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One thousand days of self-promotion

The Cranston Herald ·

Remember when your daughter was a little girl and she would ride her bike or perform some physical trick and yell, “Look at me, look at me?”

There is an undisputable similarity with the actions of our Governor, Gina M. Raimondo, and the excited utterances of a child craving attention.

In a feeble attempt to appear Kennedy-like, the governor has ordered her communications director Mike Raia to alert all public relations people in the administration of a glorified, self-congratulatory, self-aggrandizing, celebration of how great she truly is. On Oct. 2, a grandiose pat on the back will occur when “1000 Days of Progress” is observed.

This new Rhode Island High Holy Day of appreciation and homage apparently must be paid by mere citizens to the royal visage of our current governor. To state that this latest promotion is condescending and outlandish would be an understatement. Yet Rhode Islanders have reluctantly become accustomed to our continent-trotting governor appearing in forums and media interviews all over Christendom to further expose her brand.

While here at home, with a topsy-turvy sense of priorities, the amount of taxpayer burden spent for public relations in the Raimondo Administration has increased by 38 percent. “Look at me, look at me” takes a great deal of money and manpower. Adding insult to injury, outside contractors who are hired as consultants for public relations, marketing and advertising also costs the taxpayers millions of dollars.

Additionally, added to this overt promulgating of the Raimondo Brand, are other devices used to spark recognition. Recently a controversy erupted regarding the practice of painting the governor’s name on the over 200 Rhode Works signs. Peter Alviti, the Director of the Department of Transportation, tried to downplay the significance of the governor’s brand on these signs. He expressed that it was an incidental concern.

Equally questionable was the use of the State House to announce that charitable organizations had contributed a pool of funds to pay for application fees for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) renewal applicants.

Nevertheless, it is undeniable that Gina M. Raimondo and her vast public relations staff have succeeded in morphing her persona into a “new and improved” brand, which is now poised to be saleable nationally. However, the audacity of anyone to cultivate the idea that Raimondo’s tenure in office should be reminiscent of the “Camelot Years” of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s 1000 Days of his ill-fated presidency is beyond good taste and sound judgment.

Nationally, the governor’s accolades have been widespread. Joe Scarborough, Host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program has sung the praises of Gina Raimondo on many occasions. Especially, he has pointed out how the state was “saved” by Raimondo’s innovations regarding the public pension system when she was General Treasurer. The New York Times has named her a “Democrat to Watch” a couple of years back. Fortune Magazine, Glamour Magazine and the Washington Post have written glowing and supportive articles of our governor.

That kind of recognition comes with a price, and we are paying for it. State spending on public relations is now at its highest level in history. This administration now employs a whopping 73 public relations people on the Rhode Island State government payroll. This represents a 38 percent increase in expense from the previous administration. Salaries have skyrocketed as well, which obviously adds to the taxpayer’s burden.

If that glaring absurdity were not enough, outside consultants have been contracted on bulk in the Raimondo years. Millions have been spent on outside marketers for advertising and public relations. MHSBG (Maximus Health Services and the Basics Group), Duffy and Stanley, Nail Communications and RDW are a partial list of the companies that have been contracted by the administration. An astounding $4.3 million of our hard-earned taxpayer dollars has been spent to get the word out on what a utopia we are living in and how we owe a debt of gratitude to the governor.

When it was reported on a radio news broadcast this past week that the governor was involved with yet another self-congratulatory effort, I was not at all surprised. However, to invoke the memory of JFK’s tenure in office in naming this latest attention-getting scheme is appalling.

Kennedy aide Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. authored the definitive work on the Camelot years, which was originally published in 1965. “A Thousand Days” not only evokes a melancholy time of unfulfilled promise, but the term also implies a hopefulness that cannot be compared with the gubernatorial time thus far of Gina Raimondo. That presumed similarity is beyond a stretch of the imagination. The assumptions in using that title in this contrived, ego-feeding frenzy that is scheduled for early October are erroneous indeed.

Communications Director Raia sent the army of public relations people on the state’s payroll an email a few week’s ago with instructions about the celebration and compiling a list of accomplishments for heralding. Informing his fellow barkers that they were planning “a full days of public events to celebrate 1000 Days of Progress.” Raia stressed the need for timely suggestions on what to boast about so they could maximize press coverage.

Gee, I wonder whether that will include the “Cooler and Warmer” campaign that was exorbitantly costly and ended up in the circular file. Or would the great celebration include a discussion and speech about the UHIP debacle? Maybe we could present all the new ridiculous positions created by this governor and how no one knows what anyone is doing to justify their salaries.

Perhaps we could celebrate the tolling law, which the public overwhelmingly did not want, but was signed into law by the governor anyway. Or during this orgy of self-acclaim, we could speak about all the low-performing hedge funds that the state pension funds were invested in, and how the money lost could have ensured the retirees in keeping their COLAS (Cost of Living Adjustments). That lackluster performance as treasurer is hardly laudable, but never mentioned in national forums.

Undoubtedly, Raimondo will claim credit for lower unemployment figures, which are due to a national trend rather than any initiative she implemented.

Certainly, she will omit all the aforementioned mistakes that are contrary to her pretense of progress.

This prospective celebration in its blatant conceit is not dissimilar to using the backdrop of the State House for purposes it was not intended for. In another PR effort, Governor Raimondo announced a few philanthropic organizations had pooled together money to defray the cost of reapplication to the DACA program, which protects young people who are living in the United States in violation of the immigration laws. In circumvention of the legislative branch of government, former President Obama provided an executive order that allows these young people to elude the statute.

President Trump has put a 6-month reprieve in effect to force congress to resolve the immigration question. As she has done before, Governor Raimondo has challenged Trump, often claiming he was unfeeling and callous. Governor Raimondo’s support for eluding the law is one issue, but the use of State property to announce this effort to stand in social opposition is another.

Also a cheap publicity stunt was the placing of the governor’s name on every Rhode Works sign. In response to public umbrage in regard to her name punctuating every sign with a not too ulterior advertisement for herself, no further signs will bear her name. Of course, the question is how many signs are yet to be erected anyway?

When my kids were youngsters they would say, “Look at Me Dad” when they would swing on a swing or throw a ball or try some silly trick. But they grew up and became confident adult human beings and did not need their father’s constant approval any longer. Nor should the governor need such approval from the public.

Realizing that Gina Raimondo has high national ambitions is not a conundrum. However, should the taxpayers of the Ocean State pay for her objectives to come to fruition? This planned celebration is conspicuously self-serving. Further, naming this particular public relations effort after a period in our country’s history that compels emotional memories is detestable.