Silva controversy shows the impact of the unexpected

Posted 9/1/21

While Gov. Dan McKee retains the advantage of incumbency, recent events show how unexpected events can alter the political landscape. McKee was front and center during Tropical Storm Henri - the first major weather event of his term - and the

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Silva controversy shows the impact of the unexpected


While Gov. Dan McKee retains the advantage of incumbency, recent events show how unexpected events can alter the political landscape.

McKee was front and center during Tropical Storm Henri – the first major weather event of his term – and the less-than-expected impact made it easier for the governor to respond. Yet the development controversy involving McKee’s long-time chief of staff, Tony Silva, brought unwelcome headlines.

Silva said he’s done nothing wrong, and McKee had stuck by him. Last week, McKee pronounced himself satisfied with the situation, even as he acknowledged that journalistic scrutiny of the story was justified. A day later, McKee shifted by requesting an outside investigation by Attorney General Peter Neronha. McKee’s office said it sought the probe “out of an abundance of caution to provide full transparency and reassurance to the public and to ensure all information related to the application is brought forward.”

Depending on Neronha’s findings, the issue of a development controversy on Canning Street in Cumberland could fade or intensify (and Silva has now stepped down from his role as chief of staff).

At minimum, it shows how things have gotten more complicated since McKee became governor in March. Back then, he seemed like the luckiest guy around, taking over the state as the pandemic was waning and federal dollars were flowing to Rhode Island. Now, the hat trick of bad weather, unexpected news and the challenges posed by the Delta variant offer a reminder of how much things can change.

To mask or not to mask

“Mask up, Foster-Glocester!” might be the contemporary refrain if Salty Brine was still with us. Foster has backed a mask requirement for students, and despite some local objection, mask requirements remain in place for students at Glocester’s two elementary schools.

In related news, Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, said via tweet it’s absolutely possible to have safe schools, provided that these four steps are observed: “1. Vaccinate adults 2. Ventilate classrooms 3. Test folks weekly 4. Wear masks indoors.”

The race is on Senate District 3

The field in the race to replace former Sen. Gayle Goldin (D-Providence) in District 3 has expanded, with a number of new candidates entering the race, including former Rep. Ray Rickman, former City Councilor Samuel Zurier, business consultant Shirley Francis-Fraser and Bret Jacob, an aide to Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. They join Hilary Levey Friedman and Geena Pham.

With the decisive primary set for Oct. 5, the candidates have a limited amount of time to qualify for the ballot and make their case to voters. Republican Alex Cannon is also running.

Shoreline debate makes waves

With the issue of shoreline access heating up in Rhode Island, a new House commission plans to hold meetings away from the Statehouse, as my colleague Alex Nunes reports:

“Commission member Dennis Nixon, a professor emeritus of marine affairs at the University of Rhode Island, said it makes sense to seek public comment in an area where the subject is especially relevant. ‘This is such a high interest topic,’ Nixon said. ‘To the extent that we can be out there in the field where the actual conflicts are occurring, I think would lend some greater credibility to the work that we’re trying to do.’ The public hearing in South County will be held Nov. 18, likely at a location in Charlestown, said the commission’s chair and state Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D-Portsmouth, Middletown). On Tuesday, the commission also approved state Rep. Blake Filippi (R- New Shoreham, Charlestown, South Kingstown, Westerly) as vice-chair of the commission. The group will likely hold another public comment period at the State House on Oct. 28 and host speakers on shoreline access subjects at meetings throughout the fall.”

The Stones in RI

The death at age 80 of Charlie Watts, the great drummer for The Rolling Stones, sparked thoughts of stories involving the Stones in Rhode Island.

One had to do with the band’s 1972 North American tour, when members of the Stones’ entourage, and possibly Keith Richards, assaulted ProJo photographer Andy Dickerman. The ensuing delay in getting the Stones to Boston Garden led to an extra-long warmup set by Stevie Wonder and Boston Mayor Kevin White encouraging the crowd to remain calm.

There’s another, more recent Stones’ tale involving the Ocean State. In 1981, on the “Tattoo You” tour, the Stones were set to play a surprise gig at what we now call PPAC, with the Beaver Brown band opening up. But ABC6 reported word of the show, leading the Stones to cancel, according to a report in the NewPaper. Instead, the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band decamped for Worcester – Worcester! – where the Stones played a surprise show at a bar called Sir Morgan’s Cove.

Could Elorza toss a curveball?

Campaign watchers have taken as gospel the belief that Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza will run for governor next year, the longstanding challenge of moving from City Hall to the State House notwithstanding. This view is fueled in part by how Elorza has a substantial campaign balance.

It’s worth questioning whether the Providence mayor might shift his attention to pursuing a different state office, such as treasurer. For his part, Elorza said during a recent interview that he may reveal his plans by the end of the year.

Mixing it up

Former colleague Dan Kennedy on how media organizations can try to overcome suspicion from conservatives: “[F]or many daily newspaper editors, running syndicated material in the opinion section isn’t a way to serve readers so much as it is an aversion to new ways of doing things. More local opinion journalism, combined with some national content from the left and the right, would seem like a good mix.”

Are you not entertained?

Via Darius Foroux: “In 1985, Neil Postman, who was a media critic, wrote a book called ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death.’ Postman argued that the media de-emphasizes the quality of information and over-emphasizes our desire to be entertained. Remember, that book was written over 35 years ago in an age without the internet and social media. The trend he saw back then, is 100 times worse today. In fact, the world of media has influenced culture more than anything else. We’re no longer driven by values, morals, loyalty, or family, we’re driven by what the media emphasizes. What’s the overarching theme of all media? Celebrating the rich and famous. Our culture cares about winning, and that’s the only thing that matters.”

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@ripr.org. You can follow him on Twitter @IanDon. For a longer version of this column or to sign up for email delivery, visit www.thepublicsradio.org.


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