1. Can Rhode Island and Massachusetts fix their housing crisis? There’s plenty of reason for skepticism. Decades of anti-growth sentiment and policies have left Southeast New England with a huge shortfall of housing units, helping to send home prices and rents through the roof. (Not that anybody should be surprised: Rhode Island Housing warned in 2016 the state needed to add as many as 40,000 units over the next decade, and production didn’t come close.) But there are now reasons for optimism, too. In Rhode Island, Speaker Shekarchi has used his considerable influence to put housing near the top of the State House agenda. The current state budget allocates $445 million for housing programs, including $322 million from American Rescue Plan Act funds. Shekarchi is also planning a renewed push next session to allow more accessory-dwelling units, sometimes dubbed “granny flats,” after the Senate spurned the idea this year. “We all recognize that, although there are no overnight, one-size-fits-all solutions to a crisis that developed over decades, we need to fundamentally change our approach to housing development, particularly for the moderate and affordable development we need most,” Shekarchi said in June. Across the border, Gov. Maura Healey sounded much like the speaker Tuesday when she visited Attleboro to push her $4 billion Affordable Homes Act, aimed at spurring housing construction statewide. “Housing is the number one issue across the state,” Healey told me, adding, “Frankly, it’s the number one, two and three issue.”
2. There was also a funny moment during Governor Healey’s visit to Attleboro when she acknowledged that price pressures are causing some Bay Staters to hop the border in search of less expensive housing. “We’re a great state,” she said. “I know some of you bop over to Rhode Island. It’s nice to visit — you can shop there, you can have a meal, you can go gamble, whatever. But I want you living here in Massachusetts, I want you raising your families in Massachusetts, I want you growing businesses in Massachusetts.” That throwaway line launched a multitude of one-liners on social media, with some suggesting “whatever” as a new Rhode Island tourism slogan. Commerce RI’s staff used their official Twitter feed to quip, “People have been leaving Massachusetts for Rhode Island since 1636. #RogerWilliams.” Of course, Healey herself is no stranger to Little Rhody’s charms — it’s where she spent the Fourth of July Weekend, after all.
3. A public poll has finally been conducted in Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District race, and it confirmed the conventional wisdom: Democrat Gabe Amo has a healthy lead over Republican Gerry Leonard ahead of the Nov. 7 special election. Amo’s 11-point edge in the Salve Regina University survey looks even stronger in light of the poll’s methodology, which didn’t screen for likely voters and oversampled Republicans. More evidence of Amo’s advantages emerged hours after the poll, when new campaign-finance reports showed Amo’s fundraising passing the $1 million mark and his cash on hand well ahead of Leonard’s. Amo insists he’s taking nothing for granted. “I will continue to be as vigorously campaigning over the next several weeks as I have throughout the campaign,” he told Kim Kalunian Monday during a live interview on 12 News at 4. The GOP nominee will get his best chance to break through with undecided voters next week when the pair meet for back-to-back TV debates, including our WPRI 12 debate (airing Friday at 6:30 p.m. and all weekend as a special edition of Newsmakers). Plenty of voters have decided they’ve seen enough to make a decision, though: the secretary of state reports over 8,600 ballots had already been cast as of Friday.
4. The tragedy in Maine is sure to come up during next year’s legislative session when advocates make another push for a state-level ban on weapons like the AR-15. Already on Thursday, Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos issued a statement saying, “Rhode Island can and must ban the sale of assault weapons in our state before tragedy strikes here.”
5. Senator Reed returned from the Middle East at 3 a.m. early Tuesday with fresh insights following face-to-face meetings with the leaders of Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. He found Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to be “maturing” and receptive to requests for stepped-up oil production to counter Russia. “We’ll see if he can follow through,” Reed told me during an interview Wednesday. He also said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “is still trying to process the surprise and the lack of preparedness” surrounding the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, and is clearly weighing how to respond in Gaza without ending up in an urban quagmire. Overall, Reed said, “one of the messages we tried to stress was doing everything we can to contain this fight and prevent the whole Middle East from being engulfed in warfare.”
6. My colleague Eli Sherman was cranking out great stories all week. He broke the news that the Woonsocket City Council is up in arms over Mayor Baldelli-Hunt unilaterally spending $1.1 million on vacant land assessed at under $200,000. He paired up with Tim White to expose state regulators’ concerns over dangerous THC-dervied cannabis products. And he partnered with Sarah Guernelli to highlight DLT’s increased enforcement of Sunday and holiday pay laws.
7. The transformation of Lifespan into Brown Health is going to be a big story in 2024.
8. Rival candidates are rarely fond of each other in the waning days of a campaign, but the hostility between Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan and challenger Sam Sutter is something else. Sutter is seeking a second chance after voters in the region’s third-largest city booted him from office in favor of Jasiel Correia back in 2015. They turned to Coogan in 2019 after Correia’s corruption indictment. The two rivals met Friday on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers for their third and final debate, and it was acrimonious from the start. “I have not dealt with many opponents like this, that will say just about anything to try to get ahead,” Coogan said in his closing statement. Sutter countered, “Paul Coogan only seems to care about the connected — the political insiders, the people who contribute lots of money to his campaign, the market-rate housing developers.” Coogan easily won the September preliminary election and is supported by both Maura Healey and Charlie Baker, so it would appear the incumbent is the favorite on Nov. 7. But Sutter is campaigning aggressively.
9. While reading municipal bond documents to prepare for the Fall River debate, I came across a striking statistic: the city’s annual appropriation to its pension fund is scheduled to increase by 7.5% every year for the next decade as part of a plan to close a $410 million shortfall. Put in dollar terms, Fall River taxpayers are supposed to raise their contribution to the pension fund from $41 million this year to $63 million by 2029 and $85 million by 2035. Those are steep increases for a city where the per-capita income is only $28,000 a year, and where the pension contribution is already eating up 11% of the annual city budget.
10. My colleague Adriana Rozas Rivera has been doing a terrific job expanding WPRI 12’s Spanish-language news coverage — including this new Guía de Votación for the Nov. 7 elections. Make sure you check out her weekly online show “Doce Informa,” as well.
11. Everyone agrees that the decision to move I-195 has done wonders for Providence, freeing up 19 acres of prime downtown land. Well, Newport Mayor Xay Khamsyvoravong says his city could be poised for a similar transformation once the state finishes its $84 million realignment of the Pell Bridge ramps, freeing up 25 acres. “[I]ts location is strategically important to realizing the city’s vision for the North End, as it is sandwiched between the privately held old casino and the federally owned Navy Hospital,” the mayor wrote this week. “This combined area of developable land exceeds 60 acres, stretching from a waterfront campus to a site with stunning vistas of Narragansett Bay.” City leaders are now creating an advisory commission to help figure out their next steps to make the most of the opportunity.
12. The White House guest list for Wednesday night’s state dinner in honor of Australia’s prime minister included some familiar Rhode Island names, including Jack Reed (who brought his sister Helen) and Gina Raimondo (who brought son Tommy). An eagle-eyed Nesi’s Notes reader spotted another Rhode Islander in that section of the alphabet: Bryan Rafanelli, a Toll Gate High grad who’s now a big-time event planner as well as a Democratic Party donor.
13. Remember Sarah Morgenthau? The longtime Democratic Party insider and unsuccessful candidate in last year’s 2nd Congressional District primary has a new federal job: the U.S. State Department just named her its special representative for commercial and business affairs.
14. Many in the Rhode Island political community were stunned by the sudden death of Cameron Ramsay, a well-known local campaign operative, earlier this month. He was only 36. Cameron was smart, good-natured and a keen observer of the media. To me he was also synonymous with Tiverton, his beloved hometown. In fact, just a few weeks ago Cameron alerted me to Joyce Andrews, a woman he’d noticed walking along Fogland Beach cleaning up trash nearly every morning. I passed the tip along to our chief videographer Johnny Villella, which led Johnny and Mike Montecalvo to devote a weekly Street Stories feature to Andrews and her care for the beach. I know Cameron loved that he helped get a moment of recognition for her, and for Tiverton. Sincere condolences to his family and friends.
15. One year after Elon Musk bought Twitter, it feels like the service’s decline has hit some sort of tipping point, where decreased functionality and other problems are leading more people to give up on it. That’s good news for Threads, Meta’s still-new Twitter rival, which seems to be seeing more activity as its active user base expands and additional features are added. If you tried Threads early and felt underwhelmed — as I did — it’s worth giving the service another go. Plus, there’s now a desktop version. Try it out and follow me on Threads here.
16. The case for Satchmo: “[W]e needed Louis Armstrong to show the way. I would go so far as to say that he had a bigger influence on commercial music than anyone else during the first half of the 20th century. Without Armstrong there really is no Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, no Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, no Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, no ‘American Idol’ and ‘The Masked Singer.'”
17. Happy Halloween — here’s Vincent Price doing his “Thriller” monologue live in 1987.
18. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — a debate between Fall River mayoral candidates Paul Coogan and Sam Sutter. 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 Threads, Twitter and Facebook.