. Roughly 100,000 votes were cast in the Democratic primary, with Biden taking 76.7% of the vote and Bernie Sanders getting 14.9%. That last number could be important for Sanders, who is still seeking to win delegates ahead of the convention; 15% is the threshold to be awarded delegates in any geographic jurisdiction. So it will be important to see whether Sanders crossed 15% in one of the state’s two congressional districts. About 21,500 votes were cast in the Republican primary, with Trump taking 87.1% and Bill Weld coming in a (very) distant second at 5.5%.

11. Senate Judiciary Chair Erin Lynch Prata has the green light from the Ethics Commission to seek the state Supreme Court seat — but Governor Raimondo is under increasing pressure to choose a person of color for the vacancy. That’s one to watch.

12. Will Lifespan and Care New England finally get to the wedding altar?

13. Governor Raimondo is looking to create a COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery Office.

14. CommonWealth picks up hints that John Henry could sell The Boston Globe.

15. Today is the 76th anniversary of D-Day, when the invasion of France by Allied troops began the liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe. But as the actual events of that day fade from living memory, the horror of what soldiers went through that day has been obscured. Splash some cold water on your face by reading S.L.A. Marshall’s 1960 Atlantic article “First Wave of Omaha Beach.” You’ll never think about D-Day the same way again.

16. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – UMass Dartmouth’s Shannon Jenkins and Politico’s Stephanie Murray join us to preview Monday’s WPRI 12 U.S. Senate debate between Democratic incumbent Ed Markey and challenger Joe Kennedy. 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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