Welcome to another edition of my weekend column – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi (at) wpri (dot) com.
1. If you want to understand why Mayor Taveras fought so aggressively to keep the City Council from controlling half the money in Providence’s $40 million road-repair bond, read this 2000 Providence Phoenix story by Steven Stycos. (Ironically, Stycos is now a councilman himself.) An Urban Institute expert described Providence’s way of doling out bond money as “unusually politicized,” with each council member having almost carte blanche authority over spending in his or her ward. Governments should borrow to fund long-term infrastructure projects that have a higher rate of return than the interest on the bonds, but back then bond money was used to pay a principal’s salary and develop a restaurant. Buddy Cianci, apparently confusing borrowed money with free money, told Stycos: “This way, we can make the improvements and the tax rate doesn’t go up.” Cianci left off the crucial word “now” – because the tax rate certainly will go up eventually if the projects aren’t ones that will boost the city economy and help offset the interest costs. Taveras would do well to burnish his reformer credentials further by finding a new, transparent way to allocate bond money if voters approve the proposal in November.
2. Speaking of Providence, the city’s website about previous mayors is a bit of a mess. David Cicilline is MIA; clicking his name leads to a page that says “Access denied. You are not authorized to access this page.” (Sounds like his emails.) John Lombardi served as mayor for just four months, yet he gets a longer biography than anybody else – it clocks in at 498 words, more than twice as many as Cianci, who was in the mayor’s office for 21 years. Perhaps that verbosity kept someone from noticing his name is spelled “Lomabardi”?
3. Jim Langevin, David Cicilline and Ron Paul – three peas in a pod? You wouldn’t think so, but the two Rhode Island congressmen broke with Nancy Pelosi and a majority of their fellow Democrats this week and supported the libertarian icon’s years-long effort to “Audit the Fed.” Cicilline’s spokesman tells me his boss wants “to advance an important discussion about how Congress should balance the need for an independent central bank with the need for meaningful oversight of the Federal Reserve’s use of authority.” Barney Frank, the top House Democrat on financial regulation, says they’re wrong: “This is a way to shake your fist at the big bad Fed, and it’s not a good way.” GWU’s Sarah Bindersees political motivations: “Not surprisingly, the Fed’s low public standing encourages endangered Democrats to throw their own punches when Republicans take out their Bernanke punching bag.”
4. I reported the other day that 38 Studios’ ex-CEO Jen MacLeanis selling her home on the East Side. What I didn’t know until a regular reader informed me was that the Boylston Avenue house has a history – in 2009 it was the first “green” residential home in Providence designed for LEED certification. The house was built by Native Structures, which is based in the city and still in business; then-Mayor Cicilline even attended the groundbreaking.
5. Could Rhode Island take a page out of Estonia’s book? The country has a population of about 1.3 million, not much bigger than Rhode Island, and its economic development plan includes Estonia’s Friends International, which Businessweek describes as “a group of expats and foreign investors,” adding: “Estonia, like Israel and Ireland, is figuring out how to use its diaspora to draw foreign investment.” Rhode Island has lots of expats, too – both former residents who’ve moved away to pursue their fortunes elsewhere and alums who spent four happy years here at Brown, RISD, PC, URI, etc. Is there a way to tap that network?
6. Here’s something fun: newly minted Brown grad Joschka Tryba has launched LoveGov, a social-networking startup with a political hook and a snazzy look. It’s still in beta but it’s already got some buzz – check it out.
7. Treasurer Raimondo made a big move this week that got relatively little attention, ending State Street’s run as Rhode Island’s custodial banker and moving responsibility for $8 billion in pension and other assets to BNY Mellon, which she says will save more than $300,000 a year. Five treasurers have come and gone since State Street first got the contract 27 years ago. Raimondo promised a “top-to-bottom review” of Treasury when she took office, and this looks like evidence the unglamorous side of that is continuing.
9. There are lots of interesting primaries for General Assembly this year, and one of them is House District 63 in East Providence, where four Democrats are competing to succeed Bob DaSilva, who’s running against Dan DaPonte for Senate. The race features not one but two young candidates – Katherine Kazarian, a Columbia graduate who has the party endorsement, and Sam Lovett, a BC alum who recently left Governor Chafee’s employ. Either Dem would likely be welcomed by the party’s progressive wing – but will they split EP’s liberal vote? The other two candidates are Charles Britto and Charles Tsonos; check out all four, plus independent David Sullivan, discussing the EDC. [Update: A reader wrote in to argue the real progressive in the race is Tsonos because of his stands on labor issues, making the race even more interesting.]
10. Rhode Island’s own Tom Donilon, President Obama’s national security adviser, was in Beijing from Monday to Wednesday this week, where he held “constructive, detailed, and wide ranging discussions” with President Hu Jintao and his likely successor, Vice President Xi Jinping, spokesman Tommy Vietor reports.
11. Count me as a fan of three daily local news roundups: the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition’s RISC-Y Business, The Hummel Report’s Top News and RIFuture’s Progress Report. The three compilers – Harriet Lloyd, Bill Felkner and BobPlain, respectively – always find stories and items I’ve missed on my own.
12. This week on Newsmakers – Boston magazine’s Jason Schwartz and Governor Chafee on 38 Studios. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Washington Trust Co. CEO Joseph MarcAurele. Watch Sunday at 6 p.m. on myRITV (or 6 a.m. on Fox). See you back here next Saturday morning.