Monday, April 27, 2015

Hooking foul

The Pawtucket Red Sox opened their season under a cloud. Fans of Pawtucket know that this is likely the second-to-last home opener at McCoy and all Rhode Islanders are hearing the clock ticking on this beloved franchise remaining in state.

When the new owners of the minor league franchise that will soon-be-formerly-known as the Pawtucket Red Sox revealed their “ask” a collective groan was heard from one end of the state to another. In exchange for locating the team in Providence and financing the stadium and a parking garage where the team will play, the team asked the state for $4 million each year for 30 years. This state lease allows the owners to get financing for construction of the project, estimated to cost $85 million. The new ownership group also released an economic development study that showed new park would generate approximately $2 million each year in new tax revenue. If the study is accurate this would make the net cost to taxpayers about $2 million each year. The General Assembly and Governor Raimondo would need to approve any deal and the new ownership made it clear that they have between now and the end of the legislative session to get it done.

In the immortal words of Swift (Taylor, not Jonathan) “haters gonna hate” so even before the specifics were revealed, naysayers were pledging to oppose any taxpayer investment in the new stadium, arguing that the 195 land was too valuable to use for a venue that will host less than 80 games a year. While discussion of alternative sites and the promise of a multi-use facility, capable of hosting Brown football and baseball games have quelled some of that debate, other concerns continue. Let’s face it, asking Rhode Island’s fragile tax base to cough up any money to support a private business owned by multimillionaires seems a bit “out of left field” for many.

I will admit I am torn: the PawSox are part of Rhode Island’s identity and a source of pride and happiness. I’ve seen great games and watched players at McCoy — and even got Jon Lester’s autograph one day when he was hanging out in the parking lot after practice. I understand why the new owners want a new park in a new city. McCoy is only vaguely charming when you are staring at the green grass — otherwise it’s like sitting in a giant cinderblock bandshell. And Pawtucket, oh Pawtucket. “Let’s grab dinner at that great restaurant next to McCoy,” said no one ever. Having a new stadium built in our capital city would make Providence and more vibrant and would add some cache to the Red Sox’ farm team too.

The bottom line is that there will be a cost to keeping the team in Rhode Island. As Rhode Islanders, we are used to making trade offs — we live here because we love the state and what it means to be from here. For some of us that means summers on the water, family close by, baseball hats filled with ice cream, a certain parade and readily available clam cakes. The price we pay: cold winters, higher taxes and a lot of potholes. While it’s unlikely that the cost of keeping the team here will be low enough to make every taxpayer happy, I am hoping that a agreement can be made that doesn’t violate our collective sense of fairness. Right now, the plan is hooking foul.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Tossing us a screwball

While I know that baseball can be slow — and I admit to sometimes dozing off during late innings —baseball is exciting because that you never know where or when the action might happen. Whether it’s an unlikely hero with a walk-off home run or a surprise no-hitter, baseball can offer surprises every game.

While it was hardly a thrill, followers of Rhode Island politics got a bit of a surprise last week when former Governor-Senator-Mayor Lincoln Chafee announced that he was launching an exploratory bid for president. That’s right, president, of the United States of America. Because his announcement arrived just a week after April Fool’s Day, it took a few hours for the news to sink in as real and for the discussion to turn from utter amazement to a discussion about what a Lincoln Chafee campaign for president might look like.

It’s clear from his announcement and the quick media tour he has taken since that his primary reason to enter the race is to take aim at Hillary Clinton. He has no real message of his own, just a few talking points saying that as a man of principle and one who voted against the Iraq war, he is a better candidate for president than Clinton who voted in favor of the Iraq resolution (along with 76 of 100 other U.S. Senators). While we can debate whether a single vote taken in the U.S. Senate 13 years ago should have any bearing on the president we choose in 2016, I can say with some certainty that Chafee is could be a dream opponent for most candidates in the right situation. If a candidate wants to look smooth, smart, outgoing and quick-witted, Chafee is the perfect opponent to be compared to since he is awkward, speaks poorly and his gestures are either robotic or erratic. Having said that, he could be an effective “truth-teller” during the Democratic primary season, working only as an attack dog and ripping Clinton down at every turn. While this could be a nightmare for Clinton, it is a gift for another candidate poised to enter the race (perhaps Martin O’Malley) but who might struggle against the Clinton machine in a head-to-head matchup.

What a Chafee candidacy means for Rhode Island could be a bit of a headache for the rest of us. A few gaffes and awkward comebacks into the campaign and the national media will be wondering aloud how he managed to get elected (and re-elected) to various offices in Rhode Island. They will quickly learn that his only term as governor was a bit of a disaster and that while the state suffered with the worst economy in the country, Chafee chose instead to try and change the name of the evergreen that graces many homes over the holidays. Instead of growing jobs, he changed the state license plate and instead of trying to attract businesses to move to Rhode Island, he changed the name of the Economic Development Corporation to CommerceRI. While all of this attention might be exciting to at first, it may also be a painful reminder of a bad four years with a bit of screwball.