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Nesi’s Notes: April 27

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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. In Rhode Island, few organizations are more powerful than Lifespan: the top hospital group boasts the state’s largest private-sector workforce, $2.3 billion in annual revenue, and a powerful State House lobbying operation led by Bob Goldberg. All that clout will be put to the test in the coming months as Lifespan embarks on an aggressive effort to block Partners’ takeover of Care New England. Lifespan and Partners actually have a lot in common: they dominate health care in their respective states, where each one is the biggest private employer, and they know how to use their influence. Of course, the size difference between Massachusetts and Rhode Island applies here, too: Partners has over six times more revenue and nearly five times more employees than Lifespan. Since this is a Rhode Island deal, though, Lifespan has home field advantage — and Partners’ hugeness has state leaders nervous about the possibility Care New England could wind up as a remote outpost in a far-flung health care empire. One way for Partners to counter that would be for Brigham President Betsy Nabel to make hard commitments on how much money she plans to invest in Women & Infants, Kent and Butler if her division acquires them; Governor Raimondo and AG Neronha are sure to push that as the regulatory process proceeds. But Lifespan’s sudden eagerness to explore — again — the creation of an academic medical center combining Lifespan, Care New England and Brown could also rekindle Smith Hill hopes of finally making that elusive dream a reality. The crucial player may be Brown and its president, Christina Paxson, who is going to need some convincing before she goes down that road again. “While I remain committed to the vision of a thriving academic medical center, it’s uncertain that another attempt involving Lifespan and Care New England would be successful at present,” Paxson, now a member of the CNE board, said in a statement Wednesday. “Brigham’s financial strength, its standing as a world-class medical center, and its stated commitment to locally provided care offer an attractive alternative to a ‘local’ solution.”

Update: Lifespan says it can block the Partners deal under the terms of Women & Infants’ 1983 lease agreement with Rhode Island Hospital.

2. One person keeping his powder dry on the Partners-CNE deal: Speaker Mattiello. The General Assembly has no direct role in approving or denying the transaction. Yet lawmakers are keenly interested in a sector as important to the state budget and economic development as health care is, and Lifespan lobbyist Bob Goldberg is an influential figure in the House. Still, asked this week where Mattiello stands on the hospital deal, his spokesperson told me, “He doesn’t want to weigh in at this time.”

3. Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and NEARI chief Bob Walsh barely paused for breath on this week’s Newsmakers as they engaged in a fierce debate over whether lawmakers should pass the continuing-contract and firefighter overtime bills. Fung argued that each bill “hampers cities and towns within their flexibility in managing and organizing employees and how things should be, especially during difficult financial times.” Not so, countered Walsh. “It’s an unfair labor practice not to negotiate in good faith,” he said. “We have to negotiate. If we don’t negotiate, you bring us before the labor board, and we get forced to negotiate.” Governor Raimondo is likely to allow the contract bill to become law; the lead sponsor, Warwick Rep. Camille Vella-Wilkinson, has said the bill was revised to address the governor’s concerns when she vetoed a prior version in 2017. The firefighter bill’s outlook with Raimondo is more uncertain.

4. While Allan Fung was in the studio for Newsmakers, we also took the opportunity to take his temperature on a third bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2022. “It’s way too early for 2022,” he said. “I’ll take a look at it. I’m going to finish my last two years as mayor strong. We’ve got a lot of good projects that are still on the table — a lot more businesses coming to the Garden City, Chapel View area. We’ll see what happens in the future. I’m not ruling anything in or out.” So what would be different from his 2014 and 2018 runs? “Certainly, there’s not going to be Raimondo-Fung for a third time,” he said, laughing. “But ultimately, I’ve got the experience, the name recognition, I enjoy that chief executive’s role that I’ve been privileged to have for 10 years now, I want to make changes — we’ll see what happens.”

5. One of the big questions facing Lt. Gov. Dan McKee as he contemplates seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in 2022: can he raise enough money? McKee has won a lot of elections over the years, including last September’s nail-biter of a primary against Aaron Regunberg, but he’s still dogged by doubts about whether he has the fundraising prowess for as expensive a contest as a gubernatorial race. Now the LG is taking a serious step to shore up that part of his operation: McKee has hired Democracy Partners as his national fundraising consultant, his longtime adviser Mike Trainor confirms. “While Dan hasn’t announced anything official, he has decided that he wants to be well prepared for whatever his next campaign may be,” Trainor tells me. (And of course, it remains possible McKee could be the incumbent governor by 2022 if some other opportunity draws Governor Raimondo away early.)

6. Meanwhile, the LG also just disclosed two more unreported trips.

7. What a difference good earnings make: Hasbro shares shot from $88 on Monday afternoon to $102 by the close of trading Friday after the company surprised Wall Street with a strong first quarter powered by the “Bumblebee” movie. (In fact, Tuesday was the best day for Hasbro stock since 1996.) It’s unclear what if anything that means for Hasbro’s closely watched headquarters search. The big question around town right now: how much is the board leaning on CEO Brian Goldner to explore options outside Rhode Island? “We have to be realistic: any company has choices,” Governor Raimondo told reporters this week. “I’m confident they’re going to choose Rhode Island for their long-term future. … I’m working very hard, talking to them on a regular basis. I stand by what I said: they were founded here, they belong here, we’re going to keep them here.” CBS did announce this week that it will keep its interim CEO for at least the rest of the year, reducing the chances Goldner, a CBS board member, bolts Hasbro for Black Rock.

8. What will the Peter Meyer era mean for the Projo? Job one for the new publisher has to be stopping people from giving up the paper: The Journal’s paid circulation in print is now just 38,000 copies on weekdays, with only about 5,000 digital subscribers.

9. Twin River Worldwide has become a public company, so we now know how much profit the casino operator took in last year: $71 million nationwide. Meanwhile, the company announced this week it is bringing veteran lawyer Marc Crisafulli back to Rhode Island from Brightstar Corp., naming him to new position of executive vice president for government relations. Crisafulli knows the industry well: he previously served as general counsel at GTECH (now IGT).

10. Governor Raimondo’s newly hands-on approach to Providence schools bears watching. And speaking of the governor, she’ll be in San Francisco for DGA events next Tuesday and Wednesday, per her office.

11. Congratulations to Stuart Malec on his promotion from press secretary to communications director for Congressman Jim Langevin. Malec, a URI grad, got his start with Langevin right out of college as a staffer on his 2014 campaign and has risen through the ranks since then.

12. For Governor Baker, there’s a side benefit to pushing the completion date for South Coast Rail out another year to late 2023: he isn’t responsible for delivering train service to New Bedford and Fall River right as he or Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito is about to face voters in the 2022 election.

13. Michelle Kwan has a new gig: surrogates director for the Biden campaign. And Jack Reed says Biden is an “excellent” candidate with “great advantages” (though he’s not endorsing yet).

14. Tim White found a driver who’s taken 884 free trips across the Newport Bridge

15. The Rhode Island Coalition of Entrepreneurs holds its first startup day May 4.

16. Verizon says it will bring 5G service to Providence and Boston later this year.

17. Karol Markowicz argues the Bob Kraft prosecution should alarm us all.

18. Edward-Isaac Dovere on why Joe Kennedy didn’t run for president.

19. The Washington Post’s Chris Richards makes the case against podcasts.

20. Set your DVRs: This week on NewsmakersMayor Fung and Bob Walsh debate the municipal labor bills. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Rhode Island Foundation President and CEO Neil Steinberg. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 8 p.m. on myRITV (also Sunday at 6:30 a.m. on Fox or 7:30 a.m. on The CW). Podcast lovers, you can subscribe to both 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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