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Nesi’s Notes: Sept. 21

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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. The summerlong food fight between IGT and Twin River over the Rhode Island Lottery’s lucrative technology contract has left many people scratching their heads. (It’s also leaving two dozen lobbyists a good deal richer.) So the Senate Finance Committee’s initial hearing Thursday was a bit of a reset for the discussion. We’re now in Year 16 of Governor Carcieri’s original 20-year deal with IGT (which was then GTECH, a homegrown company). Over that time IGT has become deeply embedded in the Lottery’s operations as manager of its central system — from providing the computers that spit out Powerball tickets to managing all the slot machines at the state-owned casinos. Rhode Island’s gambling revenue has soared over those years, from under $250 million to almost $400 million. But it has also left the state in a bit of a pickle; Lottery leaders now warn the complexity of transitioning IGT’s system to a different company poses a major risk. (Think UHIP, but for slots.) If that’s the case, though, how much leverage does the state really have over IGT, and how aggressive are Lottery leaders in policing such a close partner? Moreover, should Rhode Island be entering into such long contracts at all, particularly without a competitive bidding process? Governor Raimondo argues that in exchange for that — plus roughly $50 million a year in fees for IGT — the state gets to be one of the company’s regional hubs with a downtown tower and 1,007 workers. Are the quality of IGT’s services and the quantity of its local jobs worth the price? Twin River doesn’t think so. There’s no doubt the casino operator has successfully sown doubt about the IGT deal; it’s not as clear the company has convinced lawmakers to take the risk of awarding it its first-ever gaming technology contract. Judging by the current mood on Smith Hill, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this fight drag on for months.

2. Attorney General Neronha is our guest on this week’s Newsmakers, and he had plenty to say. … On the Wyatt protest investigation: “I think we’re going to turn this around pretty quickly in comparison to other grand jury investigations I’ve had over my career.” … On his review of Catholic sex abuse: “I’ve been in this business for a long time. I know when I feel like we’ve got all the answers. And we’re a long way from there yet. I think at the end of the day what I’d like to do, and what I intend to do, what I expect to do, is be able to issue some kind of a report. That’s why I’m trying to get as much information outside of a grand jury process as I can, frankly.” … On the backlog of felony cases he inherited when he took office: “Presiding Justice Gibney has been great. She’s put together a push calendar for November, so we’re going to try to move these cases through the system as quickly as we can. But the key is, the backlog is gone.” … On a potential run for governor in 2022: “I don’t think I would have run for any other office other than this one. This is the work that I love. I really don’t see myself running for governor or any other position. … I love sitting in a room with prosecutors and lawyers and talking about legal issues. Somebody asked me once about it — I think it was Mayor Paolino — and I said, look, I want to do cases, I don’t want to fix bridges.”

3. Rhode Island taxpayers will spend $30 million on workers’ comp for state employees this year, a 54% spike in the last decade. Administration officials are hoping a new contract with Beacon Mutual can rein it in.

4. Could this complex tax credit program turn into another 38 Studios?

5. Joe Kennedy will make it official today, announcing his blockbuster primary challenge against U.S. Sen. Ed Markey with an event in Boston, followed by a statewide tour that ends with stops in New Bedford and Attleboro on Sunday afternoon. And while some prominent Democrats are concerned about Kennedy dividing the party and diverting resources from other races, longtime party fundraiser Liz Beretta-Perik isn’t one of them. The Jamestown resident and Rhode Island Democratic Party treasurer first met Kennedy when he was a teenager and has supported him since his first run for Congress in 2012. So when Kennedy called her earlier this week to tell her he was running and ask for her support, she didn’t hesitate. “If you take Joe’s philosophy that the country and the government should mirror one another — 40% of the U.S. population is below the age of 40, but there is one senator who is in his 30s and 15 who are in their 40s,” Beretta-Perik told me Friday. “We need some youth in the Senate, and some powerful youth. … I truly believe he has earned it to be that person, and that’s why I’m supporting him.” She expects Kennedy will have no trouble raising big money, and she plans to bring him to Rhode Island for a campaign fundraiser sometime in the coming months. Beretta-Perik also dismisses the idea Kennedy should wait until the 73-year-old Markey retires. “You can’t ask to go out and raise the party’s profile and speak in front of the country, to go out and support all these people running for office because he’s trying to make the government look like its people, and then say to him, ‘Oh no, Joe, you have to go sit and wait your turn,'” she argued. “That’s not fair.”

6. How will Rhode Island’s congressional delegation handle the battle over the border? For Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, the answer is easy: Ed Markey is the incumbent, so the two Democratic senators are supporting their colleague. “The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and our Senate leadership are supporting Senator Markey, and I support their decision, and Senator Markey,” Whitehouse told me in statement. The calculation isn’t so simple for Jim Langevin and David Cicilline, both of whom know Joe Kennedy well from serving with him in the House. Langevin “does not plan to make an endorsement,” choosing neutrality, per his spokesperson. But Cicilline won’t say what he plans to do — and considering Kennedy stood by Cicilline’s side when the latter was nominated for House leadership last fall, it’s easy to imagine he will wind up endorsing the challenger.

7. Joe Kennedy’s decision also means a slew of candidates may run for his 4th Congressional District seat.

8. There probably isn’t such a thing as a good week when you’re under federal indictment, but embattled Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia had a particularly bad stretch over the past five days. On Tuesday night, city voters rejected him emphatically in a preliminary election, giving him barely 20% of the vote and establishing School Committee member Paul Coogan as the man to beat on Nov. 5. A day later, and no doubt emboldened by the election results, the City Council voted to pursue litigation to enforce its order removing the mayor from office. The state’s biggest newspaper editorialized that Correia needs to go (and urged other cities to review their procedures for recalls and removals). Most threateningly of all, two former Correia allies have now promised to testify against him when he goes on trial this winter for fraud and extortion. The question remains: will Correia fight on, or step aside as his problems mount?

9. Next up in Massachusetts: Taunton, where Mayor Hoye dropped out of his re-election race a day before the filing deadline to take an appointment from Governor Baker. Four candidates will face off Tuesday in the city’s preliminary mayoral election.

10. Governor Raimondo heads south next week, traveling to Raleigh, North Carolina, on Thursday for a Democratic Governors Association summit. Her office says no fundraisers are on tap. As an odd-year DGA chair, Raimondo has wound up with a less-than-auspicious lineup of gubernatorial races to contest during her 12 months: Louisiana, Kentucky and Mississippi. But the scoreboard may not look as bad come November as once expected — Louisiana’s incumbent governor, Democrat John Bel Edwards, is leading in the polls, and Kentucky’s Democratic nominee, Andy Beshear, is getting a boost from his family’s history in Bluegrass State politics. Even Mississippi is more competitive than usual for the Democrats thanks to the nomination of AG Jim Hood, though he’s still seen as a long-shot.

11. Speaker Mattiello is hosting a gathering of the nation’s House speakers this week at a swank Newport resort — but nobody will reveal who’s footing the bill.

12. A dispatch from Target 12’s Eli Sherman: “Developer Jason Fane is finally getting a chance to present the new design for his proposed skyscraper to the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission. The regulators who oversee development on the former I-195 land in Providence haven’t yet posted an agenda for their September meeting, but a public notice published in The Providence Journal on Sept. 11 shows Fane is on the docket to present the design of his proposed 46-story residential high rise. The meeting is scheduled 5 p.m. on Wednesday at the new Wexford Building in Providence. Spokesperson Jim Malachowski said Fane is looking forward to the hearing and a vote on the building’s design review. ‘Approval of the design is a major milestone on the critical path for the development of the project,’ he said. The rollout of the project has been rocky since Fane entered into a purchase and sales agreement in January. The developer and commission have butted heads over deadlines and other requirements, adding to the controversy surrounding a project with powerful supporters and vocal opponents. It’s unclear how smooth things will go from this point, but Wednesday’s meeting could offer a rare public glimpse into how commissioners are feeling about the deal they agreed to nine months ago.”

13. Don’t miss this one: EcoRI’s Grace Kelly offers a hair-raising look at how a catastrophic hurricane could cripple Rhode Island.

14. It’s budget season in East Providence, where the fiscal year begins on Nov. 1 rather than July 1 — and where Mayor DaSilva just proposed a $166 million tax-and-spending plan.

15. The Providence Journal is stepping up its marketing, with a radio ad now airing on WPRO that solicits tips for its new investigative team. The move comes as the paper — which could soon be part of the nation’s largest-ever chain — continues to see a decline in subscriptions. The latest audit shows weekday Projo print circulation averaging just under 37,000 copies, while Sunday circulation is at 48,500 and Saturday is just under 43,000. Those numbers are down roughly 17% over the past year. Online circulation continues to grow, though, with the number of digital subscribers now nearing 5,000, for a year-over-year increase of more than 20%.

16. With National Grid set to raise Rhode Islanders’ electricity rates next month, the phones are ringing nonstop at RISE Engineering, the company that conducts free energy audits for Grid customers. “The level of service is driven in large part by the budgets that National Grid works out in conjunction with the Public Utilities Commission and other stakeholders,” RISE President Vin Graziano explained on this week’s Executive Suite. “The budget this year in Rhode Island called for about 12,000 homes to be visited, which is more than we’ve ever had in the 40-year history. We’re actually on pace to do about 14,000 to 15,000 because the demand is so high.” (You can get on the waiting list here.)

17. The Cambridge-based architectural firm SMMA has had a Providence office for over a decade, giving CEO Ara Krafian a unique ability to compare Boston’s red hot real estate market with the situation in Rhode Island. What advice does he have for state leaders trying to lure Boston companies south? “My advice I would say is stop focusing so much on rents, and start focusing on all the amenities,” Krafian said on this week’s Executive Suite. “People are going to Kendall [Square] and paying $100 [per square foot] in rent versus going somewhere five miles away and paying $40 for rent. So it’s about placemaking. Providence is a great college town. You’ve got great institutions. Focus on the education, focus on the master planning and the bigger picture ideas, I think. It’s a great place to be. Great restaurants. It’s got water. It’s got everything, all the amenities you want. My sense is, the second part of the story is the lower rents — the first part of the story is the place. And I think if the focus is the place and the opportunity and then, oh by the way, it’s a bargain.”

18. From the inbox … the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus wants changes to the party’s rules … the R.I. Center for Freedom and Prosperity isn’t impressed with most state lawmakers.

19. Candidate Watch … Central Falls City Council President Maria Rivera will run for mayor next year (James Diossa is term-limited) … Nick Delmenico will seek a Democratic primary rematch against Rep. Patricia Serpa in West Warwick.

20. The Catholic Church is shrinking rapidly in Rhode Island.

21. Headline from CNN’s Paul La Monica: “How Hasbro managed a stunning comeback in a post-Toys-‘R’-Us world.”

22. UMass Boston’s Erin O’Brien explains how blue-staters can still affect the 2020 presidential race.

23. Congratulations to Newport Daily News ace Derek Gomes and his bride Lily, who are getting married Friday in Tiverton. Bonne chance!

24. Set your DVRs: This week on NewsmakersAG Neronha. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive SuiteVin Graziano, president of RISE Engineering; Ara Krafian, CEO of SMMA. 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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