This summer has gone from puddles to ponds


STORY OF THE WEEK: If you were driving around North Providence, parts of Providence or other local communities during torrential downpours early last week, you may have felt like an extra in “Waterworld.” Ponds of covered the streets, and the situation only got worse as afternoon turned to evening, with cars stalling in deep water, some stores on Branch Avenue suffered flooding, families lost homes, and there was some looting. The simple fact is that storm drains in Rhode Island’s capital and other cities and towns can not handle the increased amount of rain that falls quickly during storms. Perhaps you know of a local side street that now floods a few times a year – and then drains within about 30 minutes once the rain passes. Even if not, our very damp summer was not lost on frustrated beachgoers. There are other tangible negative effects from our wetter climate. As my colleague Olivia Ebertz reported, Providence had 19 more favorable days for mosquitos last year than in 1979, ramping up the risk of greater spread of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) and West Nile Virus. Due to increased rainfall, the situation with periodic outbreaks of localized flooding seems bound to persist into the future. If there’s a silver lining, growing evidence of climate change and its impact could bolster public support for heightened efforts to address the situation.

LEATHERNECKS: Of the many Republicans in the U.S. House, why was Rep. Jack Bergman of Michigan chosen to endorse CD1 GOP candidate Gerry Leonard during a news conference last week at Centerdale Revival in North Providence? Leonard quickly made the answer clear – both men served in the Marines, and Leonard twice served under Bergman’s command. Leonard received multiple honors during his long military career, leaving the service with the rank of colonel – the kind of experience that confers credibility and heft for a political newcomer. But it’s another aspect of Bergman’s background, as a Trump-endorsed lawmaker who voted against certifying the presidential vote in 2020, that may resonate less favorably with voters in CD1, which has a pronounced Democratic lean. Asked about this, Leonard didn’t hesitate to say he was honored by Bergman’s endorsement, and he said he’s his own man. As if on cue, the RI Democratic Party responded with a news release later in the week labeling Bergman as “too extreme for Rhode Island.”

MAKING CHANGE: State Rep. Cherie Cruz (D-Pawtucket) won election last year by fewer than 50 votes (for the seat formerly held by Carlos Tobon) and went to prove herself as an effective lawmaker, championing the House version of a bill that became law to prohibit landlords from charging application fees for apartment rentals. As the ProJo’s Antonia Farzan recounted in a compelling profile last year, Cruz overcame poverty and a host of other obstacles to win two degrees from Brown University by the time she was 40. Cruz said her priorities for the next session include so-called “clean slate” legislation meant to make it easier for people who’ve interacted with the criminal justice system to move on with their lives. Asked on Political Roundtable about the balance between the public’s right to know about past charges and the need for a fresh start, she said in part, “I think we need to do more, you know, just in educating people around that, and opening the doors because again, if people do care about safety, and they don't want someone with a past [conviction], right, well, you're going to, it's going to create more of an unsafe condition if people can't work or have housing.”

 POLITICALLY ACTIVE: Alex Moore, who has worked on campaigns for candidates including Aaron Regunberg, David Segal and Sen. Dawn Euer, is signing on as the new political director for SEIU 1199, a force in local politics.

HELP HER RUN: A new non-partisan series to help women and non-binary people run for office is set for this fall, with four sessions in October. Along with practical advice on staging a campaign, the series organized by the women’s empowerment organization Gather RI will include as guest speakers former Rep. Liana Cassar, as well as Reps. Rebecca Kislak (D-Providence), Karen Alzate (D-Pawtucket) and Sen. Bridget Valverde (D-East Greenwich). The sessions are open to women and non-binary people 16 years and older who plan to be in Rhode Island for the 2024 campaign year. “The lack of campaign managers has been a pinch-point for women candidates in Rhode Island,” Anne Holland, founder of Gather RI, said in a statement. “By our estimate, as many as 60 women and non-binary people may run for local office next year in Rhode Island, yet there are only a handful of trained campaign managers to support them. Several organizations already provide training for candidates themselves; however, no one focuses on training campaign managers despite how critical the role is. That’s why we are thrilled to be able to present this unique training as part of our empowerment programs for women.”

 TAKE OF THE WEEK – a mix of views from various Rhode Islanders.

WEAYONNOH NELSON-DAVIES, executive director of the Economic Progress Institute: “The Census Bureau revealed startling new data this week showing 15 million more people living below the poverty line. This is especially devastating after the record gains we made to reduce disparities and child poverty in the last two years. Even more horrifying is that after a historic reduction of child poverty to 5.2% in 2021, it has now more than doubled to 12.4%. Poverty doesn’t just happen — it is a policy choice. Alongside the phasing out of other pandemic-era assistance programs that have proven to reduce poverty, Washington's choice not to renew the expanded Child Tax Credit was the biggest cause. The good news is, we know what works. Now is the time to consider federal and state-level policy choices that result in lifting children out of poverty, eliminating racial disparities, and providing economic justice and broad prosperity in the nation and in Rhode Island. At the Economic Progress Institute’s upcoming 12th Annual Policy & Budget Conference, A Conference of Hope: Igniting the Dream of Economic Justice in Rhode Island, we will be talking about how we can work together to ensure such policy choices for a brighter future.”

JONATHAN HOUSTON, outgoing executive chairman of Justice Assistance: “As I prepare to step away from day-to-day leadership after 45 years at the helm, I look to the political leaders we have partnered with as a model for succession planning. While neither Jack Reed nor Sheldon Whitehouse are going anywhere anytime soon (nor should they), both have done exceptional work to prepare a new generation of leaders in our community. We are seeing this change happen now with the congressional race for CD 1. Rhode Island will have two new representatives. Leadership is and should be transitional. The mold has been set by those such as Sens. Pell, Chafee, Reed, and Whitehouse -- people who search for pragmatic solutions to real problems and challenges. The work we do at Justice Assistance fits that bill. Our CORES program, including Habitat for Justice and JA Health & Wellness, is a groundbreaking one-stop resource to provide justice-involved individuals with the support they need to stay out of the system. Habitat for Justice is a workforce training initiative that is strengthening the building trades and helping solve the state’s housing crisis. Project Restitution is a sentencing alternative for offenders that offers a chance for new beginnings. Project Victim Services addresses the case notification needs and serves as a resource hub for needed support services. It is likely that the next generation of leaders in Washington will build upon and reshape the foundation that Reed, Whitehouse, David Cicilline and others have laid. Just like I am hopeful that the next leader of Justice Assistance will continue the transformative work we have started while bringing a new generation’s perspective to justice issues.”

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@thepublicsradio.org.

politics, Donnis, political


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