Making Rhode Island a destination

Posted 6/13/24

You have to get to the Gaspee Day early to really catch the show…and better yet, learn what could put Rhode Island on the national stage. Well, or at least, the next viral sensation.

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Making Rhode Island a destination


You have to get to the Gaspee Day early to really catch the show…and better yet, learn what could put Rhode Island on the national stage. Well, or at least, the next viral sensation.

As it always does, the parade musters the second Saturday in June at the intersection of Spring Green and Narragansett Parkway. I got there with at least 20 minutes to spare before Mark Russell announced, “We’re going to start in five minutes” and the Pawtuxet Rangers in their red woolen uniforms  lined up to fire the opening volley.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse was the first elected official I spotted. That’s not hard. He’s tall and his graying hair made him stand out. He was talking, first with State Senator Josh Miller and then Senator Tony DeLuca. Like magnets elected officials gravitate to one another at the Gaspee parade. Maybe that’s unfair, since state officials follow the Rangers in the lineup, and they are expected to be together. Warwick officials are deep within the lineup – a good 45 minutes behind and even farther back are Cranston officials. Mayor Frank Picozzi isn’t too happy about that. He thinks locally elected officials should get better billing. I can’t disagree.

But this isn’t a column on parade etiquette. It’s about parade chatter and calamari.

The buzz between elected officials, as usually the case at this time of year, was the state budget (what got in and what didn’t get in) and what legislation may make it to the governor’s desk before the session concludes. The consensus was that lawmakers will bring things to a close this week.

Rep. Joe McNamara paired up with Gov. Dan McKee to walk the route. Rather than local politics, they focused on national politics and in particular the Democratic National Convention scheduled for August 19 to 22 at the United Center in Chicago.

The governor wanted to know what Joe might do to top his 30-second video introducing the state during the 2020 convention virtual rollcall. As chair of the RI Democratic Committee, Joe had the honor of highlighting the state albeit less than a minute. With the chef from Iggy’s holding a heaping plate of fried squid as they stood on Oakland Beach, Joe declared Rhode Island the calamari comeback state.

The message was so out of the box that it was picked by media networks and went viral. Looking for a fresh angle, the Beacon interviewed the chef who wore a black mask, black shirt and black pants for the video. He could have been an extra for a karate film, hardly what you might expect from a chef.

The governor questioned what Joe might conjure to top calamari. What could catapult the smallest state into national headlines and have people flocking to Rhode Island?

That’s a concern of the governor. He’s a fan of the airport as an economy driver and has generously supported deals like that with Breeze Airways that will double its flights from Green over the next five years and has promised exploring international flights. The observation he makes, however, is that while the “Fly Rhode Island” has successfully boosted passenger traffic from the Warwick, inbound flights aren’t carrying the same levels of passengers. The governor wants to make the Ocean State a destination and Green the gateway. Heaven knows with the giant signs on Route 95 and extensive plantings along the Airport Connector, the airport stands out but it’s not a reason “to fly into Rhode Island.”

Calamari put Rhode Island in the spotlight, albeit not for long, four years ago, what could Joe pull off this time?

 Never lost for ideas, Joe was ready. In fact, we’ve heard this one on several occasions but not so convincingly stated. Looking at the hundreds gathering for the parade, he turned to the burning of the Gaspee that occurred more than a year in advance to the Boston Tea Party. He deemed the tea party vandalism, not an act in defiance of the king and a call for freedom. He’s looking for a fight with Massachusetts to claim Rhode Island’s place where the spark for independence was lit. It would make headlines if Massachusetts took the bait.

McKee didn’t look convinced, besides Joe doesn’t expect to have the national forum he had four years ago.

“Calamari the comeback state”  just might stick.

side up, Gaspee, destination


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