1. Congressman-elect Gabe Amo’s victory on Tuesday was historic. For the first time ever, Rhode Island voters have elected a Black person to Congress, choosing a son of two West African immigrants who often touts his “humble roots.” And the state’s voters have now, in the space of a single year, transitioned Rhode Island’s U.S. House delegation from a pair of baby boomers to a pair of millennials. On the other hand, the fall campaign had about as much suspense as a Hallmark Christmas movie. Joe Biden topped Donald Trump in the 1st District by 29.1 points in 2020; David Cicilline topped Allen Waters by 28.2 points in 2022; and Amo topped Gerry Leonard by 29.7 points this week. Three different election cycles, three different turnouts, three different flavors of Republicans — and three near-identical results. “I thought the campaign was reasonably positive,” Cara Cromwell, a political strategist and member of Amo’s kitchen cabinet, said on this week’s Newsmakers. “I thought it was about issues. And I think that maybe shows the line in the district, between Republican issues and Democrat issues. And I think the voters came out on their issues and voted that way.” It’s now been 31 years since Republicans won a U.S. House seat in Rhode Island, and their failure to secure a winnable seat in last year’s open 2nd District race has made it unclear when they will ever be able to break the streak.
2. At just 35 years old, Gabe Amo appears to have a bright future in Rhode Island politics — and, considering his age, potentially a long one. He’s viewed as a near-cinch for re-election to a full term next year, barring some unexpected screw-up, and being discussed as a potential candidate for higher office down the line. In the meantime, Amo’s unique backstory and high-level ties in D.C. are already giving him a higher profile than the average safe-seat freshman. Appearing Friday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” No. 3 House Democrat Jim Clyburn touted Amo’s win as a bullish sign for President Biden. “He ran on Joe Biden’s record and finished on top of the heap,” Clyburn said. Amo himself had national TV hits Friday on both ABC News and CNN. One interesting thing to watch in 2024: will Biden’s campaign try to deploy Amo as a surrogate in any swing states? The freshman congressman will need to figure out how to balance any such requests against cementing his position with voters at home in the 1st District.
3. The biggest political surprise of the week actually came 48 hours after Election Day, when Lisa Baldelli-Hunt announced she was abruptly resigning after 10 years as Woonsocket mayor. She cited her health, sending a letter to residents reminding them of her public collapse at an April press conference. But for a politician with Baldelli-Hunt’s survival skills to quit so suddenly — she didn’t even give a heads-up to Governor McKee, a longtime ally — there was obviously more to the story. Her exit came just 15 days after our Eli Sherman published the first in a series of investigative reports examining a $1.1 million land deal she executed unilaterally using city-controlled federal funds. When Eli first asked the mayor whether she had ever had a business relationship with the seller, Raymond Bourque, she told him “nothing comes to mind.” A week later, Eli discovered that she’d not only listed Borque as her employer on a 2011 ethics form — she also once borrowed $182,000 from him but failed to disclose it to the Ethics Commission. By the time she resigned, the City Council was up in arms, the city solicitor was working to unwind the deal, and questions were swirling about whether federal officials might examine the transaction. Are there more shoes to drop, or will Baldelli-Hunt’s departure take the heat off? Meantime, her decision has scrambled Woonsocket politics, elevating City Council President Chris Beauchamp to the mayor’s office and setting up an interesting contest in next year’s regularly scheduled mayoral election.
4. And speaking of Woonsocket politics, retired Projo columnist Charlie Bakst mentioned to me how surprised he was to see that the city was one of three municipalities taken by Republican Gerry Leonard in the special election for Congress, along with Smithfield and North Smithfield. It was no fluke. Woonsocket used to be a core Democratic community, but much like Johnston, it’s been trending away from the party as the GOP attracts more working-class votes. Hometown state Rep. Steve Casey won the city in September’s congressional primary, running on a moderate “Kennedy Democrat” platform. And last year Ashley Kalus came within 4 points of beating Dan McKee in the city despite the governor’s deep roots in the Blackstone Valley and strong support from Lisa Baldelli-Hunt. That said, it’s also not a brand-new phenomenon — back in 2010, admittedly a brutal year for Democrats, Woonsocket voters backed Republicans John Loughlin for Congress and John Robitaille for governor. You can see the results for all 19 cities and towns in the 1st District on this map made by Eli Sherman.
5. There’s an old saw in Rhode Island politics that the state’s voters have never seen a bond referendum they don’t like. This week’s election put the lie to that, with North Kingstown voters rebuking town leaders who tried to force through a $222 million borrowing plan that combined a new school and a new public-safety complex on one ballot question. It’s a reminder that one of the reasons bond questions usually pass is because the elected officials who write them usually think about the political viability of the projects and dollar amounts they request. North Kingstown was an outlier, though — almost all the other local bond questions passed, except for a police bond in North Smithfield, though Middletown was close. BuildRI, a group backed by the trade unions and contractor associations, took a victory lap after the election, noting that this was the first time it led campaigns for local bond questions (as opposed to state-level ones) and every question it backed carried the day.
6. You think the congressional race was a landslide? Take a look at R.I. Senate District 1, where Democrat Jake Bissaillon took 83% of the vote Tuesday in the race to replace the late Maryellen Goodwin. GOP activists liked their candidate, Niyoka Powell, but she always faced very long odds in a district where only 7% of voters are registered Republicans.
7. On the Saturday before Election Day, there were photos all over social media of Rhody politicos helping Speaker Shekarchi canvass his House district in Warwick. But wait a minute — Shekarchi isn’t even up for another term until next year. So why the big push? His advisers say he organized a literature drop across the district to stay connected with local voters and make the case for his effectiveness at the State House. You wouldn’t necessarily expect that the state’s most powerful lawmaker, with $2.1 million in his campaign account, would feel the need to devote a beautiful off-year Saturday morning to campaigning. But it offers a window into Shekarchi’s take-nothing-for-granted approach to politics.
8. And speaking of Speaker Shekarchi, General Assembly leaders got word late Friday that estimated general revenue for the current budget year has been revised upward by $42 million, or a little under 1%, with modest growth projected to follow in the 2024-25 fiscal year. “The forecast for 2.6% revenue growth for the next fiscal year is not unexpected in the current economic conditions,” Shekarchi said in a statement Friday night. “This news reinforces the wisdom of our previous commitments to focus investments of recently available one-time money on one-time expenses. We expect that those investments will help our economy grow.” The new revenue estimates set the stage for Governor McKee’s next budget proposal, due in January.
9. A juicy Friday scoop from Tim White: Superior Court Judge Daniel Procaccini has ordered Attorney General Peter Neronha to appear in his courtroom next month, apparently to have Neronha explain tweets deemed critical of the judge.
10. Senator Reed was at the White House on Wednesday night, joining a group of lawmakers who met with President Biden for two hours in the Roosevelt Room to discuss the situation overseas. The same day, Reed helped lead a letter to Biden seeking more information about the Israeli strategy to defeat Hamas. He also taped a new installment of the CBS News podcast “The Takeout.”
11. Another round of off-year municipal elections in Massachusetts, and another round of dismal voter turnout. The results were a validation of incumbent mayors, as New Bedford’s Jon Mitchell, Fall River’s Paul Coogan and Taunton’s Shaunna O’Connell all won easy re-election victories. (Attleboro’s Cathleen DeSimone wasn’t even challenged.) But most voters stayed home: turnout was only 13% in New Bedford, 20% in Fall River and 22% in Taunton. As I reported last spring, advocates argue the cities could improve those numbers by switching to even-year mayoral elections, a change already made in Rhode Island. But former Mitchell aide Jon Carvalho offered an alternative perspective during an appearance on New Bedford broadcaster Chris McCarthy’s radio program, suggesting that the large share of voters who didn’t bother casting a ballot implicitly indicated they don’t mind the status quo. “When the voters want change, when the people are unhappy, you’ll know about it,” Carvalho said. Perhaps Americans should take a page out of France’s book: when French election results are reported, news outlets prominently report the “abstention rate” — the share of voters who didn’t cast a ballot at all — as part of their analysis.
12. And speaking of the Whaling City, here’s a fun story from The Globe’s Renée Loth about former Massachusetts Gov. Mike Dukakis, who celebrated his 90th birthday this week: “Anecdotes abound about the way Dukakis brushed himself off after his crushing loss to George H. W. Bush, how he weathered the last dark days of his governorship and assumed a life of service. [John] Sasso remembers calling Dukakis on a cold January night in 1989, weeks after he got 42 million votes for president, to learn Dukakis was on his way to moderate a debate for mayor of New Bedford. ‘Don’t you know it’s an important race?’ he told Sasso.”
13. The situation at Roger Williams and Fatima hospitals sounds worse and worse.
14. There was big media news this week, with the announcement that the boards of Rhode Island PBS and The Public’s Radio (once known as Rhode Island Public Radio) have voted to merge into a single public broadcaster. One interesting wrinkle: the two parties actually need to win the approval of AG Neronha for the merger, due to a 2005 state law called the Public Radio Conversions Act. (Lawmakers enacted that measure after Boston University tried to sell the Rhode Island public radio station, then known as WRNI on 1290 AM.) The attorney general’s office will have six months to complete a review of the proposed transaction before deciding whether to approve or reject it, and Neronha says he plans to solicit public comment and hold at least one public meeting.
15. Robby Kalland looks at Julian Edelman’s new life as an NFL broadcaster.
17. Coming Monday at 5 p.m. on 12 News: my one-on-one interview with former Care New England CEO Dr. James Fanale about his battle against stage-four lung cancer and the lessons he’s learned about the health care system as a patient, after years as a physician and hospital executive. Tune in.
18. Happy Veterans Day to all who served — including retired U.S. Navy Commander Charles “Chuck” P. Meys, whose surprise 98th birthday party held Tuesday in Portsmouth included a visit from Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos to deliver a certificate of recognition. Meys served in World War II, which counts him among a dwindling number of living Rhode Island veterans of that conflict, as well as Korea and Vietnam. “I’m just another guy,” Meys told the crowd. “It’s been a blessing to know that other people care about you. I never dreamt in a hundred years that I’d live to be 98 years old.”
19. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — a political roundtable breaks down this week’s elections. 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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 Threads, Twitter and Facebook.
An earlier version of this column excluded the outcome of the North Smithfield police bond.