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Schaper: Taveras: Pools, Pensions, and Political Posturing

Friday, February 14, 2014


Taveras' posturing over pools and pension reforms may sink his election chances, believes Arthur Schaper.

In what WPRI called “the worst kept political secret,” Taveras’ announcement for Governor of Rhode Island has a wave of popularity behind the candidate--unlike General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, whose pension reforms have demonized her with public sector unions.

WPRI’s Tim White asked Taveras last November "Why does you want to be governor?"

Taveras Answered: “I want to be governor of Rhode Island because I love this state. I grew up here. I’ve been able to pursue the American Dream by working hard, staying in school, going through our public schools, from Head Start to Harvard to Georgetown Law, then come back home to Providence, practice law, and also had the wonderful honor of serving as mayor of the city of Providence.”

The only thing missing was Taveras’ waving the American flag, or the Anchor with Hope as a motto.

His model for governor? Democrat Bruce Sundlun, who “got things done” and faced many challenges, according to Taveras.

What was that last Dem. Governor’s legacy in Rhode Island, anyway? Within hours of his first inauguration in 1991, Sundlun closed 45 credit unions, as their private insurer had gone bust. Depositors waited years before getting their money back, all at taxpayer expense (TARP for RI). He also lost his party’s nomination for a third gubernatorial run, and the Democratic nominee lost to Republican Lincoln Almond in 1994. A man of many homes, marriages (and divorces), per the New York Times obit, Sundlun remained a hot-head even after leaving office, fighting with CVS employees to get plastic forks. ProJo once called him “boorish, aloof, and, at times, inappropriate.”

Might Taveras want to change his mind? He should have resorted to the “Miss Rhode Island” answer: Roger Williams. That worked for Linc Chafee in 2010, didn’t it?

A Couple of Problems

A couple of problems might prevent Angel from taking the governor’s seat in November.

The controversy over the Davey Lopes Recreation Pool sparked local leaders and residents to keep the pool open. While Taveras claimed that the structural damage was too great, and the area would better serve the city as a park, Republican leaders punched back, claiming that Taveras’ decision ignored the needs of working-class residents and minority youth living in the area. Even when the Black Contractors Association offered to repair the pool for free (minus cost for materials), Taveras wouldn’t swim.

Maybe Rhode Island voters will tell Taveras to jump in a like this November.

Pressing on with posturing, the Providence outlined in his last state of the city speech, hopefully the last speech he will give as an elected official, Taveras claimed that Providence is going “in the right direction.”

Taveras addressed the structural deficit which the city faced three years ago:

“It’s difficult to believe that just three years ago Providence stood at the abyss, as we worked to address a $110-million structural deficit and keep our capital city out of bankruptcy.”

What did Taveras do about it?

He did cut his salary by ten percent. Fair enough.

What about the unions? Public employees agreed to a one percent pay cut and waived any raises. Will it make a difference? Last year, Go Local Prov reported that firefighters and police officers took in big-time pay, with overtime, longevity, and benefits putting forty public employees over the $100k mark. Forget pension spiking. Those future retirees will take home a Hail Mary.

Taveras also pushed the City Council to raise property taxes by 6%. How is this leadership? Does he intend to bring more of the “more taxes” scheme to the statehouse, too? He should do what GOP CA Governor Ahh-nold did – give up the entire salary and no taxes (but leave the housekeepers alone!)

About pension reform and liabilities, Taveras asserted:

“History will judge us well. We have reduced the city’s unfunded liability by $186 million. We estimate the city will save $390 million over the next 27 years. . .”

Go Local Prov reported that history might judge Taveras otherwise. Just last week, an independent audit confirmed a lingering liability of $831 million in Providence pension system. Besides Taveras’ (anemic) reforms, the city still faces a structural demand nearing one billion dollars. Instead of Sundlun, perhaps Taveras should have cited “Grand Theft Auto” Cicciline as his model for leadership. What did he do about the costs of doing business in the city? Run for Congress, and dump the problems on his successor. Only Providence knows where that would have gotten Taveras.

As if all the posturing about pools and pensions was bad enough, Taveras for Governor wants to raise the minimum wage . Very clever. Why not jack it up to $20 an hour, Angel? Australia did, with stagnant job opportunities as a result. Economists galore have waged war against minimum wage laws, which hurt minorities and youth. And he wants universal preschool . Taking a worn-out page out of the progressive playbook, Taveras more likely wants to expand union membership and Democratic Party donors. Head Start to Harvard, my patoot!

Angel of Debt Taveras may end up forcing every first-born and future Providential to pay for his past mistakes, present run, and possible tenure as Governor.

Arthur Christopher Schaper is a teacher-turned-writer on topics both timeless and timely; political, cultural, and eternal. A life-long Southern California resident, Arthur currently lives in Torrance. Follow him on Twitter@ArthurCSchaper, reach him at [email protected], and read more at Schaper's Corner and As He Is, So Are We Ministries.


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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