The pandemic at Thanksgiving

Posted 12/3/20

In her last briefing before Thanksgiving, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo thanked Rhode Islanders for their perseverance and their concern for one another. She also underscored the need for people to stay at home as much as possible with a two-week

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The pandemic at Thanksgiving


In her last briefing before Thanksgiving, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo thanked Rhode Islanders for their perseverance and their concern for one another. She also underscored the need for people to stay at home as much as possible with a two-week “pause” starting Monday (although she maintains that students should continue to go to school).

If COVID-19 infections continue to spike, Raimondo said, patients with other concerns will be turned away from hospitals. “If we let it get out of control, we’ll lose Rhode Islanders to other diseases because,” she said, because they can’t get access to care. As it stands, two field hospitals are gearing up to take COVID patients.

The governor outlined efforts to help businesses and the unemployed make it through the pause, through the distribution of $100 million in federal CARES Act money, and she said the state is expanding its testing capacity. While positive news on the vaccine front offers hope for future, Raimondo said the next two weeks will be difficult. And with many Rhode Islanders having changed their Thanksgiving plans, in attempt to limit infections “it’s not an exaggeration,” she said, “to say that you’re saving lives.”

Democrats’ mixed results

Joe Biden’s presidential win was especially sweet for Stephen Neuman, the former chief of staff for Gov. Raimondo, who managed Michigan for Hillary Clinton back in 2016. This time around, Neuman oversaw two of the three Blue Wall states reclaimed by Democrats – Michigan and Wisconsin – along with Minnesota, Ohio, Iowa and Nebraska) for Biden’s 2020 campaign. Still, Democrats lost seats in the U.S. House in this election, and Trump gained support among African-American and Latino voters.

Asked what Democrats need to do differently, Neuman said they have to make a stronger case on their ability to improve the economy. He points to how Biden outpaced U.S. Rep. Ilan Omar of Minnesota by more than 15 points in describing the appeal of the president-elect’s mainstream message.

“I think Republicans have done a successful job of trying to brand Democrats as focused on socialism or wanting to defund the police,” Neuman said on Political Roundtable at The Public’s Radio last week, “and I think by and large, those accusations aren’t true … But Republicans have been successful at trying to paint the party with that brush.”

Glimmers of 2022

The on-ramp to the 2022 gubernatorial race is emerging as we head toward the new year. While staffers come and go, it’s worth noting how Seth Klaiman, who has experience with a number of campaigns, is 1) signing on as chief of staff for General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, one of a number of Democrats expected to run in 2022; and 2) leaving the staff of U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, who has been seen as a possible gubernatorial candidate, due to the expected elimination of one of Rhode Island’s two congressional seats. Yet Langevin has been in Congress for 20 years and even if CD2 leans more conservative, he underperformed a bit last month against a Republican rival, Bob Lancia, who lacked the money to do any TV advertising.

Looking ahead to 2022, the expected Democratic candidates for governor include Magaziner, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and Lt. Gov. Dan McKee. While McKee lags behind in fundraising, he could potentially benefit as a more conservative alternative to the other Democrats (and if Raimondo leaves for a job in D.C., he’d get a big boost in prominent and fundraising capacity).

For now, the landscape is inchoate, but Klaiman’s move signals how we’ll soon be seeing more preliminary activity.

RI House’s good vibes

The new era of good feeling in the Rhode Island House of Representatives can be seen in Joe Shekarchi’s appointments to a task force to see implementation of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Rep. Ray Hull (D-Providence), who with Rep. John Lombardi, has occupied one of two “penalty box” seats at the front of the House chamber in recent years, was named to chair the panel. The task force also includes Rep. Kathleen Fogarty (D-South Kingstown), part of the bloc that didn’t support House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello during the most recent leadership vote, in 2019.

While a House vote on the current budget is likely before year’s end, it’s not definite. Details such as where the House would meet remain in play. The new House majority leader, Chris Blazejewski (D-Providence), shares Shekarchi’s political persona as an affable and well-liked lawmaker. But you can’t always be everyone’s friend when you’re in leadership, so Shekarchi and Blaz appear to be trying to savor the good vibes while they can.

The hunger crisis

The current national network of soup kitchens and food pantries developed during a recession in the early 1990s. The food programs were meant to be a temporary response, but even though the economy got better, the need for emergency efforts to help the hungry has only increased over time.

Now, the pandemic has made things worse. A new study by the RI Community Food Bank finds that 25 percent of Rhode Island households are at risk for hunger, up from about 9 percent before the advent of COVID-19.

Food Bank head Andrew Schiff is hopeful that the Biden administration will offer more support for programs to feed the hungry. But the spiking level of hunger will have lasting consequences, he told me in an interview, urging Rhode Islanders to speak out on this issue to their state and federal elected officials.

The problem with polls

With pollsters taking it on the chin once again in 2020, I wondered how the Biden campaign’s internal numbers compared with public surveys. Stephen Neuman declined comment on the inside data, but he said the campaign’s heavy spend in must-win states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota speaks for itself.

“Some folks were saying, ‘Oh, these are in the bag. You don’t have to worry about those,’” he said on Roundtable. “And the campaign continued to make huge investments there because we understood that we needed to make that sale, we needed to make the case, and we did believe that things were going to be closer than some of the public polls suggested. I think it’s a vindication of the strategy that [Biden campaign manager] Jen O’Malley Dillon put in place and it’s to her great credit.”

Reimagining elections in RI

Common Cause of Rhode Island is staging a (free) virtual event on the theme of “Blueprint for a Great Democracy.” It’s on for Sunday, Dec. 13, from 7-8:15 p.m., on reimagining elections. The panel includes Newport City Councilor Andrea McCalla; Cherie Cruz, executive director of the Formerly Incarcerated Union; Cristin Langworthy, a community organizer with the RI Coalition for the Homeless; first-time poll worker Alex Taylor; and Cranston Elections Director Nick Lima.

Cleaning up while doing well

A Newport soap company is one of the businesses that is doing well during the pandemic by doing good, with a 30 percent reduction in their prices. “Many people losing employment and working off stimulus – and everyone’s kind of struggling. So it’s like, what can we do to do our part?” one of the proprietors of Shore Soap Co. told my colleague Antonia-Ayres-Brown. “It seemed like the right thing to do just to get the product out.”

As Fortress turns

Affordable housing in California is getting a $600 million boost, after Fortress Investment Group failed to get enough investors for a Las Vegas tourist train. Fortress has a link to our region since an affiliate of the firm helps manage Gannett, the owner of newspapers in Providence, Newport, Fall River and New Bedford.

RI in the Senate

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has an outside shot at being the next chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Meanwhile, Rhode Island’s senior senator, Jack Reed, will chair the Armed Services Committee if his party gains control of the chamber through two-run off elections in Georgia.

The Rhody connection

While Gov. Raimondo’s prospects for winding up in the Biden administration remain uncertain, former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, an alum of Brown University, cinches the Rhode Island connection while being poised to be the first female Treasury secretary. Some progressives, including state Sen. Sam Bell (D-Providence) are critical of the pick. Other Democrats, including General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, laud the choice.

“Janet Yellen will be an excellent Treasury Secretary,” Magaziner tweeted. “She’ll push a proactive agenda to rebuild the economy, curb the excesses of Wall Street, & restore the middle class. She’ll make history as the first woman Treasury Secretary. And it all started with a Brown U econ degree!”

Ian Donnis is the political reporter for The Public’s Radio, Rhode Island’s NPR member station. Listen at 89.3 FM or visit You can sign up for weekly email delivery of Ian’s column each Friday by following this link:


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