1. For years Peter Neronha has dismissed suggestions he might run for governor someday, emphasizing his specific passion for the job of attorney general and downplaying any bigger political ambitions. But it’s hard to miss the fact that during his second term Neronha has become quite outspoken regarding, well, just about everything — and it’s inarguable that he could have more impact in the governor’s office when it comes to issues he’s passionate about, like health care and the environment. Nor has it gone unnoticed that the AG is keeping up an active fundraising schedule despite being term-limited, holding a big affair at his friend Liz Perik’s Jamestown abode last month and then his annual Picnic at the Pavilion event this week. So could Neronha wind up being a candidate for governor in 2026 after all? I called the AG on Friday to put the question to him directly, and he acknowledged his thinking has changed. “I think that Rhode Island can be great — I think it can be great if it’s well-led,” he said, before launching into a disquisition about what he sees as the passivity and lack of direction at too many crucial stage agencies. “I do think Rhode Island shouldn’t have to settle for mediocrity in its leadership, and so we’ll see if that leads me to do something I would have told you I wasn’t going to do a year or two ago,” he said, adding, “Three-and-a-half years is a long time.”
2. Obviously, the biggest question about any potential gubernatorial bid by Peter Neronha is whether he would be mounting a primary challenge against fellow Democrat Dan McKee, who is eligible to seek re-election in 2026. McKee has left the door wide open to running again and serving 10 years as governor; he’d be 75 years old on the day of the next election, but that would make him a youngun by the standards of our current presidential aspirants. Even if McKee decides to retire at the end of his current term, though, there will likely be plenty of other Democrats who want to enter an open race — not least among them Helena Foulkes, who almost wrested the party’s nomination from McKee last year and who is working assiduously to position herself for a second try.
3. No general officer has a more challenging political road ahead than Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, who went from frontrunner to fourth place in the 1st Congressional District primary as her public image took a huge hit from the signature scandal. But Matos is moving quickly to turn the page, warmly endorsing her former rival Gabe Amo and diving back into the responsibilities of her current job. After some apparent frostiness late in the campaign, Governor McKee sent a message this week by having Matos at his side for a hurricane briefing photo-op, signaling that the pair remain partners. And Matos herself sent a message by showing up in person for a Board of Elections meeting where the panel took up the signature matter yet again (and opted against issuing subpoenas for those allegedly responsible). Matos’s own team acknowledges the damage done to her reputation by the scandal, and they still face a major unknown pending the outcome of the AG’s criminal investigation. But one factor on her side is time — she has more than three years to rebuild her standing with voters before reappearing on the ballot. And another factor is history: an elected Democratic incumbent in Rhode Island hasn’t lost a statewide or federal race since 1994.
4. When Brett Smiley took office as mayor, one of his top priorities was quickly negotiating new agreements with Providence’s nonprofit colleges and hospitals to lock in a steady stream of cash for the revenue-hungry capital. Talks with the schools went smoothly, as these things go, culminating in a gang’s-all-here news conference last week where the mayor trumpeted $177 million in promised cash payments from the four private colleges (Brown, PC, RISD and JWU) over the next 20 years. He also unveiled a more transactional side agreement with Brown, exchanging various concessions and incentives for up to $46 million. The latter deal has drawn criticism in some quarters, but Smiley argues it’s crucial for City Hall and College Hill to align their incentives so that the economic upsides of Brown’s continued expansion can be secured without a hit to city coffers. “It is a win-win,” he declared on this week’s Newsmakers. Notably absent from the big news conference were the leaders of the state’s biggest hospital group, Lifespan, who unlike their counterparts at Brown have long resisted making any ironclad payment commitments to the city. The usually mild-mannered mayor sounds exasperated with Lifespan executives, who have yet to even appoint negotiators to begin talks with Smiley. “They did not make a payment last year,” he said. “Lifespan has not had a formal agreement with us — they’ve had a policy, I guess it’s fair to say, that when they have a good year they throw us something and when they don’t, they don’t. That is deeply offensive to me.” And while Providence may not have much leverage over Lifespan, he said, “There are other people with concerns in this area — the state legislature, our federal delegation, other partners — who are now looking at, every nonprofit institution in the city of Providence is making a payment except for Lifespan. It begs the question of, why not you?”
5. While experts caution against attributing any individual weather event to climate change, it’s widely agreed that our region needs to prepare for more severe storms in the coming years. So this summer’s relentless rain, culminating in the dramatic flooding last Monday, has intensified conversations about what the public sector should be doing to prepare and mitigate. For Providence, Mayor Smiley said his administration has already taken a number of proactive steps, citing as one example the dredging of the channel along Pleasant Valley Parkway. He also said he has high hopes for the widespread use of “green infrastructure” — like replacing pavement with permeable so-called “waffle pavers,” cutting holes in street curbs for bioswales, or having people put in place rain barrels.
6. The general election campaign between 1st Congressional District nominees Gabe Amo and Gerry Leonard is off to a low-key start. Amo campaign manager Lauren Garrett says after a short breather, the Democratic nominee’s team has begun ramping up their effort to ensure he holds the seat for the party. Organized labor has quickly started to consolidate behind Amo, with unions such as NEARI and the Laborers throwing their support to him after backing other Democrats in the primary. Party poobahs remain relaxed about the special election, seeing Amo as a strong candidate well-positioned to get out the vote on Nov. 7. Leonard held his first event of the fall campaign on Monday, when he welcomed Michigan Congressman Jack Bergman to Rhode Island to accept his endorsement, as both touted their shared service in the U.S. Marine Corps. But the event also highlighted the risks Leonard faces in associating with national GOP figures: the state Democratic Party immediately pointed out that Bergman voted against certifying the results of the 2020 election on Jan. 6. The National Republican Congressional Committee has shown no sign of engaging in the 1st District race so far; in fact, they have continued to send statements criticizing Seth Magaziner a year out from his re-election while ignoring Amo altogether, even though the freshman congressman has yet to draw a GOP opponent for 2024.
7. Sheldon Whitehouse is making some personnel moves as he nears the end of his third term and prepares to seek a fourth one next year. On the official side, Whitehouse has promoted Stephen DeLeo to the new position of press secretary, taking “deputy” off his title. DeLeo, a Middletown native, started out in as the senator’s D.C. driver before joining his communications staff. Over on the political side of the operation, Whitehouse has made the first hire for his 2024 re-election bid, tapping Rhode Island native and PC grad Laura Fusco as campaign coordinator. He also plans to once again rely on longtime strategist Mindy Myers, who is receiving wide acclaim for her role in the victorious primary campaign of Gabe Amo (himself a onetime Whitehouse campaign staffer). For Myers, 2024 is shaping up to be a busy year; in addition to working on Whitehouse’s re-election effort as well as Amo’s expected bid for a full term, she’s just been tapped to lead the polling operation for President Biden’s re-election campaign, too.
8. Most Rhode Island politicos know the name of Neil Campbell, who has been Jack Reed’s chief of staff since 2005. But since Reed is currently chairman of the Armed Services Committee, he has a second top aide with major influence: Elizabeth King, who has been the committee’s Democratic staff director since Reed became his party’s top-ranked member back in 2015. The Hill just named King to its 2023 list of Notable Staffers on Capitol Hill.
9. Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District isn’t the only place in the region that will see plenty of politicking this fall. The four Massachusetts cities in Bristol County continue to hold their municipal elections in odd-numbered years despite dismal turnout, and so at least a few voters will be trooping to the polls to render a verdict on their incumbent mayors. The fun kicks off Tuesday in Fall River, where a preliminary round of voting is expected to remove a little-known third candidate from the field, setting up a November clash between incumbent Paul Coogan and former mayor Sam Sutter. Coogan has brought some stability to the mayor’s office since ousting the disgraced Jasiel Correia in 2019, but Sutter and his allies argue he isn’t showing enough leadership. (A former D.A., Sutter held the mayor’s office for just a year when he won a recall election in 2014 only to lose to Correia in 2015.) Coogan rolled out a big endorsement this week, distributing a supportive statement from former Gov. Charlie Baker and former Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who praised the Democratic mayor for his handling of the pandemic and his partnership with their Republican administration. A more colorful pre-election headline came Thursday from my colleagues Tim White and Eli Sherman, who obtained police body-worn camera video showing the mayor losing his temper as he got screamed at by a Rhode Island woman who was panhandling with her kids. “You support bums!” she yelled at him at one point. “Go back to Cumberland!” he responded. You can see that video, plus Coogan’s interview with Tim about it, here.
10. The Massachusetts migrant crisis isn’t bypassing Bristol County: Taunton’s mayor has begun fining a local hotel $1,000 a day for being over capacity.
11. Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts are blessed with so many special places, plenty of them hidden gems. One that might be less familiar to folks outside the East Bay is the town-owned Glen Manor House in Portsmouth, which just celebrated its 100th birthday with a big soirée. (Beautiful place for a wedding reception, or so I’ve heard.)
12. Congratulations to the late Barbara Gibbs Barton, newly validated as the oldest Rhode Island resident ever documented; she died last year at the impressive age of 113.
13. As a Patriots fan, I will always harbor a grudge against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Nevertheless, this Hollywood Reporter piece makes a strong case that he’s one of the savviest media executives of our time. (Fun fact: did you know Goodell’s father was a Republican U.S. senator who lost his seat for dissenting over Vietnam?)
14. I know I’m far from the only Millennial who remembers “Calvin & Hobbes” as a touchstone of my childhood — and who was crushed when cartoonist Bill Watterson hung up his ink pen in 1995. Nic Rowan looked into why Watterson walked away.
15. Happy 45th Birthday to Newsmakers! Our Sunday politics show originally premiered on this weekend in September 1978, and I’m proud to be part of a tradition that includes great broadcasters like Jack White, Phil Wilson and a host of others. Thank you to everybody who’s watched the show all these years.
16. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — Mayor Smiley. 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.