The crises facing children, Plunder Dome, and Gina back in the spotlight

Posted 5/1/24


State-mandated disclosures about the deaths and near-deaths of Rhode Island children have become increasingly frequent over the last year. Twenty-eight fatalities and an …

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The crises facing children, Plunder Dome, and Gina back in the spotlight



State-mandated disclosures about the deaths and near-deaths of Rhode Island children have become increasingly frequent over the last year. Twenty-eight fatalities and an identical number of near-fatalities were reported from 2019 to 2023, and 10 more deaths and 14 additional near-deaths have taken place just since last June. This toll is the most extreme evidence of a crisis involving Rhode Island children, but there’s plenty more, including chaos at St. Mary’s Home for Children in North Providence (via Amanda Milkovits) and the absence of psychiatric care for girls in crisis (via Katie Mulvaney). There’s also the broader mental health crisis affecting children, and growing awareness that kids are over-protected against the real world and not protected enough in the online world. How did things get so bad? Darlene Allen, chairwoman of the Rhode Island Coalition for Children and Families, said the state’s safety net has frayed since the onset of the pandemic. Citing the increase in deaths and near-deaths, the coalition sounded earlier this month a call for action. “We’re calling on the governor,” Allen said during an interview on Political Roundtable. “We’re calling on the legislature. And really, we’re calling on all of us as Rhode Islanders and people that care about kids to convene a group and to work and to look at the details and to come up with a blueprint so that we can turn these trends around.” Part of the challenge in building support for spending on programs for children is that they don’t vote or make campaign contributions. At the same time, the Coalition for Children and Families encompasses more than 40 groups, so I asked Allen if the nonprofits bear some responsibility for not advocating more effectively for young people. “I’m certainly not going to say no,” she said. “I think we’re all responsible. I mean, I think that’s our point. You know, we all take responsibility. We all need to use every avenue. There has been an enormous amount of advocacy. Many of us have been up at the state house testifying on various bills, on the state budget, talking with our own legislators, talking with members of administration. So there has been advocacy. Obviously, we need to do more.”


A key day in the fiscal calendar is set for May 10, when the twice-year Revenue Estimating Conference will take place at the Statehouse, shedding light on how much money is available for the fiscal year starting July 1. Gov. Dan McKee’s proposed $13.68 spending plan for 2024-25 cut the amount envisioned to run the state for the next year, but just by a paltry $335 million. After the flush times of the pandemic, it appears likely that elected officials’ hopes of launching various new initiatives will crash on the rocks of the state’s new fiscal reality.


Gina Raimondo has long had a penchant for attracting favorable publicity, going back to when she became a darling of The Wall Street Journal editorial page for spearheading a 2011 overhaul of the state pension system. While Lesley Stahl’s favorable profile of Raimondo on “60 Minutes” this week indicated that she emerged “almost out of nowhere,” Gina from Smithfield has long been viewed as someone on the rise. She was a champ at raising money from the start and has long since upgraded her communication skills. And just as Raimondo skirted talk of taking a job in the Biden administration (until it happened), the former RI governor sidestepped Stahl’s question about whether she sees herself as presidential material. Four years is an eternity in politics, but Raimondo, along with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, remains a buzzed-about Democrat. Like Raimondo, President Biden comes from a small state – Delaware – but he also had the relationships that come with decades in the Senate before being selected as Barack Obama’s VP. Then again, the way in which she has helped to significantly elevate the profile of the Commerce Department underscores how her story is still being written. 


With three lanes now going in each direction on the Washington Bridge and a proposed $1.3 million budget amendment – mostly to help Providence and East Providence businesses that were hurt by the bridge – will Rhode Islanders’ frustration about the situation dissipate? The target(s) of the McKee administration’s legal strategy have yet to come into view, although traffic appears to be flowing smoother in the approach to summer.


When U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse defeated Republican Robert Flanders, a former state Supreme Court justice, in 2018, the race was called almost as soon as the polls closed. Despite the easy victory, Whitehouse defended how he had raised $6 million since his previous campaign in 2012 – about six times the amount that Flanders was able to put together in a far shorter period of time. As I reported at the time, Whitehouse cited a potential dark money attack in explaining his best-defense-is-a-strong-offense strategy: “If there’s a person in the Senate who the fossil fuel industry and the big dark money crowd is more annoyed with than me, I don’t know who that person is,” he said. “So I viewed myself as being very high up that target list.” As it turned out, a dark money attack did not materialize. Now, with state Rep. Patricia Morgan (R-West Warwick) and conservative activist Ray McKay facing each other in a GOP primary, they are likely yearning for the oodles of outside money that might increase their chances against an incumbent senator.


Students at Brown University – like counterparts at other universities – this week ramped up activism in support of Palestinians, via my colleague Olivia Ebertz. Separately, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, in an interview with me, defended support for Israel and cited humanitarian aid in the U.S. legislation approved by the Senate this week.


Providence – and Buddy Cianci – were riding high when the FBI raided City Hall and Cianci’s Power Street home 25 years ago this Sunday, April 28. Chris Chivers had reported in the ProJo on the underside of the much-ballyhooed Providence Renaissance, including two issues that remain very present – underperforming schools and an underfunded pension plan. The Plunder Dome probe led to Cianci’s resignation and incarceration on a single count of racketeering conspiracy. It paved the way for the political rise of David Cicilline, a state rep at the time, and significant improvements over time in the Police Department. I had started at the now-defunct Providence Phoenix just a few weeks before the raid. The case offered a fertile vein for reporters from far and near, with such colorful combatants as prosecutor Richard Rose and defense lawyer Richard Egbert. Cianci got 45% of the vote when he made a final comeback attempt in 2014. Had he won, then-City Council President Luis Aponte would have become mayor when Cianci died at age 74 in 2016.


Public media organizations are facing the financial uncertainty long experienced by the newspaper industry. My former colleague Dan Kennedy reports on how changing media habits play a role in how WBUR in Boston is cutting 31 employees, seven of them through layoffs. As Kennedy writes, “Just as newspapers have found there was nothing quite like the glory days of monopoly print, public radio executives are discovering that they benefited at one time from a unique set of circumstances that no longer exists — an era when broadcast radio was the audio format of choice.” Here in Rhode Island, Attorney General Peter Neronha this week announced approval of the merger of The Public’s Radio and Rhode Island PBS, a pairing expected to strengthen the outlook for both organizations. 


Elizabeth Howlett (formerly Elizabeth Roberts) has been appointed state president of AARP Rhode Island. “I am pleased and honored to take on the role of volunteer State President for AARP Rhode Island,” Howlett, a former lieutenant governor and secretary of Health and Human Services, said in a statement. “Working in partnership with State Director Catherine Taylor and her team and the many volunteers who are leading us forward will be a privilege. I especially want to thank Marcus Mitchell who has been a strong leader during the past two years.” … Patricia Resende has been promoted to chief of staff for East Providence Mayor Bob DaSilva, from her role as director of project management and communications. “In her new role, Resende will focus on intergovernmental affairs and will place greater focus on special projects, overseeing multiple capital projects to ensure they are executed in a timely manner,” according to a statement. In related news, Matt Paddock, formerly a reporter at WPRI-TV, Channel 12, has joined DaSilva’s team as communications manager.


One noteworthy element of the current frenzy of political activity in Cranston is how the city might see two GOP primaries this year. The main event is state Rep. Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung’s challenge to Mayor Ken Hopkins. Ward 5 Councilor Chris Paplauskas this week announced his run for the seat held by Fenton-Fung, and as TGIF has previously reported, former Council President Michael Farina, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent, appears to be leaning toward a GOP bid for the same post. In other Cranston news, former local GOP Chair Christopher Edward Buonanno has announced a citywide council run. And Cranston Republicans continue to sound off about the circumstances of Councilor Aniece Germain’s recent resignation, with City Solicitor Chris Millea requesting a State Police investigation.


You need not be an entertainment connoisseur to appreciate the not-that-long-ago golden era of the small screen, highlighted by such shows as “The Sopranos,” “The Wire” and “Breaking Bad.” University of Washington professor Daniel Bessner has a story in Harper’s outlining how streaming, mergers and other changes are causing havoc in Hollywood. Part of this, he tells NPR Fresh Air, comes down to capitalism. But Hollywood writers are now being employed for shorter stints, “which means you’re not working on your craft to the same degree, which means you’re not getting the experience that you would have gotten in a traditional writer’s room. So it’s the industry kind of cannibalizing its future in the search for short-term and medium-term profits, which was partially the result of the entry of high finance, and thus financial incentives, into film and television production.” In other words, industry changes might lead to fewer of the novelistic shows that made for must-see TV in the past.

politics, Donnis


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