Russ Moore: Raimondo’s First Test, Keep The Pawsox in RI

Monday, January 12, 2015


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Just mere days into the Governorship of Gina Raimondo and she’s already tasked with a tall order—find a way to keep the Pawtucket Red Sox where they belong—in Pawtucket.

Like so many issues faced by new governors, the issue is one that was never even mentioned during last year’s highly contentious gubernatorial campaign. The potential sale of the Pawtucket Red Sox wasn’t on anyone’s radar screen. Instead, we were busy talking about the route 195 land, the minimum wage, abortion, and scores of other issues.

First Test

During Raimondo’s inaugural speech last week, she called for patience in her quest to improve the Rhode Island economy. While we never heard her say that it was going to take a long time to fix the state’s economy during her campaign, she is undoubtedly correct that real reforms take time to bear fruit.

But the news of the potential sale and moving of the Pawtucket Red Sox gives her an opportunity to showcase her considerable talents of persuasion, marketing, and business acumen. Raimondo needs to make the case to the new Pawtucket Red Sox ownership that Pawtucket remains an ideal place to keep the major league clubs minor league affiliate. That may require some well-thought-out incentives.

If Raimondo, and Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien can convince the potential new owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox to stay in Pawtucket, they will save scores of season jobs as well as a bunch of yearlong full-time jobs that are needed to keep the operation up and running. That’s very important for a city like Pawtucket and the state of Rhode Island, both of which need all the jobs they can get (and keep).

A Challenging Opportunity

To his credit, Grebien’s staff told the Providence Journal last week that the mayor’s vision includes transforming the Pawtucket Red Sox surrounding area into a mini Patriot Place, with clothing stores and restaurants surrounding the stadium. That would be a terrific idea that would represent a great deal of economic development for Pawtucket.

It’s a good sign that Raimondo appears willing to work on saving the Pawtucket Red Sox. Should she succeed, it would represent her first victory as the state’s governor.

The issue is about more than just jobs and economic development, though that issue is clearly tantamount right now. The issue is also about culture and the Pawtucket Red Sox are an important aspect of Rhode Island’s cultural scene.

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When Mondor died in late 2010, nobody really considered the fact that his successors would consider selling the team. But perhaps it should’ve been considered. Ben Mondor, the highly charismatic and beloved owner of the Pawtucket Red Sox, who saved the team from bankruptcy in 1977, kept the team located in Pawtucket, renovated the stadium several times and making it one of the most beautiful and fan friendly minor league ballparks in the nation. Without Mondor’s vision, energy, and passion for the ballclub in Pawtucket, something has been missing.

Pawsox are Integral Part of RI culture

That’s bad news. Unlike their counterparts up in Boston, the Pawtucket Red Sox owners have put their target customers ahead of their own greed. Pawtucket Red Sox fans don’t need to take out a loan or visit their local pawn shop in order to buy four tickets to the game (it would cost under $30) and buy a few sodas and hot dogs and popcorns for the kids. Even the souvenirs are reasonably priced.

Further, the stadium also features super convenient parking. Paid parking, as of last year, cost a mere two dollars, and if you’re too cheap to fork that over (like your humble correspondent) than there’s an abundance of on-street parking available.

As every baseball fan knows, the Boston Red Sox are the exact opposite. The Boston Red Sox ownership tries, not unsuccessfully, to squeeze every last dollar out of their fans. Unlike the Pawtucket Red Sox ownership, which viewed their fans as a resource to protect, the Boston Red Sox ownership takes a more predatory view of their fans—charging obscene prices for souvenirs and snacks at ball games. Feel like have an ice cold beer and a hot dog? Better have a $20 bill in your pocket!

Is She Up To The Task?

That’s the other reason why it’s so important for the Pawtucket Red Sox to stay here. Families, especially during difficult economic times, need an outlet like the Pawtucket Red Sox to entertain their children and introduce them to the great game of baseball without breaking their budgets in the process. The Pawtucket Red sox have been that place for literally decades, and to lose that treasure would be a nightmare.

That’s something Gina Raimondo doesn’t need on her record or her watch. Thankfully, Raimondo is extremely talented, intelligent, and understands business. Here’s hoping she can handle this situation as brilliantly as she handled her gubernatorial campaign. There’s a lot at stake.

And Rhode Island will be watching.

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Russell Moore has worked on both sides of the desk of RI media, for both political campaigns and newspapers. Follow him on twitter @russmoore713 or send him email at [email protected]


Related Slideshow: 10 Questions Raimondo Has to Answer as Governor

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Moving the needle?

Forbes recently ranked Rhode Island 5th worst in the country for business environment -- a not uncommon position for the Ocean State in recent years.  Forbes placed RI as high as 20th for quality of life -- but #49 for "regulatory environment."

How soon can Governor-elect Raimondo improve Rhode Island's basement-level assessment and make it more competitive -- and what will she have to do to make that happen?  Addressing the sales tax? Estate tax?  Look to Raimondo's State of the State address -- and first budget proposal -- for signs as to how the direction the new Governor plans on taking the state.  

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Gambling hole?

As GoLocal's Stephen Beale pointed out, RI has no plan to deal with $307,000,000 shortfall, when casinos in MA are operational, and RI's third largest source of revenue -- gaming and the Division of Lottery -- will take a huge hit.  "A consultant's report showed Rhode Island losing $108.8 million a year in casino gaming revenue by 2017. And that was a best case scenario. The worst case had the state bleeding $158.4 million by 2017," wrote Beale.

How will Governor-elect Raimondo deal with the 800-pound gorilla in the room?  Newport Grand failed in its bid for table games on the ballot in November.  Will Raimondo let the General Assembly continue to prop up the ailing slots parlor?

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RhodeMap RI?

The previously little-known economic development plan under the State's Division of Planning -- made possible by a federal HUD grant -- has heated up in a big way as opponents are voicing their concerns as to the scope and reach of the plan, if incorporated into the state's broader economic plan.  

Will Governor-elect Raimondo get behind RhodeMap RI's vision fully, and how would she address detractors who don't appear to be going away at any point soon?  Given that there will most likely need to be legislative components to implement the plan, watch to see where Raimondo's leadership is on this issue. 

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Marijuana legalization?

Some of the air came out of the marijuana legalization balloon when former Speaker of the House Gordon Fox stepped down last year, and the notably more conservative Speaker Nicholas Mattiello took the helm, making the prospect of a marijuana legalization bill appear dim, at best.  

The Daily Chronic reported that the Democratic gubernatorial candidates indicated during the campaign that they were "monitoring the effects of regulation and taxation in Colorado and Washington."  Raimondo's certainly given no indication she'd be inclined to consider a tax-and-legalize measure, but as gaming revenues start to taper off, will marijuana discussion ramp up as a new revenue option?  

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Union relations?

While Raimondo appointed five transition team members with big banking ties, she also appointed two union heads -- Pat Quinn with SEIU 1199 and Michael Sabitoni with the RI Building and Construction Trades Council.  

While Raimondo managed to secure union endorsements following a primary that saw them go primarily to opponents Angel Taveras and Clay Pell, the legacy of her pension reform still looms large (remember AFSCME famously hired Forbes' Edward Siedle to investigate Raimondo's handling of the state pension fund, namely her move into hedge funds).  How will Raimondo negotiate with public sector unions given a past history? 

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Pension Lawsuit?

What will come of the pension reform lawsuit?  While it was quiet leading up to the election following the failed settlement earlier in the year, watch to see the next steps from Raimondo -- and newly elected Treasurer Seth Magaziner (who appointed a fairly union-friendly transition team) to see what attempts may arise to reach a new settlement -- and what implications that may mean for Raimondo, the architect of the landmark 2011 pension overhaul. Depending on the outcome, watch to see how Raimondo's political star rises -- or falls -- from the outcome of the suit -- and how Raimondo addresses the financial implications if a mediated settlement is achieved.  

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Budget proposal?

All eyes will be on Raimondo's first budget proposal in January.  What will her priorities be?  Will there be bold moves to improve the state's business climate? Education, infrastructure, tax code -- how will Raimondo choose to tackle the state's biggest issues?  And will the Democratic leadership agree with her agenda?

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General Assembly?

For the first time since 1991 -- when Governor Bruce Sundlun took office -- a Democrat will be embarking on a gubernatorial administration, and Raimondo will be working with a Democratic legislature.  What will Raimondo's working relationship be with Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Paiva-Weed?  Will the General Assembly be in lockstep with a Raimondo agenda -- if not, what will the points of contention be?  And with a democratic lock on power, what will the Republicans be able to accomplish?  

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Mandate issue?

Winning the general election to become Rhode Island's first female Governor with 40% of the vote, Raimondo follows in the footsteps of Governor Lincoln Chafee with winning with less that 50% of the vote.  Raimondo however has the advantage over her predecessor by being elected as a Democrat, allowing her to work with leadership in the General Assembly.  However, with 40% of the vote, how will the public who didn't vote for her view here policies and proposals?  Will Raimondo have to win over the public, or will Raimondo take her support from the business community and forge a path regardless?

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While General Treasurer, Raimondo came under fire for lack of transparency for the lack of disclosure of hedge fund fees paid for the state's retirement investments, punctuated by Attorney General Peter Kilmartin ruling that Raimondo could keep certain details of the state's investments from the press.   Forbes' Edward Siedle wrote, Does [Kilmartin] seriously believe that hedge and private equity billionaires entrusted with state workers retirement savings should be shielded from scrutiny regarding potential violations of law?
While Raimondo will no longer be calling the shots as the head of the State Investment Commission, all eyes will be her decisions in the Governor's office.  How transparent with the Raimondo administration be with the press-- and the public?


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