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Side of the Rhode: Who’s Hot and Who’s Not in RI Politics?

Friday, May 09, 2014


Every Friday, Dan Lawlor breaks down who's rising and who's falling in the world of Rhode Island politics. Check out who made the lists this week.


Representatives Karen MacBeth and Mike Chippendale - “We’ve kicked the hornets’ nest,” Representative Chippendale told Go Local. MacBeth and Chippendale are the Chair and Secretary of House Oversight, and have both been leading investigations into the state’s failed investment in 38 Studios. For their efforts, both have received threats in the mail against their families - and both continue to do the work of investigation. As Chippendale said,“We’re moving in the right direction.”

Representative Frank Ferri - Ferri is floating a run for Lt. Governor. The Warwick Progressive has been a champion of regular Rhode Islanders (from equal marriage rights for gay couples to keeping Rocky Point a public park to regulation of pay day lenders). Perhaps he’ll work for bringing the LG’s office onto the same ticket as the Governor. Ferri will shake up a primary race dominated by two establishment political figures- Secretary of State A Ralph Mollis and Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee.

Dr. Dan Harrop - Stronger alternatives mean a healthier democracy. Harrop is working with House GOP Leader Brian Newberry to a host a “Victory Fundraiser” from 6:30–8:30pm on the 15th for several Republican Assembly candidates at the American Restaurant, ranging from former Portsmouth Rep Dan Reilly to newcomers Ana Santana (Providence) and Lacey McGreevy (South Kingston). The Providence party is still recruiting City Council candidates.

John Taraborelli - Last summer, Providence Monthly’s Taraborelli wrote, “We can all debate what kind of a job Mayor Taveras is doing – it’s our right as participants in this great democratic experiment – but one thing we can all agree on is that it’s a damn tough job.” To help a new person earn that “damn tough job”, Taraborelli, the writer and columnist, has shifted to working as Mayoral candidate Jorge Elorza’s Communication Director.

Sam Zurier and Keith Olivera - The Providence City Council and School Board are moving toward greater coordination. This past week, the President of the School Board met with the City Sub-Committee on Education to present and discuss issues around school autonomy. It’s a good sign that the adults involved with our schools are having more conversations with one another. A stronger partnership between the City Council and School Board could do wonders to support and engage families and young people.

Institute for Study and Practice of Nonviolence - “The sheer number of deaths of young people by young people prompted [us] to do more than preach and teach,“ noted Sister Ann Keefe, one of the Institute’s founders. Come on out tonight to ”Invest in Peace“ - a fundraiser from 6–9pm at the Roger Williams Botanical Center to benefit the work of the Institute for the ”reduction of gang or group related violence in Rhode Island." In 1999, 26 people were murdered in Providence; in 2000, 30 people were homicide victims. Responding to the violence, the Institute opened in 2001 - and by 2006 there were 11 murders in the city. Last year, following a series of cut backs in programming, there were 14 lives lost. Do your part - let’s invest in peace.

The Late Br. Paul Goodwin, FSC - “The great teachers always stay with you. Deeply saddened by Bro. Paul Goodwin’s passing, but so thankful for all he taught us,” tweeted US Senator Jack Reed on news of the passing of his high school English teacher at La Salle Academy. Br Paul first taught at La Salle in 1959, and despite long periods of work in New York, his last year was this past Spring. To paraphrase Br Paul, “Always remember, be an eagle, not a chipmunk.”


Gordon Fox - As GoLocal reports, “A former subcontractor for 38 Studios is alleging that his firm was ordered to work on former Speaker of the House Gordon Fox’s business colleague Michael Corso’s bar as part of their contract - and has produced what he says is documentation to prove it. Project manager Michael Rossi with SyNet, Inc. has revealed a budget for work which he says shows at $25,000 line item for work to be done at Corso’s Tazza Cafe in 2011 – under a job order for the failed 38 Studios.” As Fox once said, “If you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig.”

1,117 - That’s the number of Rhode Island children who were in emergency homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters and transitional housing during 2013. According to RI Kids Count, children made up 25% of the people who used shelter services last year. Check out the proposed solutions from RI Coalition for the Homeless.

Deborah Gist - A big shakeup! The Education Commissioner’s policy agenda was directly challenged this week, as the Senate Education Committee voted to ban the use of high-stakes testing as a graduation requirement until 2017.

US Drone Policy - “The Senate has quietly stripped a provision from an intelligence bill that would have required President Obama to make public each year the number of people killed or injured in targeted killing operations in Pakistan and other countries where the United States uses lethal force,” writes the New York Times. Obama’s policy has been rightly criticized from US Senators Rand Paul to Mark Udall. As Amnesty International noted, “A basic report on the number of people killed shouldn’t be too much to ask.” Where does our delegation stand on the issue?

220 Blackstone Street - A piece of Providence history is up for sale. The City Property Committee discussed transferring ownership of the Edmund Flynn School (defunct since 2012) from the City of Providence to the Providence Redevelopment Authority. Flynn, in 1968, was one of the first intentionally integrated K–5 schools in the city. Dr Harold Devine, a former Superintendent and one time teacher at Flynn, told GoLocal, “We have all heard that famous saying that every problem has a solution that’s quick, simple and wrong. Today’s problem solvers would be well advised to remember that.”

Patrick Conley - The State’s Historian Laureate, real estate owner, former Providence College developer, and one time Cianci chief of staff recently wrote a fiery op-ed in the Journal denouncing the Coastal Resources Management Council and the Department of Environmental Management, alongside cheering for the regulation mindset of Rhode Island’s Gilded Age. Conley has done much good to illuminate the state’s history, but his recent advocacy around environmental regulations raises an eyebrow. As RI Future blog noted, Conley and DEM “are in court over two separate issues… Both involve properties Conley owned that leeched toxins onto abutting properties, according to DEM documents.”

**Davian Sanchez ** - While the City Councilor is right to call for more transparency in city government (always great), it is bizarre Sanchez is doing so while he faces a $9,420.00 fine from the Board of Elections for failure to file his campaign finance disclosures. Sanchez has taken the lead on neighborhood issues, but needs to settle his accounts. The young Councilor faces several possible opponents in the Democratic primary, including activist Mary K Harris, who was involved in the city’s 100 person May Day parade.


Related Slideshow: INVESTIGATION: Fox, Corso and 38 Studios

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The Early Years

Early 2000s

Fox was emerging as a powerful leader in the House via his role on the Finance Committee and later as Finance Committee Chair. Corso served on the management team at developer's Buff Chace's Cornish Associates.

The two worked together to write and pass the Historic Tax Credit Legislation.

Bio attached from the early 2000's - Cornish Assoicates Website.

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Insiders Had Hands All Over Schilling’s 38 Studios Deal

The owner of the construction company that was awarded a contract to work on the interior of 38 Studios’ downtown headquarters has close ties to House leadership and other prominent local politicians, GoLocalProv has learned.

Steven Nappa, who owns Nappa Construction Management, has contributed over $16,000 over the last decade to top politicians including House Speaker Gordon Fox, Congressman and former Providence Mayor David Cicilline, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, former House Speaker William Murphy and former House Finance chairman Steven Costantino. In June 2011, Nappa also contributed $1,000 to the Fund for Democratic Priorities, a political action committee maintained by House leadership.

Nappa is also connected with Michael Corso, a Providence lawyer who has made a fortune helping to sell state tax credits and was involved in the earliest meetings between Schilling and Rhode Island officials. The two hosted a private fundraiser at the Peerless Lofts for then-Majority Leader Fox in 2007. Nappa also helped build the movie screen located in the open space next to Tazza, the downtown café owned by Corso.

Corso himself has contributed $11,625 to Fox, Cicilline, Taveras, Murphy and other local politicians in recent years.

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Movie Tax Credits

Corso and Movie Tax Credits

The Providence lawyer who pledged more than $14 million in Rhode Island motion picture tax credits that had not actually been issued as collateral in order to obtain an $8.5 million loan for Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios is now playing a behind-the-scenes role in a Michael Corrente movie that is slated to receive $625,000 in state tax credits, GoLocalProv has learned.

Michael Corso, a top tax credit broker whose loan agreement with BankRI is among several 38 Studios-related matters currently being investigated by state and federal authorities, is one of seven producers for “Backmask,” a horror film currently being shot in Exeter, according to IMDB. Corso’s business partner, Anthony Gudas, is listed as the executive producer and former State Rep. John Loughlin has a small role in the film.


On Monday, the Rhode Island Film and TV Office confirmed the film has received an “Initial Certification Letter” for the tax credits. Corso did not respond to a request for comment.

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Tazza Fundraiser

Questions Surround Speaker Fox’s Relationship with 38 Studios Insider

Several weeks after initial inquiries from GoLocalProv, House Speaker Gordon Fox still isn’t answering questions about a 2007 fundraiser held for him by the lawyer who would play a pivotal role in bringing Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios to Rhode Island three years later.

In March 2007, Michael Corso, Steven Nappa and Robert Britto of Nappa Building Corp. and former State Representative Ray Rickman were listed as the hosts of a private fundraiser held in the Peerless Lofts for the then-Majority Leader. The event, which helped Fox rake in approximately $10,000, was catered by Tazza, the downtown café owned by Corso.

But while Fox’s campaign finance reports from the time include details about several other fundraising events held during the first quarter of 2007, there is no information listed about expenses incurred for the Corso-hosted event, which may constitute a campaign finance violation.

“Speaker Fox has been extremely busy entering the final two weeks of the session, but he will soon be checking the campaign records from five years ago,” Fox spokesman Larry Berman told GoLocalProv on June 4. “If corrections are necessary to the report, he will make them.”

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Fox and Corso

38 Studios Insiders Have Been Connected Since May 2009

The lawyer at the center of the deal that brought Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios to Rhode Island had a business relationship with a top executive at the video game company a year before a piece of legislation that expanded the EDC’s Job Creation Guaranty Program was pushed rapidly through the General Assembly.

On May 29, 2009, Michael Corso, a top tax credit broker whose relationship with House Speaker Gordon Fox helped steer 38 Studios to the Ocean State, struck a deal to purchase credits handed out for the multi-million dollar Stone House hotel project in Little Compton from the Round Pond Management Corporation, whose President was Tom Zaccagnino.


By June of that year, Zaccagnino, who was also the co-managing director at the Wellesley Advisors Corporation in Maynard, MA, had become Vice Chairman and Lead Director of 38 Studios. A month later, Haymarket Capital, an LLC with the same address as the Wellesley Advisors Corporation, was involved with the seven-figure bridge loan a group of Rhode Island investors provided to 38 Studios.

In March of 2010, Zaccagnino and Schilling met with Speaker Fox and former EDC director Keith Stokes in Corso’s downtown law office. By May, the General Assembly had expanded the EDC’s loan guarantee fund from $50 million to $125 million, the exact amount the EDC awarded to 38 Studios later that summer.

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Crony's Bar

38 Studios Contractor Ordered to Install Equipment in Fox’s Crony’s Bar

A former subcontractor for 38 Studios is alleging that his firm was ordered to work on former Speaker of the House Gordon Fox's business colleague Michael Corso's bar as part of their contract - and has produced what he says is documentation to prove it.
Project manager Michael Rossi with SyNet, Inc. has revealed a budget for work which he says shows at $25,000 line item for work to be done at Corso's Tazza Cafe in 2011 -- under a job order for the failed 38 Studios.
Warwick-based SyNet bills itself as "the premier design-build low voltage contractor of structured cabling, access control, surveillance and audio visual systems in the Northeast."
Representative Mike Chippendale, Senior Deputy Minority Leader and Secretary of House Oversight who is leading the investigation into 38 Studios along with Rep. Karen MacBeth, told GoLocal, "[Rossi] has hit a number of things on the head, things he wouldn't have been able to have known otherwise. He was able to validate some things, and the State Police has said they have determined the [budget] document has credibility."
"We're moving in the right direction," said Chipendale, who along with Macbeth have both been the target of mail threats in the past month. "We've kicked the hornets' nest."
Rossi said when he was working at SyNet, he was aware the 38 Studios work could be a possibility. "When my boss called me to say we got the project, that I was going to oversee the [network infrastructure] work, I thought, "Wow...38 Studios. This is big."
"As soon as I started working, they told me to order cable right away," continued Rossi. "I didn't have a permit. Arguments went back and forth. I walk out, I say I don't have a budget, I'm not doing it. I get berated by my boss to get back on the job. Next day, I get the budget, I'm back on the site -- and there are walls up already, with no permits pulled."
A portion of the SyNet 38 Studios budget document with a line item for work on Corso's Tazza bar and restaurant.
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Rhode Island Cartoonist Takes Aim on Fox and Corso

In the midst of Gordon Fox's 2012 re-election effort, he distanced himself from his longtime friend, Mike Corso.

Rhode Island's iconic catoonist took aim at Fox's claim and artfully tied Corso and Fox together.


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