“Frankly we would love to know what’s going on in your head. There are some in our group who think you lack a depth of understanding of just how catastrophically serious the climate crisis is. Others think you are simply a ruthless politician, applying a Wall Street analysis of short term expediency to all your choices…”

Climate Action Rhode Island to Governor Gina Raimondo

Welcome to a short, vacation week edition of The Uprising!

1. Climate Action Rhode Island

Climate Action Rhode Island (CARI) made a strong effort to reach Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, trying to understand exactly what the disconnect is between the Governor’s words and her actions. It’s not enough, says CARI, to be slightly better on environmental and climate issues than members of the Republican Party:

“Some of our disagreement has involved how to appreciate the obvious fact that your climate politics are better than that of the president or most of the Republican Party. But it’s important to recognize the context that Republican climate politics is a gleeful assault on civilization and will certainly be remembered as one of history’s greatest crimes against humanity. Theirs is a sociopathic politics. Personally, I have never been thanked for not being a murderer. That would be absurd, because that is such a basic prerequisite of being a person in the world that to express such thanks would suggest offensively subpar standards of decency. In the same vein, some of us are deeply uncomfortable with the practice of thanking Democratic politicians for not unapologetically selling the world for short term financial gain.”

2. 44 Hospital Street

The Providence City Council Finance Committee held a meeting two days after Christmas to discuss a proposed tax stabilization agreement or a building already completed at 44 Hospital Street by real estate developer Henry Mu.

One problem with offering tax incentives after a building has finished is that “it is now difficult if not impossible” to ensure that “the construction is performed by a percentage of Minority Business Enterprises, construction workers are properly classified as W2 employees, the developer enters into a First Source Agreement, apprentices perform a percentage of the construction work and a good faith effort is made to ensure materials are purchased from Providence vendors,” reads a letter sent to Finance Committee Chair John Igliozzi (Ward 7) sent by union representatives and politicians including Providence City Councilor-elect Rachel Miller (Ward 13) and State Senator-elect Samuel Bell (Democrat, District 5, Providence).

Another reason to oppose the tax relief for the project expressed in the letter is that, “the fundamental purpose of the Providence Tax Stabilization Investment Act, pursuant to which TSAs are issued, is to ‘encourage investment in Providence.’ By constructing the building in the absence of any tax relief, the developer of 44 Hospital Street plainly demonstrated that it did not need any such “encouragement” to invest in Providence. Providing tax relief to a developer that did not ask for or need it serves no legitimate purpose under the Act.”

Mu was at the hearing and through his lawyer pointed out that the application for a tax stabilization agreement was submitted two years ago and that the City Council has been dragging its feet in getting around to discussing it. Either way, the Finance Committee made no decisions on the proposal Thursday evening.

3. Jack Reed and John Picerne

The relationship between Rhode Island real estate developer John Picerne and United States Senator Jack Reed is put under a microscope in this Reuters piece by by Joshua Schneyer and Andrea Januta.

Piscerne is one of the Army’s largest and best paid landlords, and many of the homes he provides to military families are unhealthy and squalid.

“Picerne’s rise into the first rank of Army landlords followed a pivotal trip he made to North Carolina’s Fort Bragg 17 years ago

“Bragg was the crown jewel of the Army’s housing privatization program. The country’s most populous military base, it includes nearly 6,500 family homes

“Picerne set out to pitch his services to Army brass. He chartered a private jet to visit Bragg in August 2001, and brought along a distinguished guest, Democratic Senator Jack Reed. A family acquaintance and fellow Rhode Islander, Reed sat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which oversees military spending. He is now the committee’s ranking member.

“Reed was once a Bragg resident himself, as an officer in the base’s famed 82nd Airborne Division, before entering politics. A spokesman for the senator, Chip Unruh, confirmed that Reed made the trip. Reed flew to Bragg with Picerne because the senator ‘wanted him to understand the importance of serving soldiers and see firsthand what they do, the challenges they face, the sacrifices they make, and the importance of taking good care of them,’ Unruh said

“‘Senator Reed respects John Picerne and his work on behalf of military families,’ Unruh said. “There is no stronger advocate for military families than Senator Reed.’

“Reed reimbursed Picerne for the cost of the flight, Corvias said.

“At Bragg, Picerne wooed General Dan K. McNeill, at the time one of the base’s commanding generals

“One night, the two sat in the back of an Army vehicle on a live-fire shooting range during a field exercise, recalled McNeill, a retired four-star general. McNeill says he was doubtful a private developer could manage the housing better than the military. Picerne’s earnest manner and business expertise won him over

“‘I was quite the cynic about it, but I basically realized I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about’ when it came to managing homes, recalled the general, who retired a decade ago. ‘I was fairly certain he knew what he was doing and his intentions were good.’

“When McNeill asked what was in it for Picerne, the general recalled, the businessman was frank. Automatic, first-of-the-month rent payments for soldiers by the military would eliminate a landlord’s biggest headache: deadbeat tenants.

“Over the years, Picerne’s businesses have spent $2.8 million on lobbying – mostly of Congress and the Defense Department on issues related to military housing or Corvias contracts. Picerne has given at least another $500,000 in political contributions, mostly to Democratic politicians or committees, including about $10,000 to Reed.

“Picerne has been a generous donor to charitable causes. Corvias said its foundation has awarded more than $13 million in scholarships to more than 400 military children and spouses. The foundation, which also supports other charities, from the YMCA to adopt-a-highway programs, was honored in a 2012 White House ceremony…”

4. Separation of Church and State

Rhode Island is the birthplace of religious freedom and the separation of church and state. So why is Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin joining with the Attorneys General of 29 other states in appealing a court ruling that would remove a Christian Cross from public land?

The 4th Circuit Court found that the nearly 100 year old Peace Cross in Maryland “excessively entangles the government in religion.”

The Associated Press writes:

“A U.S. District Court judge ruled that the cross doesn’t violate the First Amendment. The three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit overturned that ruling in a 2-1 decision.

“Judges Stephanie Thacker and James Wynn Jr found that ‘the sectarian elements easily overwhelm the secular ones’ and that the memorial ‘aggrandizes the Latin cross’ to the extent that someone who sees it would conclude the government entity that owns it endorses Christianity.

“Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote in a dissenting opinion that the First Amendment doesn’t require the government to ‘purge from the public sphere any reference to religion…'”

Here’s hoping incoming Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha will take a position more in step with the values of Rhode Island.

5a. General Assembly

The Rhode Island General Assembly will convene on Tuesday, January 1, at 4pm as members of the Rhode Island State Senate and House of Representatives are sworn into office.

The rare New Year’s Day session is due to the state constitution, which calls for the General Assembly to meet on the first Tuesday of January, making no distinction for the holiday. The last time the opening of session fell on New Year’s Day was 2013. It won’t happen again until 2030.

5b. Demand New State House Leadership

Rhode Islanders for Reform is partnering with Uprise Rhode Island to hold a rally to “demand new leadership and important procedural reforms that will bring more Democracy and openness to our legislature.” The rally will be in the main rotunda from 4pm to 5pm. See here for more info.

Oh, and January 1 is my birthday. So, you kinda have to show up.

6. Foxy Lady

The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island (ACLU) took the City of Providence to task for closing the Foxy Lady, a 34 year old strip club, writing:

“Although the Foxy Lady has been providing adult entertainment in Providence for decades, it had never been called before the Providence Board of Licenses until this month, after a police sting there resulted in three women being charged with the misdemeanor offense of soliciting for prostitution. The Board, rather than commend the club for its longstanding record of compliance with the licensing laws, instead took the extraordinary step of permanently revoking the Foxy Lady’s entertainment and liquor licenses, throwing more than 200 people out of work just a week before Christmas.

The ACLU goes on to say:

“Given the lack of previous licensing violations, the fact that the employees had been arrested and not yet convicted, and the nature of the alleged crime – a non-violent (and not even consummated) misdemeanor offense whose only victim, the police report itself acknowledged, was “society” – the extreme punishment imposed seems inexplicable.

The ACLU then runs a partial list of the number of clubs in Providence where crimes much more serious than prostitution have taken place, including shootings and stabbings. Each of these clubs were merely fined and shut down for days. None had their licenses permanently revoked.

7. Best Rhode Island Tweets

Harry August and Ella Comberg run down the “Best Rhode Island Tweets of 2018” at the College Hill Independent.

8. Providence River Pedestrian Bridge

9. Greg Gerritt: End of the year observations

10. Thank you for a great year

From this point on, things get very busy for me again. The State House, Mayor Elorza’s water plan, Invenergy and more will be consuming a lot of my time. Don’t forget to keep me in the loop.

Send emails and press releases to: atomicsteve@gmail.com

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