Russell Moore: Taveras’ Tumultuous Week

Monday, November 04, 2013


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Last week didn’t play out the way Providence Mayor Angel Taveras hoped it would.
The mayor’s announcement that he’ll seek the Governor’s office next year and the events that followed throughout the week certainly had of left something to be desired. The announcement, which took place at the Meeting Street School one week ago Monday, became part of what was an unusually crowded (and unfortunate) news cycle for Taveras.
A crowded news cycle
For starters it was just pure bad luck for Taveras that while he went on bragging about the job he’s done in Providence the Wall Street Journal ran an article about the nation’s struggling cities that mentioned Providence alongside Detroit--not exactly the class you want to be included with. It set up an interesting dichotomy—Taveras’ talking about the success of the capital city under his tenure while the neutral Wall Street Journal mentioned Providence in the same breath as the utter and complete disaster that is Detroit.
His announcement also had to compete for airtime and column inches with Ken Block’s decision to seek the Republican nomination. Block, the former founder of the Moderate Party, unveiled plan that he believes will end up saving Rhode Islanders $1 billion in waste, fraud, and abuse.
Likewise, in a strategic move, General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, who is all but declared for Governor, also stole column inches by teasing that she raised upwards of $400,000 in campaign cash last quarter—a fact GoLocalProv’s Anthony Faccenda reported roughly three weeks prior.
Some wounds are self-inflicted
Then there were self-inflicted wounds. For an inexplicable reason, the Taveras’ camp thought it was acceptable to park illegally at the campaign event, when they knew full well that there’d be scores of news reporters there.
There were no labor unions present at the event—a voting bloc he’ll need on his side if he is to carry the day next September. Lastly, there was some confusion as to Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee’s (who is looking to run for Lieutenant Governor himself) presence. It was first reported on twitter that a Taveras’ staff member said McKee’s presence indicated an endorsement. That was later clarified to mean “support”.
It wasn’t all bad. Later in the week, it was announced that the state association of firefighters would be supporting Taveras in his bid for Governor thanks to his willingness to sit down and hammer out a pension reform deal with the Providence firefighters.

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Losing key staffers
By midweek, it was revealed that Taveras would be losing not one, but two of his closest confidantes and staff members. The Taveras administration announced that Arianne Lynch, his talented deputy chief of staff and the politically savvy Matt Jerzyk, a former community organizer who worked as his liaison to the city council and the state legislature before moving over to the legal department, would be parting company. Neither is expected to take a job with his gubernatorial campaign.
In response to the moves, Sam Bell from the Progressive Democrats of Rhode Island remarked on Facebook that “with the top two progressive staffers gone from the Taveras administration gone, this race is beginning to clarify,” which seems to imply that he doesn’t think that Taveras is as progressive as he would like. It calls into question whether or not other progressive democrats feel the same.
The Weiner Connection
Meanwhile, Taveras announced a key hire in Danny Kedem, who among other various campaigns, recently worked as the now infamous Anthony Weiner’s campaign manager. No one can hold that against Kedem as everyone deserves a second chance and a shot at redemption--even Weiner.
But let's not forget that Kedem, however, jumped ship when it was revealed that Weiner kept on sexting even after the first time the scandal broke. Kedem is a smart guy. He knew full well what he was getting into when he joined that campaign. Even Weiner himself, at the beginning of his campaign mentioned that there could be more revelations about him.
So it was breathtaking how quickly he jumped ship and broke ranks with Weiner as soon as the newer sexting revelation broke last summer. To my mind, it raises the question of Kedem's loyalty. Will he be in for the long haul or will he cut and run at the first sign of trouble? It’s a valid question that Taveras has hopefully pondered.
Money Matters
Lastly, the issue of money continues to hang over Taveras like an albatross. The news by week’s end was that Taveras was only able to increase his campaign coffers by roughly $66,000 after spending. Raimondo, by comparison, increased her war chest by $242,109, after spending considerably more than Taveras in the last quarter. Raimondo is raising more than 3 times the amount of money Taveras is raising.
Love it or hate it, money is the lifeblood of politics. Every time Taveras runs a commercial, Raimondo, and Pell perhaps, will run three. Ditto for every direct mail piece or billboard ad or…well you get the idea.
The Beneficiary
While Clay Pell is a wildcard at this point, things seem to be playing out very nicely for Raimondo. It remains to be seen just what impact Pell’s entrance into the race will mean, but it very well could benefit Raimondo. Thanks to Raimondo’s leadership on pension reform, it’s doubtful she’ll get any public sector labor support. But that support could very well be split, evenly perhaps, by Pell and Taveras.
Further, when the campaign gets negative, and we all know it will, Raimondo will likely benefit by the perception of two men attacking the female candidate. Lastly, women voters may turnout big time to elect our first female Governor.
All that being said, it’s still early, and it remains to be seen how the future will play out. But it goes without saying that Taveras’ campaign rollout, and the events that followed throughout last week, could’ve certain gone smoother for the Providence Mayor.

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A native Rhode Islander, Russell J. Moore is a graduate of Providence College and St. Raphael Academy. He worked as a news reporter for 7 years (2004-2010), 5 of which with The Warwick Beacon, focusing on government. He continues to keep a close eye on the inner workings of Rhode Islands state and local governments.

Related Slideshow: 10 Questions Taveras Has to Answer When Running for Gov of RI

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#10 Fundraising

Can Taveras Keep Up with the Big Boys and Girls in Fundraising?

In America today, one issue that is a factor in nearly every election is fundraising. To date, Taveras has yet to demonstrate any consistent ability to keep up with the leading fundraisers in RI.

Taveras will have to compete with General Treasuer Gina Raimondo, who has $2 plus million on hand and a likely run from Clay Pell (grandson of US Senator Claiborne Pell and whose wife is Olympic skater Michelle Kwan).

Raimondo is on pace to raise $5m and Taveras presently has just $692,000 on hand and would be on pace to raise less than $2 mliion. 

Pell's family has access to nearly limitless dollars - back in the 1990's Pell's grandfather was ranked as one of the wealthiest members of Congress.

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#9 Curse

Can Taveras Break the Providence Mayor's Curse?

For more than 60 years, no Providence Mayor has been successful running for Governor of Rhode Island. You have to go back to the 1950 election when Dennis Roberts was elected Governor.

Since Roberts, a number of Providence Mayors have taken their shot at running for Governor and each has failed mightily.

Most notably, Buddy Cianci's run against J. Joseph Garrahy - Cianci got less than 30% of the statewide vote.

Joe Paolino was expected to win the Democratic primary in 1990, but was beaten badly by Bruce Sundlun and then Warwick Mayor Frank Flaherty.

Sundlun went on to win the general election and Flaherty was later named to the state Supreme Court.

Taveras will have to break a very long curse.

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#8 Hire or Fire

Can Teachers Trust Taveras - and Will Voters Trust His Relationship with the Teachers Unions?

In the midst of the city's political meltdown, Taveras just into his first few months in office fired all the teachers in Providence.

Taveras received strong public support, but within months he capitulated to pressure from the teachers' unions.

Three years later, he is emerging as the candidate of the teachers' union leadership. Will teachers trust him in a statewide race and will voters trust him if he is perceived as too close to union bosses?

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#7 Hispanics

Will Hispanics Vote as a Block in the Primary for Taveras? Are They Influential Enough in the General?

Conventional wisdom is that Angel Taveras will get a big boost from the Hispanic voting block in the primary, but more recently Council members Luis Aponte, Danian Sanchez and Sabina Matos have all openly battled with the mayor on his tax increases and efforts to close pools in low income wards around the city.

While Taveras can rebound and the impact may be large in the primary, the percentage of voters who are Hispanic in the general election is just 7% according to Pew Research:

  • Rhode Island’s population is 12% Hispanic, the 13th largest Hispanic population share nationally.
  • There are 54,000 Hispanic eligible voters in Rhode Island—which ranks 35th in Hispanic eligible voter population nationally. California ranks first with 5.9 million.
  • Some 7% of Rhode Island eligible voters are Hispanic, the 13th largest Hispanic eligible voter population share nationally. New Mexico ranks first with 39%.
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#6 Temperament

Can Taveras Handle the Campaign Pressure and the Office Pressure of Governor?

Taveras had no experience as a chief executive in business or government before taking office in 2011 in Providence. He has increasingly gotten into some very non-productive scrapes.

In 2012, his law office delivered a document to GoLocalProv as part of a FOIA request and those documents included the social security number of every retiree of the City. Instead of taking responsibility he sent his lawyers to court to try to block GoLocal from writing about the mishandling of social security numbers. The judge ruled against Taveras.

In 2013, Taveras has tried to demolish a commuity swimming pool in South Providence because, according to Councilman Danian Sanchez, Sanchez would not vote for Taveras' tax increase.

Will Taveras be able to prove to voters he has the right stuff?

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#5 Base outside Prov

Can Angel Taveras Build a Political Base Outside of Providence?

While Taveras has a strong political base in Providence, it is unclear if he can build a strong political network in critical Democratic strongholds like Woonsocket, Pawtucket, East Providence, Johnston and North Providence.

It is well known that both Democratic Mayors in North Providence and Johnston have had a strained relationship with Taveras.

This strain has played out over critical matters like mutual emergency aid and in 2012, North Providence, Johnston and East Providence all cancelled emergency aid compacts with Providence.

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#4 Women Voters

Can Taveras Compete for Women Voters?

When Taveras ran for Mayor he won the critical block of East Side Democratic women. Part of his success with this critical block of voters was the support he enjoyed from Democratic power Myrth York. 

The two-time Democratic nominee for Governor went all in for Taveras in 2010, but she no longer is active in the inner circle and reportedly would have supported Governor Lincoln Chafee in the primary.

Taveras will need to compete with Raimondo who has already signed former EMILY's list bigwig Kate Coyne-McCoy.

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#3 Star Power

Can Taveras Keep Up with Clay Pell's Star Power?

In 2010, Taveras ran under the motto of "from Head Start to Harvard."  His claim on the American dream proved a successful juxtaposition to two Democrats who had the same political base - Federal Hill (Steven Costantino and John Lombardi).

Now, Taveras may face the fresh-faced Clay Pell. His bio exceeds Taveras as he can claim the legacy of his grandfather's work and hit the circuit with his superstar wife, Olympian Michelle Kwan.

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#2 Issues and Vision

Can Angel Taveras Articulate a Vision for Rhode Island?

Taveras earned good scores for managing the City of Providence's financial crises, but never seemed to develop major policies for economic development, schools, parking, crime, reducing the cost of government or improving the efficiency.
The Superman building's closure happened on his watch, technology company Dassault Systèmes is moving out of Providence, and no major employers were recruited into the city other than the scrap yard on Allens Avenue.
Taveras will need to define a forward looking vision for Rhode Island.
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#1 Crime and Education

Can Taveras Explain His Record on Crime and Education?

The biggest problem for Taveras is his record in Providence.
Most people care about the basics - their jobs, education for their children, how safe their neighborhood is.  These vary questions could be Taveras' Achilles' heel.
According to GoLocal's study of the FBI crime data, Providence is ranked #2 for violent crime per capita in Rhode Island.
The condition of Providence's schools may be worse. Of the 24 schools ranked as poor (de facto failing) in Rhode Island by the Department of Education, 6 of them were Providence Schools and in the rankings of the best high schools in the state, most of Providence's schools consistently litter the bottom of the rankings.
Taveras lead the city to win the $5 million Bloomberg award. But in a Governor's race one of Taveras' opponents is sure to ask, "Mr. Mayor, are you going to bring the same policies you used on crime and education in Providence to the rest of the state?"

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