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Side of the Rhode: Who’s Hot and Who’s Not in RI Politics?

Friday, November 22, 2013


Hot AND Not: Mayor Angel Taveras

Every Friday, Dan Lawlor breaks down who's rising and who's falling in the world of Rhode Island politics. Check out who made the lists this week.


Angel Taveras - Angel is getting national buzz. Huffington Post has a story out on the Mayor, noting Taveras would be the "second Latino Mayor from a large city –after Robert 'Bob' Martinez in Florida-- to be sent to a Governor's Mansion." No mention of Taveras' recent struggles with neighborhood activists.

Asher Dunn/Studio Dunn - The successful West End entrepreneur and award winning furniture designer, who's been visited by several Mayoral candidates, was featured in Vogue Magazine as one of the Ten Young Designers to keep an eye on. Check out his work.

Adrian Benepe/Trust for Public Land - From the Providence Preservation Society to WPRO, Benepe, former New York City Parks Commissioner, took his message for the economic and environmental benefits of parks to the state's politically engaged. One fascinating tidbit was the role of parks as a tool to respond creatively to storm water run off and flood zones. At his talk last week in the Superman building, prospective Providence mayors John Lombardi, Brett Smiley and Jorge Elorza were sighted.

HealthSource RI - Our state's digital portal to help compare and buy health insurance, part of the national Affordable Care Act, has consistently shown itself to be easy to use, and one of the best performing in the country. Go check it out!

Bill Fischer - Fischer is moving forward as spokesperson for potential gubernatorial contender Clay Pell. Fischer has worked for numerous powerhouses in the state - from his current work for High Rock Development (owners of the Superman Building) to past efforts with Sheldon Whitehouse and Democrats for Education Reform. Is this a sign of Pell gaining momentum or joining the old boys club?

Transgender Day of Remembrance/Temple Beth-El - The Transgender Day of Remembrance (November 20) began in honor of Rita Hester, a transgender musician who was brutally murdered in Boston in 1998. Since 1999, annual events around the country recall transgender individuals who have had their lives lost due to violence, and build communities of support among the living. Kudos to the TGI network, Youth Pride and Temple Beth-El for commemorating the day in Rhode Island.



Stephen Hemsley/ CEO United Healthcare - Shame on United Healthcare! As the Journal reports , the health group is cutting every open heart surgeon, removing nearly all the surgeons at RI Hospital, and excising 70% of the surgeons at Miriam Hospital from its Medicare Advantage plans- scrambling the health plans for over 36,000 Rhode Islanders, mostly elderly.

Angel Taveras - One step forward, one backward. Away from the national press, the Mayor finds that while overall crime in the capital city has ebbed down, reported robberies and larcenies continue to go up.

Steve Holliday/CEO National Grid - Two people were injured after manhole covers in the Jewelry District were blown far into the air because of explosions caused by a build up of gases and a decaying electric cable. We need to take of our infrastructure before people get hurt.

Gordon Fox and Teresa Paiva Weed- The General Assembly is slacking on its support for school buildings. As GoLocal reported, numerous commentators from Christine Lopes Metcalf (RI-CAN) to Deborth Cylke (Pawtucket School Superintendent) are calling for the folks at our state house (and city halls) to be genuine stewards of our schools. As Cylke puts it, "These old schools have good bones, but they need to be maintained."

High Rock Development and Bank of America - While the current and former owners of the Superman Building sue and counter sue each other, one of our core Providence skyscrapers remains vacant. The stock market is booming, isn't it? Any plans to work with private developers?

Young and Overlooked- According to the latest report from RI Kids Count, "Children in the four core cities, where the majority of children living in poverty reside, are less likely to be enrolled in preschool special education (6%) than children in the remainder of the state (8%)." RI Kids Count calls for ways to "expand professional development" to help special need preschoolers get high quality experiences to be diagnosed and successful.


Related Slideshow: 10 Questions Taveras Has to Answer When Running for Gov of RI

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#10 Fundraising

Can Taveras Keep Up with the Big Boys and Girls in Fundraising?

In America today, one issue that is a factor in nearly every election is fundraising. To date, Taveras has yet to demonstrate any consistent ability to keep up with the leading fundraisers in RI.

Taveras will have to compete with General Treasuer Gina Raimondo, who has $2 plus million on hand and a likely run from Clay Pell (grandson of US Senator Claiborne Pell and whose wife is Olympic skater Michelle Kwan).

Raimondo is on pace to raise $5m and Taveras presently has just $692,000 on hand and would be on pace to raise less than $2 mliion. 

Pell's family has access to nearly limitless dollars - back in the 1990's Pell's grandfather was ranked as one of the wealthiest members of Congress.

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#9 Curse

Can Taveras Break the Providence Mayor's Curse?

For more than 60 years, no Providence Mayor has been successful running for Governor of Rhode Island. You have to go back to the 1950 election when Dennis Roberts was elected Governor.

Since Roberts, a number of Providence Mayors have taken their shot at running for Governor and each has failed mightily.

Most notably, Buddy Cianci's run against J. Joseph Garrahy - Cianci got less than 30% of the statewide vote.

Joe Paolino was expected to win the Democratic primary in 1990, but was beaten badly by Bruce Sundlun and then Warwick Mayor Frank Flaherty.

Sundlun went on to win the general election and Flaherty was later named to the state Supreme Court.

Taveras will have to break a very long curse.

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#8 Hire or Fire

Can Teachers Trust Taveras - and Will Voters Trust His Relationship with the Teachers Unions?

In the midst of the city's political meltdown, Taveras just into his first few months in office fired all the teachers in Providence.

Taveras received strong public support, but within months he capitulated to pressure from the teachers' unions.

Three years later, he is emerging as the candidate of the teachers' union leadership. Will teachers trust him in a statewide race and will voters trust him if he is perceived as too close to union bosses?

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#7 Hispanics

Will Hispanics Vote as a Block in the Primary for Taveras? Are They Influential Enough in the General?

Conventional wisdom is that Angel Taveras will get a big boost from the Hispanic voting block in the primary, but more recently Council members Luis Aponte, Danian Sanchez and Sabina Matos have all openly battled with the mayor on his tax increases and efforts to close pools in low income wards around the city.

While Taveras can rebound and the impact may be large in the primary, the percentage of voters who are Hispanic in the general election is just 7% according to Pew Research:

  • Rhode Island’s population is 12% Hispanic, the 13th largest Hispanic population share nationally.
  • There are 54,000 Hispanic eligible voters in Rhode Island—which ranks 35th in Hispanic eligible voter population nationally. California ranks first with 5.9 million.
  • Some 7% of Rhode Island eligible voters are Hispanic, the 13th largest Hispanic eligible voter population share nationally. New Mexico ranks first with 39%.
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#6 Temperament

Can Taveras Handle the Campaign Pressure and the Office Pressure of Governor?

Taveras had no experience as a chief executive in business or government before taking office in 2011 in Providence. He has increasingly gotten into some very non-productive scrapes.

In 2012, his law office delivered a document to GoLocalProv as part of a FOIA request and those documents included the social security number of every retiree of the City. Instead of taking responsibility he sent his lawyers to court to try to block GoLocal from writing about the mishandling of social security numbers. The judge ruled against Taveras.

In 2013, Taveras has tried to demolish a commuity swimming pool in South Providence because, according to Councilman Danian Sanchez, Sanchez would not vote for Taveras' tax increase.

Will Taveras be able to prove to voters he has the right stuff?

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#5 Base outside Prov

Can Angel Taveras Build a Political Base Outside of Providence?

While Taveras has a strong political base in Providence, it is unclear if he can build a strong political network in critical Democratic strongholds like Woonsocket, Pawtucket, East Providence, Johnston and North Providence.

It is well known that both Democratic Mayors in North Providence and Johnston have had a strained relationship with Taveras.

This strain has played out over critical matters like mutual emergency aid and in 2012, North Providence, Johnston and East Providence all cancelled emergency aid compacts with Providence.

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#4 Women Voters

Can Taveras Compete for Women Voters?

When Taveras ran for Mayor he won the critical block of East Side Democratic women. Part of his success with this critical block of voters was the support he enjoyed from Democratic power Myrth York. 

The two-time Democratic nominee for Governor went all in for Taveras in 2010, but she no longer is active in the inner circle and reportedly would have supported Governor Lincoln Chafee in the primary.

Taveras will need to compete with Raimondo who has already signed former EMILY's list bigwig Kate Coyne-McCoy.

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#3 Star Power

Can Taveras Keep Up with Clay Pell's Star Power?

In 2010, Taveras ran under the motto of "from Head Start to Harvard."  His claim on the American dream proved a successful juxtaposition to two Democrats who had the same political base - Federal Hill (Steven Costantino and John Lombardi).

Now, Taveras may face the fresh-faced Clay Pell. His bio exceeds Taveras as he can claim the legacy of his grandfather's work and hit the circuit with his superstar wife, Olympian Michelle Kwan.

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#2 Issues and Vision

Can Angel Taveras Articulate a Vision for Rhode Island?

Taveras earned good scores for managing the City of Providence's financial crises, but never seemed to develop major policies for economic development, schools, parking, crime, reducing the cost of government or improving the efficiency.
The Superman building's closure happened on his watch, technology company Dassault Systèmes is moving out of Providence, and no major employers were recruited into the city other than the scrap yard on Allens Avenue.
Taveras will need to define a forward looking vision for Rhode Island.
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#1 Crime and Education

Can Taveras Explain His Record on Crime and Education?

The biggest problem for Taveras is his record in Providence.
Most people care about the basics - their jobs, education for their children, how safe their neighborhood is.  These vary questions could be Taveras' Achilles' heel.
According to GoLocal's study of the FBI crime data, Providence is ranked #2 for violent crime per capita in Rhode Island.
The condition of Providence's schools may be worse. Of the 24 schools ranked as poor (de facto failing) in Rhode Island by the Department of Education, 6 of them were Providence Schools and in the rankings of the best high schools in the state, most of Providence's schools consistently litter the bottom of the rankings.
Taveras lead the city to win the $5 million Bloomberg award. But in a Governor's race one of Taveras' opponents is sure to ask, "Mr. Mayor, are you going to bring the same policies you used on crime and education in Providence to the rest of the state?"

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