Welcome to another edition of my weekend column – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. I consider The Providence Journal’s State House bureau chief Katherine Gregg one of my chief competitors. She’s a dogged reporter who fights – hard – for every scoop. This week, though, I’d like to express my admiration for her and in particular her reporting on the disputed William San Bento-Carlos Tobon recount. Gregg’s indefatigable efforts to track down voter rolls, ballot lists, election officials and individual voters’ stories is the kind of vital shoe-leather reporting that decides whether a problem pierces the collective consciousness and whether the powerful people who oversee our democracy get held to account. All Rhode Islanders should want to have confidence that the state’s elections are being administered fairly, thoroughly and competently. Circulation stats be damned: Tough daily coverage on the front page of the statewide paper of record still has a powerful impact, and Gregg is still providing it after 33 years there. So if you missed her latest piece on the District 58 mess, read it here.
3. Russell Jeffrey isn’t a household name in Rhode Island, but as founder and CEO/CIO of the nine-year-old downtown hedge fund Providence Investment Management, he probably should be. Providence Investment Management isn’t just any firm – its $1.3-billion Providence MBS hedge fund ranked #5 on Bloomberg Market’s list of the 100 Top-Performing Large Hedge Funds in the world, with a 30% return in 2010. (MBS means “mortgage-backed securities.”) Jeffrey started his career trading Fannie- and Freddie-backed debt for Merrill Lynch in the 1980s, and now ranks 21st on Forbes’ list of the 40 highest-earning hedge fund managers. The URI graduate isn’t afraid to dabble in politics, either: Jeffrey gave $100,000 in 2010 to the anti-Cicilline group Americans for Common Sense Solutions and he’s supported Republicans including BarryHinckley, John Loughlin, Scott Brown,Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle – but not, so far at least, Brendan Doherty.
4. The Betaspringopen house Thursday night was, as usual, chock full of positive energy, a rare feeling these days when the subject is the Rhode Island economy. I remember writing one of the earliest stories about Betaspring, at PBN back in 2009, and struggling with how to properly explain the idea – now the organization’s events attract the likes of Jack Reed, Sheldon Whithouse, David Cicilline, Lincoln Chafee and Gina Raimondo, not to mention a host of other notables. (Cicilline, who backed Betaspring as mayor, mentioned to me that his campaign and Obama’s are both using technology developed by 121Nexus, which Betaspring brought to Providence.) Like other startup accelerators, Betaspring could play the same role as a magnet for the city that a top-tier college does, by attracting ambitious and talented people here to start their careers and build their lives. That’s the hope.
5. Speaking of such, Startup Weekend Providence will be taking place next Friday through Sunday at Johnson & Wales’ Pepsi Forum. The 54-hour event is a local iteration of a movement nationwide “to educate aspiring entrepreneurs in the area by immersing them in the process of moving an idea to market,” according to organizer Sergio Ferreira, himself a co-founder of SubBids and a project manager at Ferreira Concrete Forms.
6. Nesi’s Notes editor emeritus M. Charles Bakst passes along some election-season thoughts:
Okay, so Rhode Island’s 2012 U.S. Senate race doesn’t look too competitive and you’re itching for something more scintillating. Well, it’s right next door in Massachusetts, and you can watch another debate between Republican Sen. Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren at 7 p.m. Monday. This one is on New England Cable News. The last one was on Channel 4, which I don’t get, but I did catch it on C-SPAN.
This race could decide control of the Senate. And down the road it could lead to an interesting wrinkle: It is entirely possible that BOTH Brown and Warren will wind up serving in the Senate. One of them, obviously, will win this seat. But, as you know, Hillary Clinton has said repeatedly that she will step down as secretary of state even if, as seems increasingly likely, President Obama gains a second term. The name most heard as a Clinton successor assuming Obama is reelected: Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
So Kerry leaves the Senate and Massachusetts has an election for his seat and who runs and wins: How about the loser of the Brown-Warren race?
This would not be the first time two persons who squared off against each other in a U.S. Senate contest wound up eventually serving together. Indeed, Rhode Islanders of a certain age will remember a local example.
In 1972, Republican John Chafee lost to Democratic Sen. Claiborne Pell but then went on in 1976 to win the other seat, long held by retiring Sen. John O. Pastore. Chafee and Pell served together for two decades. When Chafee died, Pell told me that during their joint service they never once discussed their 1972 race.
7. For those who doubt the close political alliance between Lincoln Chafee and Angel Taveras, note well that Chafee’s longtime aide-de-camp Stephen Hourahan is co-hosting a fundraiser for the mayor next week; Hourahan probably wouldn’t be doing that if Chafee saw Taveras as a potential threat to winning a second term. It doesn’t mean that the governor isn’t running in 2014 (or that Taveras is) but it bears mentioning.
8. Speaking of fundraising, much has been made of how much money is being stockpiled by Taveras and Raimondo. A clear sign they’ll both be on the ballot for governor in 2014, right? Don’t be so sure. One of the quirks of Rhode Island’s campaign finance law is that contribution limits are per-year, rather than per-cycle. That means a Raimondo supporter can write her campaign a check for $1,000 every year for four years – but he or she can’t write a single $4,000 check in 2014, even though the result would effectively be the same. Put another way, money that doesn’t get raised in 2012 can’t be raised in 2013 or 2014. That gives potential candidates like Taveras and Raimondo an incentive to raise money now, if only to keep their future options open. Plus, even if they decide against running for governor, it’s not a bad way to scare off potential challengers for their current offices.
9. Why should Providence and Newport have all the fun? Attleboro Restaurant Week kicks off Monday with $10 lunches and $20 dinners, making my hometown the latest locale to jump on the limited-time prix-fixe bandwagon. Attleboro’s organizers were inspired by The 3/50 Project, a viral buy-local campaign that encourages Americans to spend $50 a month at three locally owned brick-and-mortar businesses in their communities. My girlfriend and I took part in East Greenwich Restaurant Week a few weeks back, and the news from Attleboro got me wondering where else they’re being organized. Are they good for the restaurants in the big scheme of things?
10. John Silber, the controversial longtime president of Boston University, died Thursday at the age of 86. I attended BU during my freshman year of college, and remember the fall 2003 day when Silber was our guest lecturer in COM 101. He was fascinating (though he upset the women in my class with his comments on gender roles). What I remember best is this New Yorker article about Katharine Hepburn that he assigned to us. Before then I’d never read The New Yorker; since then I’ve never stopped. There’s also, as always, a Rhode Island connection – political operative and Providence native Tad Devineworked for Silber in the 1990s. Recalling his failed bid for governor of Massachusetts, Silber once told Devine: “The biggest lesson I learned in my campaign was: They’re not going to vote for you unless they like you.” For more on the man, read Ian Donnis‘s remembrance.
11. Speaking of Tad Devine, his lifelong friend and fellow LaSalle alum Tom Donilon is now President Obama’s national security adviser (as well as, in The Washington Post’s words, “the patron saint of staffers.”) Donilon has been the subject of much media coverage thanks to his high-profile gig, and that continued Monday with this front-page New York Times profile.
12. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Doherty campaign manager Ian Prior and Carlos Tobon, the challenger who’s seeking a recount in House District 58. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – RIPEC’s John Simmons and Brown University visiting scholar Lou Mazzucchelli on economic development in Rhode Island. Watch Sunday at 6 p.m. on myRITV (or 6 a.m. on Fox). See you back here next Saturday morning.