Meet the Candidate - Allan Fung
After three terms as mayor of Cranston, Allan Fung wants to move from City Hall to the State House. The Republican candidate for governor says his experience turning the city of Cranston around makes him best prepared to run the state of Rhode Island. Jim Hummel hits the campaign trail to see how he’s delivering that message beyond his own community.
Another packed day of campaign events across Rhode Island awaits Allan Fung, but he is starting with the hometown crowd on this Saturday morning in September.
Woman: ``Don’t forget where you came from!’’
Fung: ``I never forget where I come from!’’
The residents in Cranston have gotten a first-hand look at their mayor-turned-candidate for governor - the successes and the rough patches. Many in this crowd wish him luck, but also say they wish he’d stay as mayor.
Fung: ``We’ve done a lot of great things to turn Cranston around during the three terms I’ve been mayor of Cranston, creating a better business environment, adding over a 1000 new jobs into the city during first two terms., stabilizing the city’s finances.‘’
Fung says he first ran for a city council seat a decade ago because Cranston’s finances were in shambles, and the city’s bond rating had been reduced to junk bond status. Now he sees big challenges facing the state.
Fung: ``And when I see that our state’s economy is still, still lagging, particularly with high unemployment, one of the highest in the country, high taxes and people moving out, it motivated me to run for governor because I wanted to turn this state around.’’
Wherever he goes Fung uses Cranston as the centerpiece of his pitch - in part because places like Chapel View and Garden City are well known to most Rhode Islanders. And both are huge success stories.
Fung: ``I took a deep reflection about what I’ve done in Cranston, all the good things we’ve been able to do to turn this city around, to turn a distressed community around into what we’re doing here - the development that we’re sitting in with Chapel View, which was the home of the state properties, training school for the boys at one point in time, across the way at Garden City, where it was blighted, getting tired, when I first got into office and look at it now, it’s really popping with new national, one-of-a-kind retailers and developments going in there. And seeing all of that happening is what motivated me to really run.
What may be less visible is the economic development plan that has quietly evolved over his six years as mayor. Fung recently toured Cadence, a medical instrument manufacturer that is undergoing a $4 million expansion at its plant just of Route 295.
Hummel: ``Why did they want to come to Cranston?’’
Fung: ``Part of it was the relationships that we’ve been able to build and the expansion, more importantly, has been that stability that we’ve offered in government to them. We’ve been able to cut through the red tape, work with them through their expansions, because we want those jobs here. There’s two things government can do, they can either get in the way of business - I’ve in Cranston made sure that we’re partnering with them I’ve gotten out of their way. We’re going to be taking those same types of initiative on the state level, to get out of the way of business , let them operate, let them get open. Or if it’s an expansion let them grow.’’
Although Rhode Island voters have put a Republican in the governor’s seat for the vast majority of the past three decades, some wonder how a Republican in 2015 would get anything done with an overwhelmingly Democratic General Assembly
Hummel: ``If you do get up there how do you keep from getting steamrolled by a Democratic General Assembly?’’
Fung: ``Well this is where the experience counts. I’ve had that experience during my three terms as mayor of Cranston, having the opportunity to work with an overwhelmingly Democratic legislative body here and we’ve been able to get a lot of good things done.’’
He says they include negotiating A 401 K retirement plan for new employees from two major unions.
Pension reform that saved the city $6 million this year.
And three of his six years in office with no tax increase.
Fung says, as governor, he would like to reduce the state’s sales tax to at least match Massachusetts.
Fung gave up the city-issued car when he became mayor, so you will see him arrive at both city and campaign events in his own 2005 Acura with just under 150,000 miles on it.
Hummel: ``But in true Rhode Island fashion you did take the license plate. Let’s set the record straight.’’
Fung: ``I did take the license plate.’’
Hummel: ``You’ve got to have at least some perk, right? But that was non monetary, right?
Fung: ``That was non-monetary and it will go back to the residents of Cranston when I’m done.’’
It hasn’t all been rosy in Cranston. Fung has been plagued by problems in his Police Department and criticism about some of his donors.
Hummel: ``You have taken money from the police and you have take money from other city workers, how do you justify that a clean government slate going in? Talk about that.’’
Fung: ``I’ve been proud to have over 2,000 unique individual donors, most of whom have come from Rhode Island, not Wall Street interests, and I’ve been proud to have the support of many individuals who are home grown that believe in who I am and what I want to do for the state; so the bottom line is this: that was a small percentage of individuals that have come from city government who had contributed to my campaign.’’
The marathon campaign has now turned into a sprint, the gap between Fung and his Democratic opponent Gina Raimondo, closing some since Primary Day.
Hummel: ``The day after the primary a lot of people said, `Well he had a nice little victory, now he’s got to go up against the Raimondo juggernaut with all the money and she’s ahead in the polls,’ and now we see that’s narrowed a little bit.’’
Fung: ``We have planned appropriately and we’re hitting our plans on tact and we’re doing everything that we can to get our message out to the voters of Rhode Island and we’re right in this game and I’m very excited for the opportunity to meet people from Woonsocket to Westerly.’’
Earlier this month Fung got a visit from New Jersey’s Chris Christie, the rock star of Republican governors - and potential presidential candidate in 2016. Christie arrived to a huge crowd at a restaurant in Johnston, a longtime Democratic stronghold, making his way through the crowds to shake hands with nearly everyone.
Christie - who heads the Republican Governors Association - said he came because Rhode Island is now on their radar screen of potential winnable races.
Fung: ``He is exactly what you see on television - he is honest, blunt. He tells it like it is.’’
Hummel: ``He barked at a few reporters, didn’t he?’’
Fung: ``Called it like it is - everything you see on television is exactly who he is. ‘’
Hummel: ``Do you ever dream of doing that? Next question! Is that every going to come out of Allan Fung’s mouth?’’
Fung: ``Next question!’’
Fung is always quick with a smile wherever he goes, but wants voters to know there is a toughness that goes with it.
Hummel: ``Have you heard that before? Nice guy, but he’s not going to be able to do it on the big stage.’’
Fung: `` You know Chris Christie said the same thing during that interview. They didn’t think he wasn’t going to be tough enough, but take a look at it. And the bottom line is I’ve got a record of three terms as mayor of Cranston doing a lot of good things. Cranston voters put their trust in me, they’ve put their trust in my in the primary and it showed and I know they’re going to put their trust in me when I come to the polls on November. 4th.’’
On the campaign trail, Jim Hummel for The Hummel Report.