How they kept peace on College Hill

Posted 5/8/24

STORY OF THE WEEK: Pro-Palestinian protests at Brown University came to a peaceful end last week – a contrast to the mass arrests and disorder seen on many campuses across the country. Isabella …

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How they kept peace on College Hill


STORY OF THE WEEK: Pro-Palestinian protests at Brown University came to a peaceful end last week – a contrast to the mass arrests and disorder seen on many campuses across the country. Isabella Garo, one of the students who negotiated with administrators, notes that the taking down of encampments followed other forms of activism. And Garo said that although the outcome was different on College Hill, it was very much influenced by what was happening elsewhere. “It was very clear to me from negotiations that they were afraid that what they were seeing at schools like Columbia would happen [at] Brown,” she said in an interview with my colleague Luis Hernandez. “That was their motivation.” In the same interview, Charlie Clynes of the Brown Daily Herald said that while students had a range of reactions to the protests, the peaceful resolution looks good for Brown since administrators can say, “We sat down with protesters. We listened to their demands. We granted them some of their demands, not all of them, but we kind of gave them a seat at the table.” The university agreed that the governing board will vote in October on whether to divest the university’s endowment from companies the students say are benefiting from human rights abuses by Israel in Palestinian territories. Some say the deal is an uncertain win for activists. Garo, though, said the timing gives activists more time to build their case with the more than 50 members of the Brown Corporation: “I think that vote in October gives us a northern star to work towards. It has really re-invigorated and re-energized the movement on campus. And I am very confident that we will continue to organize and continue to push the university to ensure that that vote is a yes in October.”

MORE FROM COLLEGE HILL: My colleague Olivia Ebertz was all over the Brown encampment story, reporting on the deal to clear the encampment and how President Christina Paxson apologized for letters sent to faculty who were at the encampment.

MEDIA: The Pulitzer board praised student journalists for their work covering campus protests. A related panel on PBS NewsHour included Neil Mehta (who I was fortunate to mentor last year through the New England First Amendment Coalition) of the Brown Daily Herald.

THE 2026 CAMPAIGN: Helena Foulkes lost the Democratic primary for governor to Dan McKee by just three percentage points in 2022. The near miss raised the question of whether the outcome might have been different IF – if Foulkes had started her campaign earlier, if she had been more aggressive in going after McKee, if the campaign had gone on for another week, etc. As we move closer to 2026, Foulkes is not delaying in assembling a pile of money. She collected nearly twice as much as McKee in the first quarter of 2024, and is marching full steam ahead; the host committee for a May 21 fundraiser at the Rhode Island Country Club in Barrington (contribution levels run from $250 to $2,000) includes John Hazen White and Julie and Jon Duffy. One key question to watch moving forward is whether other Democrats become part of the field for governor in 2026. Attorney General Peter Neronha appears disinclined to pursue the job and it’s unclear for now if other candidates will make for a larger field.

GINAWORLD: U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, whose vast portfolio includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was back in Rhode Island on May 6. The former governor, joined by Gov. Dan McKee, three-quarters of the state’s congressional delegation and other dignitaries, took part in a groundbreaking at Naval Station Newport, per news release, “on a new facility that will serve as the future home of the NOAA Marine Operations Center-Atlantic (MOC-A). Four NOAA research vessels will be based at the new facility, which will also serve as the headquarters for NOAA’s Atlantic fleet.”

BRIDGE DEADLINE: The state has issued its RFP for replacing the Washington Bridge with the hope, as Patrick Anderson notes in the ProJo, that the project be completed by August 2026.

NEW CANDIDATES (via news releases): Nathan Luciano is challenging Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien as an independent … Andrew Dimitri, a lawyer, is running for the RI Senate seat left vacant by the death earlier this year of Sen. Frank Lombardo III of Johnston … Phoenix Witt, a self-described political outsider and trans woman, is running for the seat held by state Rep. Brandon Voas (D-Cumberland), who ousted Rep. Jim McLaughlin in 2022.

RACE: Brown University professor Tricia Rose, director of the university’s Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, has a new book, “Metaracism – How Systemic Racism Devastates Black Lives and How We Break Free.” She joined me on Political Roundtable this week to discuss that and her takeaways from recent campus protests. Here’s an excerpt: “What I argue in this book is that the talk we do does not illuminate where I think the most substantial discrimination happens. The talk we do about race are individual stories, extreme examples of individual racism. Police brutality is obviously a favorite among this group … But what’s very rarely said in public is what are the systems and processes and interactions of the way race and racism are operating at regional and national scales that explain the story you’re hearing in a much more productive way.”  

McKEE’S BUDGET: From a new analysis by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council: “RIPEC found that the governor’s proposed budget represented a transitional spending plan between a series of budgets flush with abundant federal pandemic relief funding and more challenging fiscal times ahead. While state general revenues have grown by only $135.8 million (2.6%) from FY 2024 to FY 2025, the Gov. McKee’s budget relies on surplus dollars and, to a lesser extent, federal funding to pay for operating expenses. The governor’s budget projects a deficit at nearly $250 million for FY 2026 and higher in FY 2027 and FY 2028. “By using one-time surplus and federal resources, the governor’s FY 2025 budget does not fully reflect the more difficult budgetary choices anticipated in the next fiscal year and beyond,” said Michael DiBiase, President and CEO of RIPEC. “The governor’s use of one-time dollars to fund continuing expenses contributes to a sizable structural deficit for next year and beyond.’ ”

MUNIVILLE: Mayors and town managers gathered for a State House news conference this week to urge opposition to new unfunded mandates for public safety employees.

AS CRANSTON TURNS: The state Ethics Commission this week approved an investigation related to how the son-in-law of Mayor Ken Hopkins got a job and then a promotion in the Fire Department. Hopkins said he was not directly involved in these moves and he labels the matter part of a political attack from the camp of GOP rival Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung. “Cranston needs its mojo back,” Fenton-Fung argues in her first video release, a mini-movie incorporating a mix of humor and critiques as well as ample play for her husband, former Mayor Allan Fung, who relishes the chance to ham it up.

UP IN CUMBERLAND: Brad Dean is running against Mayor Jeff Mutter, and as Ethan Shorey reports in The Valley Breeze, Dean’s campaign is being managed by Ross Silva, the son of Tony Silva, the former chief of staff for Gov. Dan McKee who was later hired by McKee’s political organization. 

RI POLI-MEDIA PEOPLE ON THE MOVE: In a big loss for the RI mediascape, Globe RI’s Brian Amaral shared word on Twitter/X that he is leaving for another job while staying in the Ocean State. A fellow Townie, Brian is a natural reporter -- curious, intrepid, skeptical, with a well-developed BS detector. I wish him well in his next endeavor … The well-liked Mike Healey, who became well-known as the comms guy for former AG Patrick Lynch, has signed off as of today from his job at the state Department of Environmental Management … Jed Thorp is headed to a job as director of advocacy at Save the Bay after wrapping up his time as state director of Clean Water Action RI. Via X, Thorp said priorities before the change include passage of a PFAS Ban Act … Guillermo Perez has signed on as communications director for U.S. Rep. Gabe Amo. Perez was born in Venezuela, grew up in Connecticut and his resume includes time as a staff assistant for former U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and as a speechwriter for U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey … Rose Albert is the new executive director of Rhode Island for Community and Justice. She most recently served as director of youth programs for RICJ.

GREAT NORTH: Lots of working-age adults are leaving Massachusetts, and housing costs are considered a key contributor.

KICKER: What happens if there’s a tie 269-269 vote in the Electoral College this year? Writing at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Kyle Kondik unpacks the next steps in that scenario. Here’s the short version: “The newly-elected House would break this deadlock in January 2025. All 50 states would get a single vote, and it would take the votes of 26 state delegations to elect a president. Republicans should have a majority in at least 26 state U.S. House delegations in 2025, even if they do not retain the overall House majority.”

Donnis, politics


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