Any local, statewide news in 2020 was clearly overridden by national and international events – a pandemic that remains with us, an assault on our Democracy. As we enter 2021, these same issues will dominate the news sites, pages, and airwaves for months.
It is impossible to separate the events of 2020 from the vision of 2021. And it is impossible to ignore the impact statewide and locally of national events.
So, looking back, we recognize that at the top of 2020’s news stories were COVID-19, its spread nationally, statewide and locally; the economic impact; and how it has taxed our healthcare system and workers.
We recognize that the divisions, flames fed by national politicians, have spread into every Rhode Island community. We will learn in 2021 if the Black Lives Matter movement creates significant positive change, and whether Americans, including Rhode Islanders, have an appetite to end the divisions that have been eating away at our Democracy.
Here is a look at some stories – statewide and local – that really began in 2020 and will continue in 2021. Will the events of 2020, give way to a brighter vision for 2021?
COVID-19 – The story in 2020, administration’s handling of the pandemic and the citizens compliance with health care mandates. In 2021 the story will be whether people take the vaccine, and whether individuals continue compliance with health care mandates.
Economic fallout – Restaurants, small businesses, entertainment and so many other areas have suffered during this pandemic. How many will close permanently?
Will Black Lives Matter marches of 2020 evolve into a civil rights rebirth in 2021? And, in Providence, we will continue to see how the city’s Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Plan unfolds.
African American History curriculum is expected to be unveiled in the early part of the year, likely becoming mandatory in all public schools.
Legislative upheaval – In the House of Representatives, Nicholas Mattiello, Speaker of the House, was defeated in the general election, paving the way for K. Joseph Shekarchi to ascend to what many consider the most powerful position in state government. Shekarchi has promised more transparency, and a desire to move bills through committees to the House Floor. Many reformers, those who did not support Mattiello, were subjected to the Speaker’s wrath, losing key committee chairmanships and positions. Will Shekarchi bring those reformers back into leadership positions? We will learn much more next Tuesday (Jan. 5) when the state House of Representatives and State Senate hold their opening 2021 sessions.
Redistricting. The Rhode Island General Assembly is responsible for redistricting after each census and is expected to address redistricting during the 2021 legislative session.
Elections – Statewide, the biggest news was Mattiello’s defeat, and the continuing rise of progressive Democrats. Joining the ranks of progressives is Michelle McGaw, who won the Representative District 71 seat in Portsmouth as part of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, a reform group. A pharmacist, McGaw has been named to the 10-member House of Representatives Task Force for COVID-19 Vaccine.
School Construction – In 2020 Newport voters approved a bond issue that will fund a new high school and an elementary school addition. That vote came after the Middletown Town Council rejected even discussing the merger of school systems. In 2021, Newport is expected to move forward with school construction.
Newport Development Projects – Before the pandemic, the Newport City Council had imposed a moratorium on North End development, particularly aimed at the mixed-use proposal by Carpionato Group for the former Newport Grand property. It is expected that plans will be finalized, and development started for the Newport Grand and other North End projects. Meanwhile, plans will continue forward on bridge realignment.
Climate Change will certainly be an issue in 2021 as water temperatures and sea level continue to rise, and as severe storms accelerate in the area, threatening many oceanfront communities.
Hospital merger. In 2020, the governor derailed an effort by Mass General Brigham (formerly known as Partners HealthCare) to incorporate Care New England within its network of 16 healthcare facilities, many ranked among the top institutions in America and the world. Instead, the governor asked Lifespan and Care New England to resume negotiations that had broken off some time ago. Those negotiations continue, with various issue now being raised that may determine whether the merger occurs. Also, will Rhode Island’s only independent hospital, South county Health, remain independent?
Festivals and more. In 2020, COVID-19 shutdown Newport’s Folk, Jazz, and music festivals, along with live entertainment across America. In question, certainly for the first part of the year, is whether these festivals will re-open this year, and in what form.
Statewide Bond Issues – Seven referenda, totaling some $400 million, will be on the ballot March 2. Voters will be asked to approve bonds that address state college buildings, beaches, the environment, affordable housing, among the issues.