Russell Moore: Raimondo vs. Taveras vs. Pell?

Monday, October 28, 2013


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We’re still more than 10 months away from next year’s primary, but Providence Mayor Angel Taveras became the first official Democrat candidate in the race for Governor today.

The Taveras announcement sets up a clash of the titans scenario that will delight politics junkies like myself. With every passing day, it’s looking like the race for the Democratic Primary Nomination will be a three way matchup between Taveras, General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, and Clay Pell, the wealthy grandson of former Senator Claiborne Pell.

All three candidates have their own sets of strengths and weaknesses.

Taveras, the popular first-term Providence Mayor brought the city back from the financial precipice and has an inspiring rags-to-riches story. The Head Start to Harvard slogan he used in his Mayoral bid will likely prove an effective messaging strategy once again. Make no mistake about it: Taveras will be a force to reckon with in the Democratic Primary.

Money matters

The major problem for Taveras is money. Fundraising numbers will be released by October 31, but as of the last reporting period, Taveras had roughly $700,000 in campaign cash. One of his primary opponents, General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, had about $2.1 million. That means she can outspend him 3-1. And sources for the Raimondo campaign say she hauled in well over $400,000 last fundraising quarter—which will widen her financial advantage.

Raimondo’s detractors will point out that when you’re administration of the pension fund has it paying $70 million in fees—when the previous Treasurer, Frank Caprio (who will be a Treasurer candidate next year)—was paying about $20 million, it’s rather easy to raise money. Those folks should remember an old saying: don’t hate the player, hate the game. Let’s not forget, without fundraising—we’ll become an oligarchy pretty quickly. Only rich people will be able to afford campaigns.

Earlier last week, Taveras called on Raimondo to disavow financial contributions from so-called “super pacs”, the existence of which was enabled by the now infamous Citizens United Court decision. Riamondo brushed aside the idea and suggested there’s some hypocrisy on Taveras’ part by pointing out that he’s benefited from attacks against her by third parties—namely public sector unions.

Can Raimondo take the heat?

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Raimondo finds herself in a unique predicament. Her biggest asset—proposing and shepherding pension reform—is also her greatest liability. Thanks to her leadership on that issue, she faces stout opposition from the state’s teachers’ public school teachers unions and state workers, who believe that she proposed pension cuts solely to benefit her Wall St. backers—not out of concern for the fiscal health of the pension plan.

There’s a voting bloc out there who will support anyone but Raimondo. But with the entrance of Pell into the race, that voting bloc could be split between two candidates, he and Taveras. That could provide Raimondo the boon she needs to prevail when all is said and done. Raimondo will also benefit by being the only woman in a three-person race. And if the primary gets ugly, and it will, her support amongst females will strengthen.

All that being said, Pell’s entry into the race, first and foremost, benefits himself. Pell comes from a wealthy family, making fundraising a non factor for him the same way it was for Lincoln Chafee in 2010. Given that his grandfather was a US Senator for decades and has the main bridge in Newport named after him—not to mention the federal grants that so many Americans use to go to college—he has plenty of name recognition. He has a celebrity wife in Michelle Kwan, and connections to the Obama administration.

Pell for Governor?

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Let’s not go putting him in the statehouse just yet, however.

Pell has his own set of weaknesses that he’ll have to address. For instance, does he have any experience that would engender him to the state’s top governmental post? And what’s with this unwillingness to speak with the press thus far—is that beneath him?

And is his status as elite an asset or a liability in this election? Could this be the election that Rhode Islanders decide they’re tired of voting for candidates with massive personal wealth and political pedigrees? Governor Lincoln Chafee’s paltry approval ratings that forced him to step aside does not bode well for wealthy candidates from political dynasties.

Two weeks ago, Clay Pell was seen riding RIPTA. I guess he was interested in experiencing how the other 99 percent gets by firsthand. How thoughtful! And it’s interesting, if not disconcerting, to see that Pell appeared and spoke before the National Education Association leadership last week, but still hasn’t bothered to speak to the press. One would think that Pell knows he can reach a larger audience by speaking to the press instead of certain political interest groups. Apparently, first thing is first, and for Pell, that’s special interest groups.

If Pell wants to be Governor, one would hope that he has some compelling ideas and leadership skills. Just showing up ain’t enough, Mr. Pell.

To make history, or not?

Further, both Raimondo and Taveras can and will point out that a victory by either would make history. Raimondo will remind women voters that a Raimondo victory would mark the first time in the state’s history that a woman occupied the state’s top job. Taveras would be the state’s first Latino Governor. Both have actually needed public transportation in their lives.

When Pell does get into the race, expect to hear plenty about the modest beginnings of Taveras and Raimondo. Both will argue that they had to fight for and earn everything they’ve ever had in a tough world—a contrast to Pell.

There’s one thing for certain in this uncertain race—it will be a delight to political observers. Given all the variables, the race will be as interesting as it is hard to handicap. Rhode Island always delivers on the politics front.


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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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