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Nesi’s Notes: Sept. 14

Ted Nesi
Nesi Notes saturday coffee iPad

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. Kids are back in school, the air is getting cooler, and we’re all feeling the shift from August’s lull to September’s hustle. This autumn should be a newsy one in Southeast New England, and right now the biggest political drama is on the Massachusetts side of the border. Fall River is ground zero, with Jasiel Correia fighting the U.S. attorney, the City Council, and two mayoral rivals all at once. And next year’s U.S. Senate race has been transformed from a yawner into one of the most closely watched in the country, with Joe Kennedy likely to announce his primary challenge against Ed Markey by the end of the month. That in turn will create an open race for Kennedy’s U.S. House seat, which stretches from Fall River through Attleboro up to Newton. But Rhode Island won’t hurt for headlines. The Senate Finance Committee will begin hearings on the IGT deal Thursday with an overview of the current state of affairs; the House only has one IGT hearing slated so far. The real drama there will come when Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Ruggerio have to decide whether to call votes on the proposal — and how IGT reacts if one or both decline. The substance of the Providence schools takeover should also come into focus following Friday’s hearing, with the installation of Commissioner Infante-Green’s handpicked superintendent and presumably more details about what changes they will order on the ground. While there’s no sign Rhode Island will have any 2020 races anywhere near as interesting as the Markey-Kennedy bout across the border, watch for early news about the primaries for General Assembly, which will give a glimpse of where the energy is in the state’s increasingly factionalized Democratic Party. And behind the scenes, dozens of would-be candidates will be putting the pieces in place to seek one of the many state offices that are open in 2022.

2. It’s a statistic you hear often if you pay attention to local policy debates: Rhode Island has the highest poverty rate in New England. And that’s true — the latest Census data, released earlier this week, puts Rhode Island’s poverty rate at 10.2%, slightly higher than the 9.8% rates in nearby Massachusetts and Connecticut. But that’s not the whole story, because the official poverty rate only looks at pre-tax cash income. So in 2011 the Census Bureau started to report a second statistic, the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which takes into account the cost of living in different regions as well as the value of government benefits like food stamps and heating assistance. Those adjustments change the picture dramatically — Rhode Island winds up with the lowest poverty rate in New England (8%) and the fifth lowest poverty rate in the entire country. By contrast, California goes from the middle of the pack to worst in the nation, and Massachusetts drops from 12th best to 24th.

3. It was a newsy week for the R.I. Department of Transportation. On Monday, we reported the notorious Barrington Bridge is already structurally deficient, though RIDOT says it caught the problem early enough that it won’t cost much to fix. The same day, a judge ruled that RIDOT had built a bike path across private land on Gano Street in Providence — whoops — and would need to compensate the owner. On a brighter note, RIDOT and the congressional delegation ballyhooed the awarding of a $60 million federal grant that will help offset the cost of replacing the I-95 North Viaduct bridge. Lawmakers just authorized $200 million in borrowing against future federal highway funds to pay for the Viaduct, and RIDOT tells me despite the federal grant it still plans to borrow the whole amount. RIDOT spokesperson Charles St. Martin tells me the most likely candidate to use the excess cash is the reimagined Washington Bridge on I-195, a controversial project because it could include the elimination of Exit 3 (Gano Street). “While the RhodeWorks program has us well on our way to bringing Rhode Island’s infrastructure into a state of good repair, there is much more work to be done and the department is ever mindful of opportunities to accelerate this restoration,” he said.

4. Here’s a dispatch out of Providence from Target 12’s Eli Sherman: “Did you know Providence is giving a tax break to a company called Meow Mix LLC, which owns an East Side property on Hope Street? The same is true for the Hasbro building downtown, a cement company in the Port of Providence and Fête Music Hall in Olneyville. The properties are among more than 100 that have tax-stabilization agreements with the city. And collectively, the owners are receiving $12 million in tax breaks this year. Details about the deals, made between city leaders and business owners, are somewhat tough to track because they happen one at a time and can last decades. So, I decided to collect as much information as possible and create this searchable map with information about the properties, their owners and how much they’re paying in taxes. Check it out for yourself and send me feedback, recommendations and story ideas. I’ll try to update and improve the information as I continue to learn more about the deals.”  

5. Mark Zuckerberg is spurning an invitation to testify in November at an international meeting in Dublin that Congressman Cicilline plans to attend.

6. Democratic Congressman Bill Keating, whose district includes Fall River, New Bedford and Cape Cod, is our guest on this week’s edition of Newsmakers. A few highlights. … On Joe Kennedy’s potential run against Ed Markey: “It does appear to be on a course where Joe’s going to run. … I work with both of them. It’s very difficult.” … On Rhode Island leaders’ efforts to block his Mashpee tribal lands bill in order to protect casino revenue: “How you could ignore the tribe that was there with the Pilgrims and say they’re not a tribe is just something I never could conceive. … Massachusetts has made a decision. They’re going to have in that southern sector a gaming operation. That’s going to happen. It could be some other enterprise, or it could be this tribe. To me, fighting it — maybe you gain a year or two of delay, but somewhere down the line there’s going to be a gaming operation right there.” … On the prospects for the stalled Vineyard Wind project: “It’s alive. But if there’s a next delay, it’s going to be something that’s even more damaging to them. … It’s a regional issue, it’s a huge economic issue, it’s an environmental issue. It should happen. I hope it still does.”

7. Governor Raimondo is back on the road this week with a trip to Washington, D.C., where she’s listed as an honoree at the so-called Philos Conference. The meeting is put together by the D.C.-based think tank Education Reform Now, which has done extensive work to promote federal public charter schools. There’s no clear charter-school agenda associated with the conference, but it’s telling that teachers unions protested the first Philos meeting in 2014, according to Politico. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was supposed to chair the first conference, but he ultimately backed out. The timing of Raimondo’s trip is notable in light of the state takeover of Providence schools, where the expansion of public charter schools could be a part of the future plan. Raimondo’s fellow honorees include former U.S. Attorney Eric Holder and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.

8. Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Rhode Island native and EG High alum, will be back in her home state Oct. 18 for a fundraiser to benefit her Democratic U.S. Senate campaign against GOP incumbent Susan Collins. The event is being held at the home of Rhode Island NOW President Hilary Levey Friedman and her husband John, co-hosted by Senator WhitehouseTreasurer Magaziner, former state Sen. Aram Garabedian and Christa Thompson.

9. Candidate Watch: Our Revolution RI co-founder Maggie Kain will run in the 2020 Democratic primary against incumbent state Sen. Sue Sosnowski … former Rep. Aaron Regunberg is strongly hinting he’ll run for lieutenant governor again.

10. After a four-year process, Senator Reed and Senator Whitehouse finally secured confirmation of Mary McElroy as Rhode Island’s newest federal judge this week. She will join William Smith and Jack McConnell on the bench at U.S. District Court in Providence. And the trio could be together for quite a while: Smith and McConnell tell me they are not eligible for senior status until 2025.

11. A Rhode Island Supreme Court panel tossed Judicial Watch’s complaint against Senator Whitehouse.

12. How big a deal is the $53 million NIH grant for Alzheimer’s research that Brown announced this week? The university says it’s the biggest federal research award in its history. I surveyed the school’s seven Ivy League peers to get a comparison, and the two that responded both said their records for a single award were significant smaller: $36.3 million at Columbia for clinical and translational science, and $29.7 million at Dartmouth for cybersecurity.

13. The new iPhone went on sale Friday, and once again Rhode Island’s own Citizens Bank is Apple’s exclusive finance partner for the upgrade program. While Citizens doesn’t break out specific numbers for the iPhone, its Apple-driven consumer unsecured loan portfolio has soared from $1 billion at the end of 2016 to over $3 billion this spring.

14. What is going on at T.F. Green?

15. Loyal Nesi’s Notes reader Craig offers an alternative perspective on my Aug. 31 item about how the mayors of East Providence and Attleboro are using Facebook to communicate with their constituents: “This is a disturbing trend because it excludes people who do not have a Facebook account. Facebook is a walled garden and outsiders are not welcome. If politicians want to use Facebook to communicate with their base, that’s fine. Facebook should not be used to broadcast information to which all constituents need free access. A public website is the best medium for general information of this type.”

16. Loved this cautionary tale from veteran campaign reporter Walter Shapiro: “In 1984, I covered [the Democratic presidential] race as the lead political writer for Newsweek, which in those days went to press on a Saturday night. The weekend before the primary, I wrote, ‘Mondale’s lead in New Hampshire appears unassailable.’ By Tuesday, with my cocksure prediction sitting in subscribers’ mailboxes, the network exit polls had leaked. They correctly showed Hart winning the state by a double-digit margin. As I arrived at my hotel (the late-lamented Sheraton Wayfarer), the first person I saw was a colleague from a rival magazine. His opening words have stayed with me these last 35 years: ‘You blew it.’ That mortifying moment has shaped the way I cover politics to this day, and my fellow journalists could learn from it.”

17. If you’re not an NFL fan, you might not be familiar with NBC Sports’ Peter King long-running Monday morning column, an exhaustive look at the previous day’s games and overview of the state of the league. (It’s like Nesi’s Notes with full pads.) King often includes mentions of the best coffee and beer he finds while traveling, and earlier this month he flagged some local favorites: “Beernerdness: Had a couple days of rest over the weekend in Rhode Island, and had a very good beer out of Grey Sail Brewing in Westerly, R.I.: Flying Jenny Extra Pale Ale, hoppy and slightly bitter. Enjoyed it. Coffeenerdness: Great latte with strong espresso made by Sift, in Watch Hill, R.I. If you’re ever out visiting Taylor Swift in her Rhode Island manse, give it a try.”

18. “People don’t really appreciate the extent to which job security drives a lot of the decision-making in the NFL.” A great Ringer examination of the business of football.

19. A must-read on the reality of the college admissions process.

20. Set your DVRs: This week on NewsmakersCongressman Keating. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. Podcast lovers, you can subscribe to both 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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