Welcome to another edition of my weekend column – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi (at) wpri (dot) com.
1. After five and a half years it’s getting hard to find new things to say about Rhode Island’s dismal job market. Rhode Island’s 10.9% jobless rate in June was second-highest in the country and by far the highest in New England, with Connecticut second at 8.1%. Somewhat surprisingly, the Great Recession wasn’t even the worst downturn most of the region’s states have experienced – new unemployment records were set only in Rhode Island (11.9% in January 2010) and Connecticut (9.4% in December 2010). Thus, Rhode Island’s unemployment rate is still above the highest one ever recorded in Connecticut. As for Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont, they’ve never topped the levels of joblessness they experienced in 1976-77. It’s all deeply depressing – though apparently not that depressing, considering 26% of state lawmakers are running unopposed this year.
2. Mark your calendars: WPRI 12 will host a live televised Democratic primary debate the evening of Aug. 28 between David Cicilline and Anthony Gemma, who are competing again for the party’s 1st Congressional District nomination. You won’t want to miss it.
3. Time magazine’s Michael Grunwald writes: “Skepticism is understandable, in the absence of an alternative explanation. But there is an alternative explanation: 38 Studios was a potentially transformative company, ‘widely praised as successful and innovative.’ It was a calculated risk that went sour. That’s a shame, but it’s not a scandal.” Except he didn’t write “38 Studios” – he wrote “Solyndra.” Still, on a first read Grunwald’s defense of the Solyndra loan sounds a lot like defenses of the 38 Studios loan – though Time’s Adam Sorensentweeted a rebuttal: “Wasn’t 38 Studios laughed out of Mass by skeptical VCs? And 2/3 of RIEDC’s budget, not one in a large pool of loans?”
5. WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming joins us on Newsmakers this weekend to discuss how the landscape is looking for this year’s General Assembly elections now that the deadline has passed for would-be candidates to turn in the required number of signatures. It’s not looking like a very dramatic year, and Joe is projecting that the number of Democrats (94) and Republicans (18) will stay pretty similar. Among the key Democratic primaries to watch are Senate District 14 (Dan DaPonte vs. Bob DaSilva) and House District 8 (Mike Tarro vs. Libby Kimzey vs. John Lombardi). Meanwhile, Republican Party Chairman Mark Zaccaria is touting Jim Halderman, a candidate for South Kingstown Rep. Spencer Dickinson’s seat in District 35, as “probably the top prospect” among GOP challengers.
8. Barney Frank married his longtime partner Jim Ready recently, then threw a party to celebrate. According to The Washington Post, Frank told those who were invited that he did so because each of them had been “nice to Jim from the beginning.” The elite group of attendees included two members of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation: Jack Reed and David Cicilline.
9. The Taveras administration cut a deal with RISD this week to get an extra $250,000 a year from the school in exchange for giving RISD “semi-exclusive access” to 70 parking spaces around its campus. “The value of those 70 spaces is substantial,” a smart reader points out. Private lots downtown charge about $180 a month; estimate the value of each space at $150 a month, and RISD’s 70 spots are worth roughly $10,500 a month, or $126,000 a year.
10. Speaking of Providence, is the “P” logo that famously symbolized Cicilline’s $100,000 rebranding campaign on the way out? Mike Raia, Taveras’ director of communications, isn’t going that far yet, but acknowledges Providence’s branding is “being reviewed.” An ad hoc group of mayoral staffers led by Raia is going to review and update the city’s branding over the next few months. (No outside consultants will be hired.) “We have no official plans at this time for making any changes because we haven’t look at it to that extent yet,” Raia says. Stay tuned.
11. The line of cars outside North Smithfield’s Rustic Drive-In was as long as ever when I drove by last weekend, a reminder that Rhode Island’s last outdoor cinema remains a popular summer spot. But did you know it used to show porn?Details in my 2009 PBN story.
12. This week on Newsmakers – Peter Marino, director of Rhode Island’s new Office of Management and Budget, plus Joe Fleming. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Venture for America’s Andrew Yang and Providence College’s Michael Kraten on the Libor scandal. Watch Sunday at 6 p.m. on myRITV (or 6 a.m. on Fox). See you back here next Saturday morning.