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The Place for Pomp and Circumstance

January 5, 2011

Live in a small city long enough and you’ll forget that bigger cities surround the mayor’s oath of office with pomp and circumstance. In a small city, the mayor shuffles over to the Bible, takes the oath, then gets down to business. His family’s there and relatives with cameras commemorate the moment. But there are no parties, no speeches, no crowds.

Those who are no-nonsense may nod their heads at this and think, “That’s how an elected official should be ushered into office.” But there’s something to be said about the ceremony that took place on the steps of the Providence City Hall. It gave residents a chance to either celebrate Mayor Angel Taveras or hear him out in his first appearance as mayor. And while the good and the bad transfer from one mayor to another it gave everyone at least a sense of a fresh beginning.

Following the Taveras event came the swearing in of Rhode Island’s new governor, Lincoln Chafee. It was a simpler event than I had expected. After the prayer and the poet, the state’s top officials took their oath and Chafee delivered his speech. Politics aside, many of us in the newsroom admired the imagery and language in Chafee’s speech specifically where Chafee remarks on the state’s motto: Hope.

“But mindful of the Book of Hebrews, they also connected this hope to the more grounded symbol of the anchor, reflecting an essential strength and realism that has always guided us, even as our ship of state has sailed for daring new horizons.”

These past two days of swearing in leadership have brought inspiring speeches and moments of celebration. And they’ve left me to wonder whether smaller cities should take up the practice and get their mayor on the steps of city hall, taking the time to mark the hope and possibility that come with new beginnings.

The Hardest Story to Report

November 12, 2010

Ask any reporter what is the hardest part of the job, and sooner or later they will tell you their story about having to knock on the door of a grieving family and ask questions about their loss.

This is my story.

I was already going to the eastern part of the state, to Bristol for a Clean the Bay press event, and if I were a reporter worth my salt I needed to wrap up things in Bristol then head down to Middletown to talk with the family of Sgt. Michael Paranzino.

During the drive down I debated whether to call ahead or just knock on the door. I chose to just knock. Standing on the front step I took a deep breath, collected my thoughts, and gently tapped on the door. A woman answered. I asked if this was the Paranzino home, she nodded. I offered my condolences, and explained why I was at her door. She looked over to a weary woman in a chair who glanced over her shoulder, took stock of the situation, and then waved me in.

This was Michael’s mother. She called her husband into the room, hugged some of Michael’s friends good-bye and watched me pull the microphone, recorder and various cords out of my bag. On any other interview this time of pulling out equipment is when a reporter throws out some small talk to get a rapport going. But this wasn’t a time for chit-chat. Stunted conversation pierced the silence until Michael’s father arrived.

They were both studies in grief and exhaustion. And I was nervous as I sat on their living room floor, pointed a microphone and asked about their son in past tense. To my surprise there was laughter as they told stories about Michael crawling out of his crib and napping under the dining room table, or when he climbed a tree and couldn’t be found, or how he just about tackled people in the hockey rink.

After 20 minutes I could see they were drained so I packed up my things, gave them a hug, and left. Then I sat in my car for a while thinking about how brave those parents were for opening up their hearts and homes to a total stranger who was now in charge of telling the state about their son.

I have a background in reporting on military families. In 2009, NPR pulled me on to a team following Marines based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. NPR’s job was to embed with Marines in southern Afghanistan; my job was to follow their families. None of the families I followed lost a Marine, but the battalion lost 14 members. During the seven months reporting on this project, I injected myself into these families and asked emotionally charged questions. There were times when I found myself surrounded by children watching the lady with the microphone make mommy cry. What allowed me to live with myself was that every family thanked me for telling their stories.

When I posted on my Facebook page that I had to knock on the Paranzino’s door, some of those Marine families sent me comments and messages reminding me that military families are thankful when their stories are told in a careful, respectful way. I can only hope that the Paranzino family feels the same way.

Rebuildling the Pawtucket River Bridge

November 5, 2010

Pawtucket River Bridge GroundbreakingThe best way to gauge the importance of a public event is to count the dignitaries on hand.

At the Pawtucket River Bridge groundbreaking this past Thursday, there were no more than … well, I lost count. Both U.S. Senators were there, so was Congressman Jim Langevin, Governor Donald Carcieri, along with mayors and police chiefs and newly minted Attorney General Peter Killmartin. All crammed into a tent with dozens of other folks pressing the flesh and grinning. Impressive given the rain that was pouring down.

Perhaps it was the importance of getting the replacement bridge built that attracted the crowd. For nearly three years the I-95 overpass has been closed to heavy trucks, forcing them to worm their way around the bridge. This has caused grief to residents living just yards away from the eternal convoy trekking down the detour. Pawtucket resident Danna O’Clair lives right where trucks take Exit 27. She says the noise and vibrations are so bad that they shake the windows; she swears truck traffic caused her kitchen cabinets to shake right off the wall.

Pawtucket’s mayor is also feeling the pain. He says he’s co-authored a letter with the Central Falls receiver outlining damage the truck detour has done to their cities. That letter, he said at the groundbreaking, is going straight to the dignitaries who were sitting on the front row.

Truckers too are feeling the pain, some of them even stopped to hear the speeches and watch the ceremonial dirt fly. Thousands of trucks have been pulled over and ticketed for going over the bridge’s weight limit. This is costing truckers thousands of dollars and lost time on the road.

Interstate 95 is the most traveled highway in the nation. The Rhode Island Department of Transportation says about 162,000 vehicles travel across the Pawtucket River Bridge every day.

RIDOT’s dangling about $26,000 of motivation to get enough of the work done that trucks can return to the bridge by spring of 2012. The new bridge, with its art-deco touches and colored lights, is expected to open summer of 2013.

Post-election conversations

November 3, 2010

We now know who will be the next governor, and the next 1st Congressional District representative, and that Rhode Islanders like their state’s name just the way it is.

So now what?

Well, that’s what WRNI’s political team will start teasing out of the newly elected officials as they prepare to take office. We’re also going to be talking with some departing politicians about where the ones who follow should look before they step.

It all starts tonight with a Special Political Roundtable from 7:00 – 8:00pm.

After that, stay tuned.

The honor of sitting next to Scott MacKay

November 2, 2010

A short-order cook? An old fashioned telephone operator? It’s hard to describe exactly what Scott MacKay is like on election night, but let me tell you – the man can work three phones at a time. All night long he works his sources, on his cell phone, the phone on his desk, the phone on the desk next to him – barking out questions. It’s a sight to be seen and heard.

Special election coverage tonight

November 2, 2010

Rhode Islanders are going to be heading to the polls today, deciding several major races. At WRNI, we’re going to be following the polls closely and covering the winners as they’re announced. Our special coverage will run from 9:00 -11:00pm.

Tomorrow night, we’ll also air a special edition of our weekly Political Roundtable. You can hear that broadcast live from 7:00 – 8:00pm.

Stay tuned…

The Primary, Finally

September 13, 2010

For months now we’ve been following the candidates as they unveiled their initiatives, kissed babies, wooed voters, debated, debated again, and debated some more.  

The WRNI news team will fan out to the various campaigns on election night catching up with the candidates as they win or lose.  If you tune into WRNI that next morning you’ll wake up not only knowing how the candidates did but what the results mean for Rhode Island and the November election. Catch WRNI newscasts for the results, and stay tuned that morning for analysis with Bob Seay and Scott MacKay.

Then Wednesday September 15th from 7:00 – 8:00pm, WRNI political correspondents Ian Donnis and Scott MacKay parse the results further with heads of the state Republican and Democratic parties, and discuss what’s in store for November with University of Rhode Island Political Science professor and WRNI Political Commentator Maureen Moakley and Brown University Political Science professor Wendy Schiller.