McKee's race against COVID

Posted 1/27/21

Lt. Gov. Dan McKee - who is poised to assume leadership of Rhode Island as soon as early next month - said the limited amount of COVID-19 vaccine represents "e;a juggling act that's going to be virtually impossible to manage."e; The timing is crucial -

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McKee's race against COVID


Lt. Gov. Dan McKee – who is poised to assume leadership of Rhode Island as soon as early next month – said the limited amount of COVID-19 vaccine represents “a juggling act that’s going to be virtually impossible to manage.”

The timing is crucial – because 1) people are understandably frustrated and chafing at restrictions, as the pandemic moves into its second year; 2) positive data is leading such states as Massachusetts to relax some settings; 3) the pandemic is underscoring two separate and unequal health systems, in the poor parts of American cities and in headlines about local hospital board members getting prioritized in the vaccination process; and 4) most consequentially, new variants of COVID could lead to a big surge in new cases.

Dealt with this hand, McKee is assembling a team of advisers ranging from Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown’s School of Public Health, to kitchen cabinet members like Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena.

“He’s a nurse – he’s providing vaccinations right now,” McKee said of Polisena on Political Roundtable last week. “The challenge right now is to make sure as the supply increases that we really get as many shots into as many people’s arms as quickly as possible. Right now, it’s very limited. I think you have to be very restrictive. I think you have to call people out like the hospital board as doing not doing the responsible thing there.”

Pocketbook issues

General Assembly fundraising has been among the casualties of the pandemic. The House speaker typically kicks off the fundraising season in early January, followed in close order by the Senate president and other lawmakers.

Now, though, the calendar of upcoming events kept by the RI Democratic Party is bereft of fundraisers. While Speaker Joe Shekarchi ($1.1M) and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio ($150K) are hardly hurting when it comes to the balance in their campaign accounts, the absence of fresh campaign cash will be felt more acutely by rank and file lawmakers.

Who gets vaccinated?

The Rhode Island House of Representatives’ slow start to the 2021 session continued with a pause after several state reps and many staffers came down with recent infections.

Lt. Gov. McKee said he supports prioritizing general officers and state lawmakers as “certainly a second-tier priority – how you going to be able to do the work that needs to be done unless your elected officials are actually in a spot where they can conduct their affairs?”

He also supports prioritizing vaccinations for teachers and support staff.

McKee said he’ll meet in the coming week with the boards of Rhode Island nursing homes. Meanwhile, he said, with about 80,000 people over age 75 and 14,000 shots coming in a week, the math speaks for itself.

Raimondo’s origin story

With Gov. Gina Raimondo winding down her time as governor, it’s worth revisiting how she emerged on Rhode Island’s political scene, becoming the state’s first woman governor, the first Democrat to become governor since Bruce Sundlun in 1992, and someone whose national profile remains on the rise.

The origin story goes like this: about 15 or so years ago, Jack McConnell, then-treasurer of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, and Kate Coyne-McCoy, then a regional leader with EMILY’s List, had a chance meeting at the Amtrak station in Washington, D.C. On the ride back to Rhode Island, they mused on a list of prospective female candidates in the Ocean State.

Coyne-McCoy or McConnell – this has been lost in the fog of fading memory – came up with Raimondo. The duo got increasingly animated with a recitation of Raimondo’s credentials: Smithfield. LaSalle. Harvard. Yale Law School. Oxford. Venture capitalist. And then variously: “And she’s (blanking) Italian!” or “And her last name ends in a vowel!”

Raimondo went on to run and win her first race a few years later, for general treasurer, in 2010.


Gov. Raimondo’s disappearance from public settings and questions from reporters is unusual for her Rhode Island tenure, even if it is part and parcel of how various Biden nominees are shunning the press.

Raimondo became a media darling due to her much-heralded pension overhaul in 2011, leading to outbreaks of “Raimondomania.” Now, though, with her posture set toward D.C., the Rhode Island Press Association and the New England First Amendment Coalition are among those calling on Raimondo to resume participation in news conferences, pointing to the need for her to provide information about COVID vaccination and other subjects.

As the ProJo turns

David Ng has been named as the new executive editor at the Providence Journal, the first person to land as an outsider in that post since Dave Butler. Ng succeeds Alan Rosenberg, who retired last month.

Ng brings considerable experience in the New York market, having held leadership posts at the Daily News, New York Post and Newsday. As an Asian-American, he’s probably also the first non-white person to lead the statewide daily.

“The goal of any paper is to be the town square for its citizens whether it’s a city, state or nation, a place where we gather to share our stories and to exchange ideas and debate our opinions,” Ng told the ProJo. “It used to be just print but now it’s also a digital town hall, as well. These are tough times and people are making tough decisions. And our neighbors, friends and families need facts, information that they can trust, to make those tough decisions. And the powers that be need to know that. The Providence Journal’s soul is fulfilling that mission. I hope to keep fulfilling that mission for readers, present and future.”

Poli-media people on the move

Congrats to Alexa Gagosz, formerly of Providence Business News, who is the first of a few new hires at The Boston Globe’s Rhode Island office … Congrats, too, to D.C.-based Graham Vyse for signing on as an associate editor with a new current-affairs publication called The Signal … Veteran comms staffer Emily Martineau is now communications manager for ONE Neighborhood Builders … Last but not least, honorary Rhode Islander Devin “Short Pants” Driscoll is now an associate at Fredrikson & Byron in Minneapolis.

LG or no LG?

With Gov. Raimondo set to deliver her final State of the State address on Feb. 3, Lt. Gov. Dan McKee’s conversion to governor, and naming of his successor as LG, will likely happen in short order right after that.

Rhode Island GOP National Committeeman and local historian Steve Frias makes the case for eliminating the LG’s office and its annual budget of more than $1 million:

“The office of Rhode Island lieutenant governor is not only nonessential; it is relatively expensive compared to other states. In a number of states, the lieutenant governor is part-time position with little staff. For example, in Vermont, the lieutenant governor presides over the Senate, but receives only part-time pay and has only one staff member. In contrast, the Rhode Island lieutenant governor has a salary of over $120,000 and a staff of seven employees. According to the Council of State Governments, the Rhode Island lieutenant governor is about the 13th highest-paid lieutenant governor in the nation. Also, based on recent information from the National Lieutenant Governors Association, the Rhode Island lieutenant governor’s staff appears to be among the largest in the nation.”

The real threat

The metal detector greeting most visitors to the State House was introduced as a response to 9/11. But the heavy recent presence of State Police and National Guard troops around the state Capitol was due to the threat of domestic terror. Studies point to right-wing attacks as the biggest terrorist threat in the U.S.

A man in full

Give it up for Henry Aaron, 86, one of the immortals of baseball, who surpassed Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record while facing death threats amid an outpouring of racism. He was a model of consistency and accomplishment bridging the 1950s and the 1970s. May he Rest in Peace.

Ian Donnis is the political reporter for The Public’s Radio. He can be reached at For more of his coverage, visit and follow him on Twitter (@IanDon).


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