Carol Anne Costa: RI Budget—What Would Tony Soprano Do?

Thursday, June 27, 2013


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As admirers everywhere mourn James Gandolfini and the RI House struggles to pass a state budget, Carol Anne Costa wonders how taking a cue from Tony Soprano might work out.

We knew it had the makings of a summer blockbuster under that hot and sticky dome on Smith Street. “SIT DOWN!” The Speaker shouted. While all around him leadership scrambles to quell rebellions, Whips making calls, insurgents making plans, as both friend and foe meet on the House floor to do the people’s business. It is like watching large and loud dysfunctional family, as the patriarch, Speaker Fox tries to achieve the goal of passing a state budget not knowing where the next barb will come from; it might even be friendly fire. On the heels of the untimely death of the masterful actor, James Gandofini, I cannot help to wonder, what would Tony Soprano do? Dare I say it; there is a fine line between Tony and toughing it out in the political ring.

The relationship started in 1999, at that backyard barbeque in New Jersey. I recall the gathering of the large, loud, loving and stressed Italian family; complete with the physical collapse of the patriarch. Yes, that was the evening we all met Tony Soprano and the man who brought him to life James Gandolfini, may he rest in peace. I am pretty sure my Italian immigrant grandfather would not have cared much for Tony and the tales of the dark side of our heritage and history. So why are we riveted, myself included, by the mythology? It is a love/hate relationship for sure. Much like the relationship we have with our politicians. We cheer them when we need them and scorn them when they stray. We root for them and against them, sometimes in the very same day. We are fond of them but often not too keen on them. The conflicts and comparisons are numerous. I think Tony Soprano would have fared very well in our General Assembly, as he had a great political skill set.

The rough and tumble world of politics is mirrored in the dark world brought to life by Gandoflini and David Chase in the life and times of Tony Soprano. Forget for a moment his career choice; you have to admit Tony was a gifted but occasionally flawed manger of a motley, loyal, disloyal, out and out seditious bunch of guys. His skill set included the ability to work with many personalities; his talent for sizing people up also helped him out of many jams. Tony knew his workforce and used his crude but quick mental dexterity like a craftsman. He often showed compassion with Christopher, patience with Paulie, evenhandedness with Sil and in your face might with Ralphie and Richie. Like a good CEO, he remained keenly aware of the strengths, weaknesses and temptations of the folks who made up the foundations of his enterprise and always tried to keep a few steps ahead.

Meanwhile Back in the HOUSE…

Like Tony, Gordon does have a flare for the one liner and the ability to calm the waters. After efforts fell short to underfund the pension by 12.9 million dollars (a leadership initiative) he counseled the members, ‘‘It’s 1:30 in the morning, nothing good happens after 1:30, my father told me.’’ Rather than risk eroding more political capital the Speaker took a breath and a break in order to assess the path going forward, as I am sure he wants to measure the political calculus and weigh the chances of passing the budget designed by him and his leadership team. It was “the smart move.” I am pretty certain that significant and targeted outreach will be made before the Wednesday 2PM session. Let us not be naïve, that is how things get done in business and in politics; push, pull, leverage and making the deals. Every Representative just like every Capo is looking out for their interests and constituencies. Tolls, fire districts, union relationships, guns, healthcare, education, social safety programs, business deregulation and so on, are the issues that deliver the promises, get the handshake and secure the votes. So what happened in the early morning hours on Tuesday looks a bit like a family feud, a failure to deliver. A good leader will make the calls and better position for the next round. Look, Tony would probably meet you at Artie Bucco’s Vesuvio, buy you a nice glass of red wine and talk a little sense to you. You know, make you better understand his position and why you should rethink yours; in my view, that is a measured and usually fruitful approach.

It’s a Process…

Tuesday evening’s abrupt adjournment was as quick as the Sopranos final scene. It is filled with as many questions as answers. Right now, all is quiet on the Smith Hill, but I anticipate a raucous finish. And, all eyes will be on the man with the gavel. Many will be wondering, what were the devils in the details to get the budget done, when the process is finally ended… Who bent? Who gave? Who dug in? In the end, all we can hope for is fair budget. A budget that cares for our poor, moves to effectively shift people to the Affordable Care Act, keeps promises, makes responsible cuts, spurs job growth, empowers entrepreneurial spirit, helps the struggling construction and development sectors, aids children, seniors and veterans and looks for new and better ways to boost revenue.

Just like the “peculiar tasting sausage” described by Tony’s mom, Livia in season 1, we like to eat it, but we really don’t like to see how it is made.

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A public relations and community outreach specialist, Carol has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager for the Johnston Housing Authority. Her work has been published in several local outlets including: GOLOCALPROV, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.


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