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. The Fane tower is dead. The Pawtucket soccer stadium is in limbo. The South Quay terminal needs more money. The Superman building is short of cash. Every day, it seems, projects that politicians touted on the campaign trail in 2022 are running aground on the financial realities of 2023. It’s not just the splashiest ones, either — costs are soaring for plain-vanilla school construction, too. In Johnston, for instance, newly inaugurated mayor Joe Polisena Jr. has tapped Helena Foulkes to join the town’s School Building Committee as they try to navigate the difficult new circumstances. Longtime economic-development expert Kevin Hively cites three drivers of the new dynamic: construction-cost inflation, higher interest rates, and tightening credit standards. The upshot? “Major, major headwinds for every marginally viable development project,” Hively tweeted. Nor will it be easy for developers to convince Rhode Island leaders more taxpayer money should be steered their way; as the federal spigot slows and the economy cools, the state’s budget picture is darkening for the first time since early in the pandemic. RIPEC’s Mike DiBiase estimates revenue will be roughly $100 million lower than projected in Governor McKee’s January budget plan — meaning the final negotiations will be over what to cut, not what to add. As for the stadium, Pawtucket leaders are staying publicly upbeat, describing their decision to hold off on floating the required bonds as a “pause” but nothing fatal. “The capital stack hasn’t been completed, so it doesn’t make sense right now,” said Sandra Cano, a state senator whose day job is director of economic development for Pawtucket, on this week’s Newsmakers. “That doesn’t mean that the project is not going to continue.”
2. My colleague Eli Sherman will catch you up fast on the week’s developments: Eli broke news of the Pawtucket stadium “pause” in this story Wednesday, then paired up with Steph Machado to nail down the status of the Superman building in this story Friday.
3. With Helena Foulkes joining Joe Shekarchi on the sidelines, the 1st Congressional District special election is shaping up to be a wide-open contest. The field of Democratic candidates grew to six this week, as Senator Cano, state Rep. Nathan Biah and former state official Nick Autiello all threw their hats into the ring. Others on the long list of potential candidates are making moves behind the scenes to position themselves for a run; the lack of a Shekarchi or a Foulkes in the race has likely lowered the financial floor to be viable. “Anyone is saying, hey, I can get in. Multi-candidate field? I can win with 25% of the vote,” 12 News political analyst Joe Fleming said on Newsmakers, adding that the winner might only need to spend about $500,000 on their campaign. To put that amount in perspective, during the last election cycle the average U.S. House candidate nationally spent about $1.8 million.
4. Speaking of Helena Foulkes, her statement Monday explaining why she’s taking a pass on the 1st District race only fueled speculation that she’s gearing up for another gubernatorial bid in 2026. Joining Kim Kalunian and me for a live interview on 12 News at 4, Foulkes left the door wide open. “I’m an executive. I know what I like to do — I like to lead,” she said. “I think in the long term I can get more done working here in the state.” She added, “I’m not running for anything right now. But I’m certainly keeping a lot of options open and I wouldn’t say no. It just really depends what the world looks like in a few years, both for me personally and for the state.” Of course, the biggest question about that faraway election is whether Dan McKee will run for another term. He’s allowed to run again in 2026 because his two years filling Gina Raimondo’s unexpired term don’t count against term limits.
5. Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, one of the leading candidates for the 1st Congressional District seat, spent much of the week in Washington at a meeting of the National Lieutenant Governors Association. Matos left Tuesday morning and returns today, and she’s coming back with something to show for it: the NLGA has decided to hold its 2025 spring conference in Rhode Island, per Matos spokesperson David Folcarelli. “The lieutenant governor is excited to work with our visitors bureaus to showcase our state and to make the most of this opportunity for local businesses,” he said.
6. GOP state Rep. Bob Quattrocchi set off a firestorm last Friday when he asked his Democratic colleague Rebecca Kislak during a hearing, “Are you a pedophile?” They were discussing a proposal by Kislak to require lawmakers to attach “equity-impact statements” to any legislation they put forward. Quattrocchi’s comment was widely condemned, and he said he apologized to Kislak four times. But the controversy took a new turn midweek when Quattrocchi’s fellow House Republicans learned Speaker Shekarchi was preparing to use his power to boot Quattrocchi off the committee where the exchange took place. The speaker’s aides cast his decision as “a measured and fair response to uphold the decorum of the House,” pointing out that he forced a Democratic lawmaker — Carlos Tobon — off his committees last year after Target 12 revealed Tobon’s checkered finances. But Republicans condemned the move as disproportionate and an example of Shekarchi bowing to pressure from the left wing of his caucus. “The Archduke is dead,” tweeted veteran Republican Rep. Brian Newberry — a reference to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, which triggered the start of World War I.
7. Governor McKee lost another cabinet director on Friday, with Department of Administration chief Jim Thorsen announcing he will step down in late April to return to the U.S. Treasury, where he worked previously. Brian Daniels, the governor’s widely respected Office of Management and Budget director, will start splitting his time between running OMB and acting as Thorsen’s temporary replacement once the latter departs. With Thorsen out, there will be 10 state agencies without a permanent director: the Department of Administration; the Executive Office of Health and Human Services; the Department of Health; the Department of Human Services; the Department of Children, Youth and Families; the Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner; the Department of Business Regulation; the Office of Energy Resources; and the Department of Revenue.
8. Looks like former state Rep. Anastasia Williams will soon be making her voice heard once again. Williams — who served for 30 years before Enrique Sanchez unseated her in last September’s primary — has posted a trailer on YouTube for a new podcast called “Real Talk with Anastasia Williams.”
9. Providence Police Sgt. Joseph Hanley was found guilty of assault two years ago this month — but he’s still a (suspended) member of the force today, as the General Assembly spends a third session debating whether to change the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. Steph Machado has a deep dive on the police-discipline debate here.
10. Are all those TikTok dance videos actually a profound threat to American national security? That seems to be the bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill, where the Chinese-owned video app came under withering criticism all week, most notably at a packed hearing on Thursday. No local lawmakers got to question TikTok’s CEO — though David Cicilline spent some time watching the proceedings in person — but Massachusetts’ Jake Auchincloss is tracking the issues closely as a member of the high-profile new House Select Committee on China. Appearing Thursday for a live interview on 12 News at 4 with Kim Kalunian and me, Auchincloss said a total ban on TikTok should be a last resort. But he argued lawmakers are right to be concerned — not only due to the app’s ties to the Chinese government, but because of its effects on the mental health of young people. “I’m looking at the 8- to 15-year-old population,” he said. “Their brains are highly plastic. They are getting increasingly caught up in this ‘compare-and-despair’ culture that companies like Facebook and Instagram and TikTok are profiting from. And we have got to, after 15 years, get tough with these companies and be clear that children’s mental health comes above their profit line.” So, I asked Auchincloss, if your children were older would you let them download TikTok onto their own phones? “I would fight it with every ounce of my effort, but honestly, I’d probably lose!” he replied. “And that’s why Congress needs to act, because it’s not fair to ask parents to go up against a trillion-dollar company.”
11. It’s hard to believe, but this week marks 20 years since President George W. Bush launched the war in Iraq. Rhode Island’s congressional delegation largely lined up against the invasion at the time — Jack Reed, Lincoln Chafee and Jim Langevin all voted no, with only Patrick Kennedy voting yes. Reed has had a front-row seat for the fallout over the last two decades as he ascended the ranks of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Asked during a 12 News at 4 interview to assess the war’s long-term effects, Reed said, “They’ve been very detrimental to the policy and the position of the United States. One of the factors is, in those 20 years we were so preoccupied with counterinsurgency that we took our eye off the Russians and the Chinese — literally. They have developed technology that is very much more sophisticated than they had. The Russians now feel that they can go into another country, and I’m sure in the back of their minds are saying, ‘Well, listen — didn’t you guys make up this story about weapons of mass destruction and invade a sovereign nation, and now you’re…?'” Reed let the reference to Ukraine go unspoken, but continued, “the biggest factor I think is just, we have spent a lot of money, and in the meantime our near-peer adversaries have caught up in some cases. And that, strategically, has affected our entire world.”
12. What, concretely, will happen next if the New York grand jury chooses to indict former President Donald Trump in the hush-money case? Our Tim White talked with Roger Williams University School of Law Professor Andrew Horwitz for an informative Q&A on what to expect.
13. The Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau’s Alana O’Hare passes along some good news about the sector’s recovery. JLC LIVE, a big gathering of home builders and remodelers, was the first event held at the R.I. Convention Center after it reopened in August 2021, and is once again taking place now. “This year’s show just became their all-time high for attendance in their nearly 30-year run,” Alana reports. Roughly 11,000 attendees are on hand, expected to spend nearly $4 million while they’re in the capital city. And JLC LIVE isn’t a one-off: overall 2023 attendance numbers are up about 10% compared with pre-pandemic.
14. Everyone agrees education policy has only become more important in the wake of the pandemic, but it’s not clear how policymakers should harness that urgency. To help fill the gap, the Rhode Island Foundation convened stakeholders ranging from NEARI to the League of Charter Schools in an effort to find consensus — here’s what they came up with.
15. Coming up Tuesday at 5: my report on atrocious local election turnout in Bristol County.
16. I’ll be appearing on WGBH’s “Under the Radar” this weekend for a regional New England news roundup, along with host Callie Crossley and fellow panelists Arnie Arnesen and Steve Junker; tune in Sunday at 6 p.m. or Thursday at 9 p.m. on 89.7 FM. You can also listen online here.
17. A sure sign of spring: the Newport Jazz Festival lineup for 2023 is out.
18. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — state Sen. Sandra Cano. 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