Ethics probe keeps Philly lunch on front burner

Posted 7/6/23

STORY OF THE WEEK: The Rhode Island Ethics Commission last week approved investigations into the ill-fated trip to Philadelphia by two state officials in March. David Patten and James Thorsen no …

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Ethics probe keeps Philly lunch on front burner


STORY OF THE WEEK: The Rhode Island Ethics Commission last week approved investigations into the ill-fated trip to Philadelphia by two state officials in March. David Patten and James Thorsen no longer work for the state, but the probe means that the Philadelphia story will persist into the future. In related news, the state GOP filed an ethics complaint against Gov. Dan McKee, involving a meal with Scout Ltd officials at the Capital Grille. The state GOP savored the Democrats’ ethics cases, sending out a news release – headline: “Rhode Island’s monumental ethics problem” – with a photo-illustration substituting the oversized heads of McKee, Thorsen, Patten and House Speaker Joe Shekarchi, who faces an unrelated probe. “McKee’s free lunch and the donations he took from a state vendor at this lunch is just one small example of Rhode Island’s pay-to-play political culture,” GOP Chairman Joe Powers said, referring to how McKee’s campaign got two checks from Scout the day of the lunch and didn’t reimburse the cost of the meal until after the fact. Mike Trainor fired back with this statement from McKee’s political organization: “[The Republican Party’s response to this matter is highly political and Rhode Islanders know that. The Ethics Commission has an important job – let’s let them do it – and the Mckee administration will cooperate with them fully.” The ethics investigations approved this week are expected to last about six months.

CD1: Thirty-five hopefuls -- 22 Democrats, 4 Republicans and nine independents -- met the deadline to declare for the seat vacated by U.S. Rep. David Cicilline. Each still needs to gather 500 certified signatures by 4 pm on July 14 to qualify for the ballot.

GOT DEBATES?: One of the many Democrats running in CD1, Nick Autiello, sparked curiosity by staging a Friday mid-morning press conference. Some questioned whether he was re-thinking his campaign. Nope. Autiello, as he explained in a news release, wanted to underscore the need for debate among the candidates: “Voters deserve to hear from the candidates running to replace our Congressman debate the issues before voting begins on August 16th. Holding debates one week before the Election and two weeks after early voting begin, is nothing short of voter disenfranchisement, especially in a state where generation change occurs so infrequently. I am calling my fellow candidates to agree to and Rhode Island media to move quickly and schedule debates prior to early voting.”

FEDERAL COURT: U.S. District Court Judge William E. Smith, 63, who was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002, announced plans this week to shift to senior service in 2025. The decision sets the stage for the appointment of a new federal judge, a plum position, for which U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse will have considerable influence. The senators plan to make a future announcement about the application process.

LOCAL FLAVOR: A quintessential Rhode Island tribute for the former Rhode Island Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, who died earlier this year after a fight with cancer. Mr. Lemon in Providence is renaming her favorite flavor – smackin’ apple – in Goodwin’s honor.

TRUCK CASE: Trucking groups continue to line up against Rhode Island’s truck toll program. This comes as RI is appealing a federal ruling against the state. Via industry publication Land Line Now: “Trucking groups in 48 states, along with a handful of trade groups, are also calling foul on the state’s tolling program. The collaborative amicus brief was filed on June 5 by the American Highway Users Alliance, Intermodal Association of North America, National Association of Truck Stop Operators, Truckload Carriers Association, Truck Renting and Leasing Association, and trucking associations from every state except Delaware and Kansas. In the brief, the groups argue that RhodeWorks classification system “exempts around 97% of the total vehicle traffic on the tolled bridges” including passenger vehicles, buses, and Class-5 through -7 trucks.”

REEL LIFE: More than 150 people came to LaSalle Academy for a recent screening of a 26-minute documentary by Dante Bellini (an occasional Take of the Week contributor) about ProJo columnist Mark Patinkin’s battle with kidney cancer. Demons & Dragans is an absorbing look at a life and death fight with disease. This is a universal topic and something that many in the audience, long on past and present ProJo folks, could relate to, either personally or through the experiences of friends and family members. There are funny moments, too, in Mark’s story – about which he is developing a book -- and more than a touch of the mystery and uncertainty of life itself. To cite one example, Mark’s illness (which remains in remission) would have never been discovered had he not impulsively pulled into a clinic for a pain in his side. While the immediate cause was a gallstone, a screening revealed the need to check his kidney and made possible life-saving treatment.

 GENERAL ASSEMBLY: It’s never too early to declare a run for the legislature. That’s the thinking of Earl Read of Coventry, a Democrat aiming for the seat now held by state Rep. Patricia Morgan (R-West Warwick). Read, a 51-year-old retired lieutenant detective with Warwick PD who teaches at Coventry High, tells me he’s announcing early since he’s a first-time candidate and wants to get his name out there. He said he’s always wanted to seek office, but felt compelled to wait until his three children were done with high school. For now, Morgan’s plans for next year remain unclear. She previously told me she was contemplating a run against U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. For now, Morgan tells me via text, “I have been speaking with constituents in my district as well as Rhode Islanders outside of my district who are not happy about the direction our state and federal government are going in. I will continue to talk to them as I do every two years and decide shortly what I plan to do.”

Ian Donnis can be reached at