Talking Politics

Will the Matos campaign stumbles scramble the CD1 race?

By Ian Donnis
Posted 7/25/23

STORY OF THE WEEK: With a bit more than six weeks until the Sept. 5 primary in Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District, the race took a dramatic turn last week. Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, …

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Talking Politics

Will the Matos campaign stumbles scramble the CD1 race?


STORY OF THE WEEK: With a bit more than six weeks until the Sept. 5 primary in Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District, the race took a dramatic turn last week. Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, generally considered the frontrunner among 12 Democrats, emerged at the center of a controversy involving signatures gathered by her campaign.

At first, the dubious signatures were found in Jamestown, then Newport and East Providence, with fresh findings fueling widespread media coverage through the week. The big field of candidates means that a Democrat could win the primary with a narrow slice of the vote. That could offer hope for Matos as her campaign tries to regain its footing.

But the signature controversy sparked a clear line of attack for rivals Gabe Amo, Don Carlson and Aaron Regunberg, who have been most outspoken in criticizing Matos; in part, they faulted her for not directly addressing questions about the signature-collection effort. (Matos staged a news conference Friday evening, apologizing while also trying to distance herself from blame.) The story is all the more curious since Matos (who first won office in 2010) is no stranger to politics, and getting 500 signatures to qualify for the ballot without the whiff of scandal would seem like a straightforward lift. Instead, two different campaign workers are listed as those who gathered the signatures (one of whom appeared in a campaign ad for Gov. Dan McKee last year).

The controversy can be expected to become part of TV ads in the weeks ahead, as well as fodder for debates, and State Police and AG Peter Neronha are involved in investigating what happened. “I’m surprised about the error because the lieutenant governor has run for office many times, has been the City Council president and lieutenant governor, and these are mistakes that are very preventable,” House Speaker Joe Shekarchi said during a Political Roundtable interview.

Matos’ campaign manager, Brexton Isaacs, tried to create some distance from the wave of unflattering headlines. In a statement Thursday he said, “Our campaign was deeply disappointed and angry to learn of reports that inaccurate signatures were submitted to the campaign. Our campaign provided clear instructions to circulators on how to correctly gather signatures. Anyone who violated these detailed instructions and the nomination process has no place in our campaign and will be held accountable. Any insinuation that our campaign in any way encouraged this is simply false and contradictory to the facts.”

For now, the signature controversy scrambles the dynamic in CD1 as the race goes red hot, with Matos fighting the political fight of her life and her rivals arguing that the situation demands a different choice in the race.

ARMORY: The McKee administration this week poured cold water on the idea of Scout Ltd. redeveloping the Cranston Street Armory, citing a report by consultant JLL in arguing the makeover could become a money hole for taxpayers. But maintaining the long-vacant Armory costs the state a few million dollars each year. And after the disastrous visit by two Rhode Island officials to Scout’s home city of Philadelphia earlier this year, some observers view the McKee team’s move as nothing other than retribution.

The fundamental question remains whether the Armory can be restored to a productive use that benefits the surrounding neighborhood. Amid talk of a possible transfer of the building to Providence, it’s unclear for now if the cash-strapped city could muster the economic resources to move a revitalization project forward.

ECONOMY: Is the glass half-full or half-empty when it comes to Rhode Island’s economic outlook? According to the state Department of Labor and Training, RI-based jobs grew by 700 from May to June, lowering the unemployment rate to 2.9%. While the labor force of 569,900 was down by 3,000 from June 2022, DLT reported the labor participation rate at 63.2%, better than the national figure of 62.6%. Yet URI economist Leonard Lardaro’s latest monthly report finds that Rhode Island’s economy is contracting and in a state of what he calls a statistical recession.

SHEKARCHI: Speaker Shekarchi and I discussed a range of issues on Political Roundtable this week. While the R.I. League of Cities and Towns maintains that a new law offering presumptive hypertension/heart disease benefit for firefighters is misguided, Shekarchi said the measure includes appropriate safeguards: “[It] still requires three medical professionals to make some kind of a certification. And it just shifts a little bit of the burden in the process. It doesn’t automatically guarantee anybody any right to any kind of a disability pension.”

MILLER: State Sen. Josh Miller entered a no-contest plea last week, after being accused of keying a parked car with a “Biden sucks” sticker at Garden City Center in June. Still, Miller’s critics seemed unimpressed by the resolution of the case, with the longtime state senator sticking to the words in a contrite statement accepting sole responsibility for what happened. Barring further unlawful behavior, the misdemeanor charges of vandalism and obstruction will be expunged. As part of his plea, Miller agreed to pay $2,850 to the victim and an additional $250 to the RI Community Food Bank.

SCOTUS: The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee this week sent to the Senate a measure backed by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse that would require the Supreme Court to adopt a code of conduct. While support for the measure breaks along party lines in the Senate, Whitehouse remains bullish about the outlook due to sinking public confidence in SCOTUS. As he said in a joint statement with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, “Public support of the Supreme Court is at an all-time low following the steady stream of reports of Justices’ ethical failures. This vote is a first step in restoring the American people’s confidence in its highest court. We’ve been working for 11 years to encourage the Supreme Court to adopt a binding code of conduct for all its Justices, whether appointed by Democratic or Republican Presidents. Chief Justice Roberts had his chance to act, and he refused. Now, we will – and it’s well within our constitutional authority to act. These reforms would apply in equal force to all Justices and – importantly – reinforce the Court’s legitimacy, contrary to the unfounded assertions by Senate Judiciary Republicans. It’s time for the nine Supreme Court Justices to abide by a code of conduct just like every other federal official. We look forward to working with our colleagues on its consideration before the full Senate.”

RI IN DC: U.S. Rep. Seth Magaziner has moved up faster than anyone expected to be the Ocean State’s senior House member in Washington. Now, Magaziner has passed his first series of legislation in the chamber. In an FAA reauthorization bill, he advanced an amendment meant to strengthen cybersecurity at airports. And in the National Defense Authorization Act, Magaziner was able to move amendments meant to expand defense sector workers’ access for affordable housing, ensure service members get accurate healthcare information, and provide service members and their families with “smart sleepers” for babies. With an eye to 2024, the National Republican Congressional Committee continues to send releases critical of Magaziner, and the freshman lawmaker is using the attacks in turn in calling for more contributions to his campaign account.

EDUCATION FUNDING: A significant part of Massachusetts’ late 1990s education reform was an effort to replace a property tax-based funding formula with a more equitable approach. So it’s worth noting how the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council recently found that legislative moves over recent years have eroded earlier progress toward more equitable funding. Excerpt: “This retreat from more equitable funding is illustrated by the fact that some of the state’s most affluent districts received the greatest percentage increases in state aid per pupil over the past three years, while none of the five urban core districts were among the eight districts receiving the highest percentage increase in state per pupil aid. The percentage increase for Providence (16.6 percent) was less than the average increase for all districts (19.7 percent).”

WALK THE WALK: Pedestrian safety remains a concern in Providence and elsewhere in Rhode Island, so check out this recent segment of Freakonomics Radio (heard each weekend on The Public’s Radio) – “Why is the U.S. So Good At Killing Pedestrians?” Excerpt: “Last year: around 7,500 deaths. And it’s not just the raw numbers increasing: the rate of pedestrian deaths per mile driven is the highest in more than 40 years. Even during the pandemic, when driving was way down, pedestrian deaths continued to rise. Among the world’s high-income countries, the U.S. is particularly good at killing pedestrians — the death rate here is much higher than in places like northern and western Europe, Canada, and Japan.”

TAKES OF THE WEEK is gearing up after my recent vacation.

PAIGE CLAUSIUS-PARKS, Executive Director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT: “In the Supreme Court affirmative action case, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, ‘Many universities have for too long … concluded, wrongly, the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin.’ I disagree. Past and current systemic racism in the U.S. and in Rhode Island have created persistent disparities in college access and attainment for people of color. The color of a child’s skin correlates to that child’s economic well-being, development, education, health, and safety.

“The U.S. Constitution and laws are not, and have never been, color-blind. As a result, the skills, worldviews, and identities of many people of color are greatly influenced by our race, and our lives are shaped by our racialized experiences. I would not have had the perspective required to make the positive contributions that I made while a student at Providence College, like starting an LGBTQ student association, if it weren’t for the experiences I had living in a Black body.

“Colleges and universities have long recognized the value of admitting racially diverse students because diversity is a critical element of learning and growth. I commend Rhode Island’s colleges and universities for their continued commitment to equity and diversity. Thank you for seeing our Black and Brown skin and for knowing we are an asset.”

BILL REYNOLDS: Here’s a tribute from Scott MacKay after the recent death of former Providence Journal sports columnist and author Bill Reynolds.

“For nearly four decades, Billy Reynolds entertained, enlightened and educated thousands of readers, so naturally there were stories among the hundreds who lined up to pay respects at his wake Tuesday. ProJo colleagues and local broadcast journalists thronged the wake. Boldface basketball names were in the long, snaking line at Nardolillo Funeral Home – former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese, Brown coach Mike Martin, PC and NBA star Joe Hassett. Chris Herren, too; Billy wrote about the Fall River player and former Boston Celtic, and helped Herren when he descended into drug addiction. Others there knew him only from lunch-time hoop pickup games or his books or columns.

“Reynolds was unique. As the Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan said on ESPN, other sportswriters were in awe of Reynolds because, unlike them, he was a hoop star at Brown and could actually play the game about which he wrote so passionately. Billy had a sense of history, recalling the two-handed set and an era when the pride of mill towns across New England rested on how well high school teams played on winter nights in sweaty gyms with roll-out bleachers. He once told me that when he played for Barrington in the 1960s, games against Warren and Bristol were ‘class and ethnic dogfights.’

“Reynolds’ Saturday morning one-liner column, For What It’s Worth, was a must-read. It was as if every head in diners from Napatree Point to Woonsocket’s North End were buried in his column. Yet, to those who knew and loved him, Reynolds’ greatest legacy was his humanity, humility and deep respect for those who had less. How he mentored young reporters. His quiet but insistent prodding of Brown football coaches to recruit a talented, impoverished Black kid from Pawtucket with great grades and fine SAT scores (Dereck Knight). His reporting trips to such places as Anderson, S.C., hometown of Jim Rice, to discover how race and and Rice’s roots limned the future Hall of Famer’s career in Boston. The winter he spent with the Hope High School hoop team for his poignant book, ‘Hope: A School, A Team, a Dream.’ Reading this book will give you a better insight into the challenges of Providence schools than 20 Johns Hopkins reports.

“Reynolds retired at 74. His voice was stilled by a joust no one ever wins, the Alzheimer’s that smothered it at 78. His wife, the wonderful Liz Abbott, has compiled a bunch of Billy’s best writing into a book, ‘Story Days.’ There will be a book event at Brown’s Pizzitola Sports Center on Saturday, July 22, 2-5:30 p.m. All are invited. As Ryan said, ‘He’ll never be replaced.’ ”

SCHOOL COMMITTEE FIGHT: The Rhode Island Supreme Court this week ruled, four to one, that Richmond resident Jessica Purcell is entitled to a seat on the Chariho Regional School District Committee. Via my colleague Alex Nunes: “The decision ends a months-long legal battle that began when Republican members of the Richmond Town Council went against the town’s home rule charter to appoint a statewide conservative activist named Clay Johnson to fill a vacancy on the school committee instead of Purcell, who was the highest unelected vote-getter in the 2022 election. Johnson, who was not a candidate, is well known as chair of The Gaspee Project, a group that supports right-leaning candidates and conservative causes in Rhode Island, and once promoted the Jan. 6 rally that led to the attack on the U.S. Capitol. ‘I think it is a victory for all Richmond residents,’ Purcell said of the ruling in a phone call Tuesday morning. ‘I think we’ve been truly served by this decision, because it affirms the belief that Richmond deserves representatives, not rulers.’ ”

KICKER: To the untrained eye, it may appear that we’re living in plush times to be a television viewer, with streaming services creating content and offering an array of choices for viewers. Yet the ongoing strike by writers and actors raises the question of whether the TV/film industry is reshaping or collapsing. In one sign of change, Bloomberg entertainment reporter Lucas Shaw writes that Netflix and YouTube will soon account for as much TV viewing as all the broadcast networks. As Shaw tells Terry Gross, “The truth is, that may already be happening. But the measure for that is this Nielsen measurement called The Gauge, which just measures viewership on television for the most part. So think about how much viewership of YouTube happens on a mobile device, and the total amount of time viewing those two could already have exceeded. But Netflix and YouTube have really been the two companies over the last 10-plus years that certainly I’ve spent a bulk of my time writing about, and that have completely revolutionized the entertainment and media business from two ends – you know, Netflix at the premium high end, very much like HBO, but breaking a lot of the rules of how the entertainment business has worked, and then YouTube at the lower end, creating this new generation of user-generated content that a lot of people like. And while we can dismiss it as low quality, you know, a lot of viewers feel otherwise.”

Ian Donnis can be reached at

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