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. Move over, Capital Grille — the Warwick IHOP is the new spot for political tête-à-têtes in Rhode Island. That’s where Joe Shekarchi and Jack Reed sat down last weekend to have a 90-minute heart-to-heart about whether Shekarchi really wanted to swap his speaker’s gavel in Rhode Island for a backbencher’s seat in Congress. In the end, the answer was no; Shekarchi formally removed himself from contention on Friday. Before the conversation at the IHOP, “I was much more in the race,” Shekarchi told me. “And then I sat down with Senator Reed, who’s a personal friend, a political mentor of mine, and he kind of explained to me what it is to be in Washington today, and what it’s like to be in the minority party. And that gave me pause.” When an elected official is considering a run for higher office, advisers and allies are often the ones pushing them to do it. But that wasn’t the case here — Shekarchi says his inner circle was universally opposed to a congressional bid. The fact that he nevertheless still considered the idea so seriously indicates just how much of a draw serving in Washington was to him. Yet Shekarchi also acknowledged that the prospect of moving from Smith Hill to Capitol Hill doesn’t look as appealing these days as it once did. “Years ago it would be: Congress is a great place to go, you can get things done, you can be friends with the other party,” he said. “Now in Washington if you’re seen even being friendly with the opposite party you’re called out on it by your own members and your own caucus.” As for who should be the new 1st District rep, Shekarchi isn’t picking favorites — yet. “I think that we as a party have to be very committed to elect the best possible Democrat, and I’m committed to do that,” he said, while downplaying his own (significant) influence over any eventual state party endorsement. “I think anybody can win the race,” Shekarchi said. “I think it’s wide open, and I think you have to wait and see who the candidates are before you do that analysis. Because I believe there’s probably candidates who are thinking of running who maybe — now that I’ve stepped aside — may come forward that you and I don’t even know yet.”
2. By taking a pass, Speaker Shekarchi has made the 1st Congressional District race considerably more interesting, removing a contender who could have outspent most rivals and locked down institutional support. While nothing is certain in politics, Shekarchi would have been the frontrunner if he got in. The same can’t be said for Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, who took a low-key approach to her campaign kickoff, with a press release and social-media video but no news conference. And she probably won’t be the only Latina in the race: state Sen. Sandra Cano, who was in D.C. on Friday, is expected to declare her own candidacy shortly. General Treasurer James Diossa, Cano’s fiancé, hinted as much on this week’s taping of Newsmakers. “She’s very interested,” Diossa said. “She’s just making her own assessments on what’s the best thing for her. What I’ve said from the beginning is I think we need to send a woman to Congress, and I think she’d be an excellent candidate if she decides to run.” Another domino will fall early next week when a final decision is announced by Helena Foulkes, the only other well-known Democratic contender in the same fundraising league as Shekarchi. If Foulkes runs, the debate will only be over whether she’s the out-and-out frontrunner or just a leading candidate. If she doesn’t run, the primary could turn into a true free-for-all, with more of those currently on the fence deciding they should take a gamble on a contest without a favorite. Who else might get in? Gabe Amo? Dawn Euer? Don Grebien? Maria Rivera? Liz Perik? Don Carlson?
3. Once burned, twice shy? Not at the National Republican Congressional Committee, which just placed Seth Magaziner’s 2nd District seat on its 2024 target list despite coming up short in a multimillion-dollar effort to flip the seat last year. Magaziner is one of 37 incumbents the GOP says it hopes to oust next year. “These House Democrats should be shaking in their boots,” said North Carolina Congressman Richard Hudson, who chairs the NRCC. So far, however, no Republicans have filed to challenge Magaziner, and the freshman congressman is taking advantage of his head start against any eventual opponents. That includes replenishing his campaign bank account, which had just $40,000 on hand by the end of last year. Magaziner is hosting a major fundraiser on March 30 at the Providence G’s rooftop bar, with a host committee of over 150 movers-and-shakers ranging from Armand Sabitoni to Joan Sorensen; House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries is also slated to headline a fundraiser for him in Washington. Magaziner is working to raise his national profile, as well, such as on Friday with a crack-of-dawn TV appearance on MSNBC.
4. The ongoing turmoil in the nation’s banking sector has given James Diossa an early test in his new role as Rhode Island’s general treasurer. The state pension fund expects to lose about $2.5 million from its investments in troubled banks — a rounding error in a $10 billion fund, but still a reminder of how global financial crises can have tangible effects back home. Appearing on this week’s Newsmakers, Diossa praised the team at the treasurer’s office for acting quickly to assess the damage after Silicon Valley Bank collapsed — watch the full interview here.
5. Of course, the fallout from a banking crisis isn’t hard to understand for Rhode Islanders — many residents lived through the 1991 credit-union crisis and will never forget the images of that era. David Preston — who was by Bruce Sundlun’s side then as the newly inaugurated governor closed the banks — has a smart Boston Globe op-ed reflecting on how differently that crisis might have transpired in the age of social media.
6. Some stories from my colleagues you shouldn’t miss … Eli Sherman and Steph Machado found out the feds are paying attention to Providence’s special-education crisis … Eli also laid out the massive job ahead to recertify one-third of Rhode Islanders for Medicaid … state lawmakers are considering a bill to crack down on catalytic-converter thefts spurred in part by Steph’s reporting … Tim White looked at how local authorities are preparing for the unique dangers of electric-vehicle fires … Amanda Pitts heard from East Providence’s police union about “deplorable” conditions at their HQ, and got a feisty response from Mayor DaSilva.
7. Maura Healey has insisted Southeastern Massachusetts won’t be an afterthought for her as governor, and so far she’s making good on the promise. UMass Dartmouth was the destination for her first official visit as governor, and on Thursday she returned to tour New Bedford’s $133 million Marine Commerce Terminal. Appearing for an interview on 12 News at 4 a day later, the governor told Kim Kalunian she is strongly committed to a regional approach to economic development. “Figuring out how we can grow a great clean-tech economy, grow great jobs, as well as create economic opportunity, and do right when it comes to addressing the climate crisis, is something that we can and must do regionally,” Healey said. “Also, when you look at some of the high costs of heating right now and electricity and the like, we have to work as a region, and that’s why I’m committed to working with Rhode Island, committed to working with other states, in addressing this.”
8. Personnel shortages were a hot topic in last week’s column, with pediatricians and early-learning professionals both in short supply. Lifespan’s new CEO, John Fernandez, was asked on a recent conference call to name the biggest headwinds facing Rhode Island’s largest hospital group. “I’d put staffing first, I’d put staffing second, I’d put staffing third,” he replied. Lifespan execs are looking to hire more than 1,000 people over the next year, including 400 to 500 nurses — partly so they can open 40 closed inpatient beds that aren’t currently staffed, which would ease the strain on their emergency rooms. “Finding people is the critical piece here,” Fernandez said. (Kudos to Providence Business First’s Mary Serreze for posing the question.) Lifespan is seeing some signs of improvement after last fiscal year’s $77 million operating loss, posting a $5 million operating profit for the final three months of 2022, though Fernandez and CFO Peter Markell are quick to say they’re hardly out of the woods yet. The new leadership team at Care New England is facing a tougher road, with yet another cost-cutting program set to start on April 1. CNE is also outsourcing more of its research program to Brown.
9. Personnel shortages are widespread at the highest levels of state government, too. CCRI’s Meghan Hughes just announced her unexpected departure, meaning two of Rhode Island’s three public colleges will soon lack a permanent leader, with RIC in the same boat. And there is still no permanent secretary at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, nor a permanent director at the Department of Health, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Children, Youth and Families, or the Health Insurance Commissioner’s Office.
10. What does the future hold for Twitter? I’ve been an avid user since Providence Geeks co-founder Jack Templin turned me on to the site 15 years ago, but Elon Musk’s erratic ownership has raised serious questions about its long-term outlook. I joined Ian Donnis on The Public Radio’s this week for a discussion about what will be lost if Twitter disappears.
11. One of Rhode Island’s top exports these days is turning out to be journalistic talent. As I mentioned in this space last year, Rob Legare (a Hendricken grad) and Luke Barr (Wheeler) have a friendly rivalry as they compete on the U.S. Justice Department beat for CBS News and ABC News, respectively. Another one to watch: Matt Holt, a La Salle alum who covers U.S. Senate campaigns for National Journal. You can sign up here for Matt’s email newsletter, which carries the catchy name “Holt’s Notes.” Has a certain ring to it, don’t you think?
12. Dick Tofel explains why both Fox News and Dominion might want to settle their lawsuit.
13. Dan Kois wonders, is America suffering from a “hanging-out” crisis?
14. A poignant remembrance of Frank Sinatra’s final concert in 1995.
15. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — General Treasurer James Diossa. 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