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Rob Horowitz: State of the Union: Obama’s Chance to Set the Agenda

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


 Amidst diminished expectations of what he can accomplish in the remainder of his term, President Obama gives his 5th State of the Union Address tonight at 9:00 PM to a Joint Session of Congress.

While State of the Union Addresses receive saturation media coverage, a review by Gallup of the past 5 Presidents shows, with few exceptions, little change in approval ratings as a result of the speech. President Obama is no exception to this general rule, with little or no movement in his approval ratings after his previous State of the Union speeches   Given plentiful other viewing options, ratings for the State of the Union have also declined. Only about 34 million people watched President Obama deliver the State of the Union Address last year and audience size usually shrinks the longer a president is in office.

Wind at His Back

Still, tonight’s State of the Union Address, gives President Obama an opportunity to set the public agenda and make the case for his priorities—to focus the public on what issues are most important to address.  Research shows that on this important goal, State of the Union addresses can have lasting impacts.

And in focusing on expanding opportunity and reducing inequality, as advance previews by members of his Administration indicate he will do, President Obama will have the wind at his back.   More than 6 in 10 Americans, including a majority of Republicans, say that the “gap between the rich and everyone else has increased in the last 10 years,”  according to a recent Pew Research Center and USA TODAY poll. The same poll shows that nearly 7 in 10 Americans believe that government should do something to close this gap, and this includes more than 4 in 10 Republicans. 

The recent Republican response on the question of increasing inequality is telling. Instead of simply crying class warfare or emphasizing the importance of not punishing ‘job creators’ as they have in the past, they are adopting a new tact, attacking Obama for making the problem of inequality worse and beginning to come forward with their own policies to address the issue.

Looking Forward

Given partisan gridlock in Congress, President Obama is going to focus some of the speech on the actions he will take through Executive Orders.  His increased and understandable emphasis on unilateral executive action is highlighted by his appointment of John Podesta, who devised and implemented this strategy as Chief of Staff to President Clinton and has publicly advocated that Obama adopt this approach, as a White House Counselor.

There also may be some room opening up for legislative accomplishments.  The recent budget agreement signals the increased power of Speaker Boehner(R-OH) and his leadership team who are more open to compromise and the declining influence of the more hard line Tea Party members.  One strong possibility is a compromise agreement on immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came here as children and legal status to those who came here as adults.

Despite a difficult 2013 with few legislative accomplishments and a disastrous initial roll out of Obamacare, President Obama’s approval rating has rebounded to 46% in a recent Washington Post Poll.
The American people still personally like him and are still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt  He is also going to reap some political benefit this year from an improving economy. . Tonight’s State of the Union will focus needed attention on his goals for this year to an audience that will be certainly smaller, but mainly still willing to listen. I urge everyone to watch.
Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


Related Slideshow: 13 Biggest Stories of 2013

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# 13

Best Communities

What's the best community in Central Massachusetts? What is the best place in the region to live, whether you're a young single, a starting family, or empty-nesters? What city or town combines affordability, safety, schools, arts, culture and recreation and nightlife in the very best balance?

GoLocalWorcester's 2nd Annual Central Massachusetts' Best Communities extracted from our Massachusetts' Best Communities 2013 survey, which took a close, analytical look at all 72 cities and towns in the region to come up with that very answer.

After more than 100 hours of analyzing thousands of data points, we found the answer for 2013.

Read one of our best read -- and most debated -- stories of 2013 here.

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Fraudulent Foreclosures

In January, GoLocal reported that five of the nation’s largest banks were in violation of an agreement with the federal government in Massachusetts, according to an investigation of local foreclosure affidavits conducted by GoLocalWorcester.

The investigation involved nearly 200 affidavits from Ally, Bank of America, Citi, Chase, and Wells Fargo filed with the Registry of Deeds in Worcester and Essex Counties and found that these documents had been expedited and signed without required knowledge of the signer, which is in violation of federal standards banks agreed to uphold with the federal government.

Read the groundbreaking piece here.

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Cronut Controversy

In case you missed it -- or in case you didn't follow saga this summer -- New York City was buzzing about the latest dessert craze to hit the streets -- cronuts.

The croissant-donut hybrid was wildly popular, with throngs of New Yorkers flocking to to SoHo baker Dominique Ansel’s eatery for the flaky fried concoction.

However, what many New Yorkers might not have known -- but many Worcesterites already did -- was that Chef Alina Eisenhauer of Sweet has been making them for years as "dosants," stemming from a fateful night when she decided to toss leftover croissant dough into a deep fryer.

How did the cronut - dosant debate come to pass? Read GoLocal's coverage here.

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Boston Bomber's Burial

One of 2013's biggest stories in Worcester came as a result of one of the most tragic stories of the year.

On Saturday, May 4, GoLocal reported that the preparation for the funeral for Boston Marathon bombing suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, would be held at Worcester's Graham Putnam & Mahoney Funeral Parlors on Main Street. The bomber died as a result of both being wounded in a gunfight with police and blunt force trauma, according to the coroners' report. The funeral parlor, located at 838 Main Street, has been performing services since 1864.

"We take pride in having been able to serve others in time of need. Known for our compassionate personal touch, we consider each family we serve as being a part of our own family," the funeral home's Web site states. "We always provide our families with compassion, understanding and unparalleled level of service. We believe that personal service and attention to the needs of the family are the most important responsibilities, before, during and after the funeral service."

Read GoLocal's coverage here.

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Jet Blue Comes to Worcester

After months of anticipation, JetBlue finally announced it was scheduled to fly out of Worcester's ORH. The solidified deal comes after a long process of courting the area, as officials visited the regional airport multiple times, over the last year.

Read how the deal was secured here .

When JetBlue was welcomed to OHR in April it was one of the biggest political events in the entire state in 2013.

Revisit the big day here.

Back in March of 2012, just after GoLocalWorcester.com launched, the digital news site broke one of the biggest news stories of the year - the demise of Direct Air. The fledgling airline had been the only carrier at Worcester Airport. Follow the timeline of the Worcester Airport's most recent history.

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Fresolo Flap

The big story in Worcester on March 22 was that State Representative John Fresolo was under investigation by House Speaker Robert DeLeo regarding "serious allegations" -- and soon, a Facebook page was created calling for his resignation over allegations that he took photographs of of his genitals and distributed those photos in the state workplace.

When the House Ethics Committee met in closed-door meetings to look into the matter, GoLocal took a look at just how transparent -- or not -- government was in the Commonwealth (with grades ranging from an A, to an F).

Fresolo resigned on May 22 , with speculation that questionable per diem driving expenses may have been at the heart of the matter -- not just photos.

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Central Massachusetts' Most Violent Towns

The Federal Bureau of Investigation released its 2012 crime statistics in September, breaking down data on a state by state -- and community - basis.

The information reported included violent crimes -- murder, forcible rape, aggravated assault, and robbery -- as well as property crimes including burglary, larceny/theft, and motor vehicle theft, as well as arson.

See how Central MA communities ranked Here .

For 2012, the FBI estimated that nationally, the number of property crimes decreased .9 percent -- but that violent crimes increased .7 percent, which the FBI reported was virtually unchanged when compared to the 2011 rate.

"What this year's data show is that that everything's fairly level -- not very surprising," said Northeastern Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy James Alan Fox. "We've seen a long term slow decline and a plateau. It's a criminal justice limbo stick"

"Police officials and politicians say they want to drive crime down more, which might not be possible," said Fox. "At this point, I think the challenge is to see that it doesn't go back up."

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Slots Turned Down

When Rush Street Gaming pulled the plug on June 4 for their $240 million slots parlor proposal, it was just over two months after the slots developers had kicked of talks with Worcester officials regarding their intentions.

Once developments moved forward at that time, GoLocal took a look at the players involved when Worcester was in serious contention for the Commonwealth's sole slots-parlor license, sharing the scoop on the players involved, what was at stake for Worcester -- and what the time frame is looked like.

The City Council called for public input in the process , and faced stiff opposition from the community along the way, before the proposal ultimately met its demise.

While consideration of casino -- and slots parlor -- proposals are still taking place in other parts of Commonwealth, this chapter of Worcester's history -- one of 2013's biggest stories -- is closed for now.

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Best High Schools

In September, GoLocalWorcester's 2nd Annual Massachusetts' Top High Schools unveiled the proprietary ranking that crunched hundreds of pieces of data from 345 public, charter and technical schools statewide to reveal how our communities' schools provide for their students.

With school quality a cornerstone of real estate values and a crucial element of civic pride, the quantitative analysis of each school provided a sweeping and comprehensive view of the secondary school educational landscape in Massachusetts -- and is now annually one of GoLocal's biggest reads.

Find out how high schools in Central Mass ranked against each other here .

See how all of the high schools in the Commonwealth fared here .

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American Hustle

Worcester was buzzing with Hollywood A-list excitement in April , when production began on the at-the-time untitled David O. Russell movie starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and other top Hollywood names.

The screenplay, written by Eric Singer, is about the FBI's 1970-80 "Abscam" sting operation based out of Long Island. The operation aimed to root out corruption in public office and led to the conviction of a US Senator, a member of the New Jersey Senate, five members of the House of Representatives, an inspector for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and members of the Philadelphia City Council. The movie also lists Robert DeNiro, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Louis C.K. as among its cast.

The movie that boosted the local economy is now vying for top Hollywood accolades

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Restaurant Violations

In August, GoLocal unveiled a week-long series on restaurant health inspections in Worcester, from all restaurants to fast food chains -- and created a proprietary interactive map based on the information uncovered.

GoLocal found that the City of Worcester conducted over 2,000 inspections of 1,427 establishments in 2012, with 5 full time food inspectors.

In total, the Worcester Department of Inspections investigated nearly 200 general food complaints in 2012, investigating 11 foodborne illness complaints -- 3 of which involved two or more people -- and issued 9 license suspensions, but no license revocations.

After weeks of combing through the paper food inspection files found on the third floor of 25 Meade Street, GoLocalWorcester listed the restaurants with the most amount of violations found, from number fifty down to number one . Not surprisingly, it was one of the most well-read GoLocal stories of all time.

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O'Brien Leaving

When City Manager Michael O'Brien announced in November he would be making a move to the private sector with WInnCompanies, it didn't come as a total surprise, as O'Brien had indicated such a development might be on the horizon -- but it was a big enough announcement to cause people to wonder who would help lead the City of Worcester in O'Brien's absence .

For his service, GoLocal recognized O'Brien as Man of the Year in 2013. From CitySquare to the development of the Mass College of Pharmacy campus, to the redevelopment of Union Station and the creation of Worcester Common Oval Ice Skating – they have all been driven by the careful leadership of Michael O’Brien.

Naturally, the who will be the next City Manager will be something to watch in 2014.  Stay tuned.  

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Future of the T&G

For nearly 150 years, the Worcester Telegram (in one form or another) was the source of local news, but in the past decade the dramatic loss of circulation, advertising and relevance has caused the paper to be a bit of a cultural afterthought.

At the end of October, GoLocal looked at the recent history of Telegram and its significant decline. In the past 18 months, GoLocal tracked the layoffs, the environmental contamination at the Telegram headquarters, the decline of circulation and the sale of the paper by the New York Times Company in a package with the Boston Globe.

Read the story here .

GoLocal then took a look at John Henry's silence on the T&G after purchasing it along with the Boston Globe -- and GoLocal's Dean Starkman weighed in when Henry finally said that the T&G would be up for sale at the end of November.

Starkman remains bullish on the T&G's future "Here is a newspaper with a 147-year presence in the community, and one of the few that can claim to have been founded by a dentist!), with daily circulation still at a reasonably healthy 75,000 and declining at a slower rate than the Providence Journal, its formerly dominant rival 40 miles away. And, most importantly, its newsroom that, thanks to its otherwise indifferent owners at The New York Times Company, is more or less intact. At last count, it had more than 60 staffers on its masthead. Journalistically speaking, that’s enough to do some damage. What’s more, the Massachusetts economy is doing better than most regionally, certainly better than Rhode Island’s. So there seemed to be a chance for something good to happen in Worcester."


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