Nesi’s Notes: Nov. 23

Ted Nesi

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. The drama in Rhode Island’s hospital industry has fallen off the front pages after Care New England pulled the plug on merger talks with Lifespan over the summer, but the underlying concerns that led Governor Raimondo to force the issue aren’t going anywhere. Brown University President Christina Paxson has a unique vantage point on the matter, since more than 40% of Rhode Island doctors are affiliated with Brown and her medical school has deep ties to both organizations. Appearing on this week’s Newsmakers, Paxson said she was “disappointed” but not surprised when the negotiations collapsed last summer. “We’re beyond surprise in this,” she said. “This has been going on for a long, long time.” This was the third failed attempt at a Lifespan-CNE merger, “which is very sad from my point of view,” Paxson said. “I have been consistent for years — and we’ve been talking about this for years — about the benefits to Rhode Island, to the people who live here, of an integrated academic medical center.” Surprisingly, perhaps, Paxson insists she remains optimistic about the possibility of that happening down the line. For now, she said, the university is working to strengthen its relationship with both systems, “and that, in some ways, paves the way to something different in the future.” The situation has renewed speculation that Care New England could seek to revive its plan to merge with Partners HealthCare’s Brigham Health division — particularly with CNE and Brigham announcing more links in recent months. But in an echo of Lifespan CEO Tim Babineau, Paxson suggested any tie-up with Partners should wait until after the two Rhode Island systems have come together. And with its $4 billion endowment, Brown is ready to put its money where its mouth is. “We’ve indicated all along we’re very willing to make investments in an academic medical center,” Paxson said. “If we think that by doing something we’re going to strengthen health care in this state — and that’s really important — and also strengthen the academic enterprise of research and education, that’s a good investment for us to make.”

2. For a long time Brown was not exactly seen as a hospitable place for military-minded students, due most notably to its decades-long ban on ROTC. But over the last decade there’s been a sea change: Brown now has ROTC programs with all four service branches, and on Veterans Day the school announced a need-blind admissions policy for prospective veteran students. “Times have really changed,” President Paxson said on Newsmakers. “We have this growing, amazing cohort of students who are veterans. And I think when faculty have these students in their classes, and they see what they bring and the depth of their experience, they are won over. So the truth is, I have not received a single negative email questioning, ‘Why are you doing this?’ The fact that we’re need-blind for veterans seems to be celebrated, which is really great.”

3. This Monday at 5 p.m. on WPRI 12, catch my special report about the 20th anniversary of the Providence Place mall. Along with a look at the mall’s financial health today and its relationship with the capital city, we’ve dug up some fantastic footage from the WPRI archives showing the mall’s construction and grand opening back in the 1990s. Tune in!

4. Governor Raimondo already won re-election last November, and she can’t run again in 2022 due to term limits. So why did her campaign just start running a new digital ad about the governor’s efforts to protect kids from vaping? It’s an unusual move, but with $680,000 in her campaign account at last check, Raimondo can certainly afford it. One thing to watch: this may be a test drive of a potential strategy the governor could employ to advance her priorities in the legislature in 2020 following a disappointing legislative session this year. Tim White seemed to foresee this when he pressed Raimondo on last week’s Newsmakers about why she was still raising campaign cash despite being a lame duck. “Well, I’ll have a legislative agenda that I would like to get passed – all the legislators are on the ballot next year; I may decide to support or oppose legislators that I think are doing the right thing or holding Rhode Island back,” she said. “There are plenty of reasons to need a campaign account just to govern.”

5. RIDOT is struggling to get truck toll locations up and running on time.

6. Steph Machado has what you need to know on the new marijuana regs.

7. Back in January 2017, just days after President Trump was inaugurated, R.I. Democratic Party Chairman Joe McNamara enthusiastically announced an organizational meeting for the state party’s new Women’s Caucus. “In the aftermath of the elections – and since the recent Million Woman March – we have had enormous interest in people asking how they can volunteer,” McNamara said in a news release. “This event will offer women of all ages and backgrounds a chance to share ideas and see how they can get involved.” Turns out those woman got a little more involved than McNamara and his patron, Speaker Mattiello, had hoped for: this week the caucus broke off from the state party in an ugly fight over its bylaws that even saw a powerful former senator mock them as “pigs.” The Projo’s Kathy Gregg — who’s seen her share of intraparty Democratic squabbling in Rhode Island over the years — has the details here.

8. Some big names will be trooping through Rhode Island coming up. Vice President Joe Biden will be in Providence on Sunday afternoon for a private fundraiser at the East Side home of Sally Lapides and Art Solomon. Then on Monday, Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell will be in the capital city to speak at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce annual meeting, just as his predecessors Ben Bernanke did for RIPEC in 2010 and Janet Yellen did for the Chamber in 2015. (No doubt helps that Jack Reed is on the Senate Banking Committee, which oversees the Fed.) And looking ahead, Senate hopeful Joe Kennedy will be in Providence on Dec. 3 for a fundraiser featuring his cousin Patrick Kennedy (who himself famously contemplated a Senate bid back in 2000).

9. Tough coverage for Senator Whitehouse in an environmental publication: “Top climate hawk bashes first big offshore wind project.”

10. The Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA) made headlines this week by becoming, as The New York Times put it, “the first national party committee to impose an explicit abortion litmus test on its candidates.” So I asked Rhode Island’s own Democratic AG, Peter Neronha, what he thought about the move. “First off, I am pro-choice,” Neronha told me in an email. “I believe in a woman’s right to make decisions involving her health care, and I strongly supported the legislation passed by the General Assembly last year codifying Roe v. Wade and its progeny in Rhode Island. I am not a member of DAGA’s Executive Committee and the decision to condition endorsement of candidates on affirmation of their pro-choice stance was not submitted to all the Democratic attorneys general for approval. That said, I can understand why the Executive Committee for the national association of Democratic attorneys general would want to align its endorsement with a bedrock plank of the national Democratic party. The association’s perspective is national, after all. Ultimately, individual elected officials and candidates must answer to the voters they represent or hope to represent. My views are my own, and are not shaped by the potential endorsement or non-endorsement of any organization or entity.”

11. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ re-election victory on Saturday allowed Gina Raimondo to post a winning record for her off-year stint as Democratic Governors Association chair, keeping Edwards in place and electing Andy Beshear in Kentucky. (Republicans won the third race, in Mississippi.) Raimondo has frequently said her chief responsibility as DGA chair was to raise as much cash as possible, and Louisiana shows why: the organization dumped over $9 million in the state, the most it has ever invested in a single race, after dropping more than $5 million in Kentucky.

12. It’s official: The Providence Journal, the New Bedford Standard-Times, the Fall River Herald News, the Newport Daily News and the Taunton Gazette are all now part of Gannett, the nation’s largest-ever newspaper chain, after the closing of its merger with Gatehouse. The Boston Business Journal’s Don Seiffert put the new company’s challenges in stark relief this week by analyzing circulation data for all the Gannett/Gatehouse papers. “More than 80% of them are losing print readers faster than the national average of 12% a year,” he reports. The worst-performer locally is the Herald News, with circulation dropping 25% annually, followed by the Taunton Gazette and the Standard-Times (each losing 22% a year) and the Projo (11%). The Newport Daily News, under the leadership of editor Will Richmond, is faring best by declining at a pace of only 6%.

13. A dispatch from Target 12’s Eli Sherman: “Keep your eyes peeled next week for news about the so-called Fane tower. Developer Jason Fane faces a Dec. 1 deadline to file a tax-treaty application with the city, which in theory would be dropped off at City Hall with an estimated $300,000 filing fee. The application, which is required for the proposed 46-story skyscraper to get a multiyear property tax break, has long been a point of contention between Fane and the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission. Chairman Robert Davis, who has extended the deadline several times since it was supposed to be filed in June, told Fane last month he’s done with delays. ‘We must advise you that there will be no further extension of the filing date,’ Davis wrote in a letter. It wasn’t clear Friday whether Fane plans to file the application in time. But Davis’s words may ultimately end up being sharper than his bite: last month a commission spokesperson told me that if Fane needs another deadline, he would receive a notice of default and be given 30 days to file.”

14. General Treasurer Seth Magaziner caught the eyes of many earlier this week when he unveiled World War II-style posters to promote the Rhode Island bond sale coming up next month. (You can see the posters here.) Magaziner’s office reports the cost of the posters is included in the roughly $100,000 marketing budget for the bond issuance, which a spokesperson said is standard. It was certainly a better-received government PR push than South Dakota’s universally lampooned meth campaign — which some are saying made “Cooler and Warmer” look good by comparison.

15. President Trump has found his honorary Massachusetts campaign chair right in this neck of the woods: Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, an outspoken Republican closely identified with opposition to illegal immigration. The choice is no shock: the sheriff has made multiple White House visits to show support for Trump’s policies. Hodgson, who years ago was a member of the New Bedford City Council, is currently serving a six-year term and isn’t up for re-election again until 2022. After winning a competitive and expensive race in 2010, he ran unopposed in 2016; it will be interesting to see if he draws a challenger three years from now, should he seek another term. To get a taste of Hodgson’s views, check out my colleague Walt Buteau’s 12 on 12 immigration documentary from earlier this fall.

16. Here’s a dispatch from WPRI’s Providence City Hall reporter Steph Machado: “If you’re looking for a way to help improve the struggling Providence schools, Mayor Elorza announced Friday he’s seeking applicants to join the Providence School Board. Three board members’ terms are up — Bobby Gondola, Nina Pande, and Kinzel Thomas — all of whom can also reapply for the three-year stint. The announcement originating from Elorza’s office may have come as a surprise, since the state recently took control of the Providence school district. State Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green is essentially letting Elorza continue selecting school board members — and giving him the final say — even though the board has lost its power to do anything without Infante-Green’s approval. So far, Infante-Green has said the school board can continue with its regular duties in an ‘advisory capacity,’ such as handling union grievances and complaints, though she is planning to hire the district’s new superintendent herself. (Her office had no updates Friday on the status of that hire.) As my colleague Eli Sherman noted on Twitter, without its previous decision-making and hiring responsibilities, the School Board gig sounds pretty low-risk. But board members will have one big new duty: helping to evaluate annually whether the state takeover is actually making the schools better.”

17. The famed Globe Spotlight team looks at why traffic is choking Massachusetts.

18. The number of antique plates registered in Rhode Island is up 52% since 2014.

19. Yesterday marked the 56th anniversary of the JFK assassination. “It seems impossible that a single moment can change everything, shift a whole society from confidence to doubt, stability to unrest, optimism to anxiety. But the very first political event I remember in my life — on this day in 1963 — feels like exactly that kind of watershed moment,” the cultural critic Ted Gioia argued in a tweet Friday. “I still don’t think we fully recognize the impact of the events of 11.22.63 on the broader culture — not just politics and social values, but even arts and modes of self-expression.” He makes the case at more length in this provocative Daily Beast article.

20. There’s always a Rhode Island connection — including around federal whistleblowers. Great history lesson here from WPRI’s Anita Baffoni.

21. Our own Westport Rivers made the WSJ’s list of up-and-coming wineries to try for Thanksgiving (h/t Tim White).

22. Slate picks the 50 best nonfiction books of the past 25 years.

23. Since we’re just a few days away from a national holiday centered on gratitude, I’d like to take a moment to thank all of you who start your Saturday mornings with Nesi’s Notes. No doubt journalism has its challenges in 2019, some of them extremely serious. But I love what I do, and I hope I show my commitment and enthusiasm when I put together this compendium for you each week. I’m grateful to WPRI for giving me the best news job in New England, and I’m grateful to all of you for reading and watching so I can keep doing it. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

24. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Brown University President Christina Paxson. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. Podcast lovers, you can subscribe to our weekend 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 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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