Gemma-Final_main
It was quite the week in local news and here at Chez Phoenix. A few musings from your humble scribe as we go to press:


WINNERS

The big news, this week, was an agreement that has tax-exempt Brown University forking over an additional $39.5 million in voluntary payments to the cash-strapped city of Providence over the next 11 years.

Mayor Angel Taveras, struggling to rescue the capital from fiscal ruin, is the big winner here, no doubt. But somewhere, Congressman David Cicilline is doing a jig of his own.

Cicilline, of course, preceded Taveras in the mayor's office. And he's taken a lot of heat for declaring the city in "excellent" fiscal condition during his Congressional run two years ago. Should Providence slip into bankruptcy, his already narrow path to re-election would be completely obliterated.

The city, which has also struck deals with the tax-exempt Johnson & Wales University and the Lifespan hospitals for millions in "payments in lieu of taxes," is not yet solvent, of course.

But the Congressman, for now, is still alive.


THE UNPREDICTABLE

Speaking of the Congressional campaign, some thoughts on political volatility.

A few weeks ago businessman Anthony Gemma, who waged a combative race against Cicilline in the Democratic primary in 2010, announced a second run in an odd appearance that ended with him fleeing reporters in an SUV while his supporters noshed on cupcakes.

The kickoff underscored the unpredictable nature of Gemma's political persona: an unusual cocktail of feel-good aphorism, grand pronouncements, offbeat policy ideas, and hard-edged attack (see "Jekyll and Hyde," 3.21.11).

With Gemma set to invest his considerable wealth in a run, it is hard to know where the Democratic primary will go. Will the businessman effectively tap voter anger at Cicilline? Or, if Gemma wages an erratic campaign, could it actually improve the public perception of his embattled opponent?

And what will it mean for the eventual Democratic nominee in his general election tilt with Republican Brendan Doherty? What unexpected issues will bubble up in the primary and bleed into final round? What memorable lines will wind up in television commercials come November?

These are challenging times for the political prognosticator.


ON THE NEWS RACK

This week, Ted Nesi — blogger extraordinaire at WPRI-TV — dug up the latest circulation numbers for The Providence Journal which, like most daily newspapers, has faced a steady slide in recent years.

Circulation for the six months that ended March 31 was down almost 7 percent versus the prior year. And the paper signed up fewer than 300 people for its new electronic edition.

The numbers, no doubt, are disheartening for the higher-ups on Fountain Street — and for anyone, really, who cares about the state of journalism in Rhode Island. But this is not the final word. After all, the ProJo's game-changing erection of a paywall — only those who subscribe to the print edition or pay for the e-edition can get access to the digital version of the paper — came toward the end of the six-month period and its impact cannot yet be fully measured.

The paywall was designed, in large part, to drive readers accustomed to free, web-based news back to the ProJo's more profitable print edition. Three or six months from now, we'll have a better sense for whether the strategy is working.

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