An intriguing drama is playing out in North Providence today -- the special election battle between interim mayor John Sisto, an ally of his predecessor, Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, and challenger Charles Lombardi. While the mayoral runoff is interesting in and of itself, another compelling element is how the Providence Journal has taken a backseat to other media in covering the story.
WLNE-TV's Jim Hummel, continuing a string of strong reporting in recent months, broke the signature story of this race: how Sisto's grandson, who was taped leaving his mother's house in Providence for a week, attends school in North Providence. Sisto says the boy lives with him, but many observers believe otherwise. Kudos to Hummel for his enterprising reporting.
Meanwhile, WPRO-AM's Dan Yorke unearthed a flyer in which US Senator Jack Reed expressed his support for Sisto. (Disclosure: I am a weekly guest on Yorke's show.) Yorke was ready to host a Sisto-Lombardi debate, but Sisto chose not to take part.
RI Future's Matthew Jerzyk (an occasional Phoenix contributor) has also offered detailed coverage of the North Providence succession battle.
Many people, no doubt, see this as just a mundane municipal election. Yet an apt comparison can be drawn between North Providence politics and the Chinatown of the great Roman Polanski movie -- a place where very interesting things sometimes happen beneath the surface. Chris Chivers once covered the town for the ProJo, capturing the fighting over the spoils of the late mayor Sal Mancini's empire.
Now, though, the ProJo seems to not grasp the inherent drama of the North Prov mayoral fight. Today's North section, for example, doesn't even include a story on the election (although there is an item on the Belo Blog). (UPDATE: there is a perfunctory short piece on the front of the regionally zoned Metro section, although readers will likely take greater note of a Sisto ad -- in the form of a sticky note affixed to the front page -- in this edition of the ProJo.) And while the Journal did offer front-page coverage last week of Sisto's claims about his grandson living with him, the paper, sadly, seems content to cede the lead in covering this story to other media. It's yet another reminder of how far Rhode Island's paper of record has fallen since the days when it offered comprehensive statewide coverage.