Making the economy, jobs and education legs of his campaign, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung officially entered the race for governor Monday – one year to the day from when he said he plans to make his victory announcement.
Should he win, Fung would be the state’s first Asian-American governor.
But that was not a point he stressed as he addressed a capacity crowd at Taco, a Cranston-based manufacturer that has not only chosen to stay in Rhode Island but also recently completed $17 million in improvements.
Rather than pointing to differences, Fung emphasized his Rhode Island roots and what he has done as mayor.
“This is who I am. I’m a Rhode Islander,” he said.
In his 20-minute address, Fung vowed to create 20,000 new Rhode Island jobs; to lower taxes; address the state’s aging infrastructure of roads and bridges; serve as the state’s chief economic development director; do away with the Sakonnet Bridge toll; freeze tuitions at the state’s institutions of higher learning for four years; and to have the commissioner of education report directly to the governor’s office.
Predictably, his announcement brought praise from his supporters.
Former Governor Lincoln Almond, who served on the Fung for Governor Exploratory Committee, found the pledge of 20,000 new jobs realistic. Speaking after the announcement, Almond observed that with basic reforms to the tax code, 6,000 new jobs were created in the financial sector when Fidelity Investments opened offices here during his administration. He believes there are similar opportunities in biotechnology and high performance manufacturing.
“It doesn’t get any better than today,” said Robert Murray who has a long history of involvement in Cranston politics and government. Murray’s point is that Monday was Fung’s day and his time to be in the media spotlight.
Murray is not officially with the campaign, although he said he would help if called,
“He has a great story to tell,” said Murray.
How would an Asian-American fair with the voters?
Murray said ethnicity is part of the campaign, adding that if voters are looking for the right message and the person with the leadership “who can take on the power structure and do it with civility,” Fung is the man.
Another veteran of Cranston government, Robin Schutt, who is now an associate professor at the New England Institute of Technology, was not surprised Fung brought up his ethnicity or that his family joined him on the platform.
“He has always involved his family. It is critical to him … the foundation of who he is,” she said.
Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian also had kind words for Fung. “I have worked with Mayor Fung since the time that he first ran for the City Council, and when he ran for Mayor, it was a pleasure to support him and help raise funds for him,” said Avedisian. “I was happy to join former Governor Lincoln Almond and Lincoln Town Administrator Joe Almond there today for the kick-off of Allan’s campaign.”
Avedisian said Fung was energetic, focused and levelheaded. “Three things that we need in Rhode Island for our future,” he said.
Fung’s parents moved here 44 years ago from Hong Kong. Fung, who was born soon after their arrival in this country worked in their Chinese restaurant on Cranston Street starting at 9 years old.
“That taught me the value of a hard-earned dollar and the hard work it takes to succeed in a business,” said Fung. “This state welcomed my parents and gave them a chance for a good life.”
Since being elected mayor in 2008, Fung said more than 1,000 new jobs have been created in Cranston.
“We supported existing businesses and attracted new ones. This is what I intend to do as governor in every community throughout this state of Rhode Island. There’s only one important issue and that’s to put people back to work,” he said.
Fung, a Republican, graduated from Classical High School and attended Rhode Island College. He earned his law degree from Suffolk University and started his career as a litigation associate in 1999. He served as a Special Assistant Attorney General and started work as Government Relations Counsel for MetLife in 2001. He won his first bid for elective office as Cranston citywide councilman in 2003.
“Education has always been the stepping-stone for a better life. It has been for my sisters and me, and I want it for all children in Rhode Island,” Fung said in his address.
“We need to be innovative and accountable. Every boy and girl in Rhode Island deserves an education that will provide not only essential skills, but also emphasizes science, technology, engineering and math. More and more jobs today are requiring this STEM foundation combined with critical thinking and problem solving skills. And I want to ensure that STEM is expanded to STREAM by adding robotics and the arts to many schools’ core,” he said.
Following his formal remarks, the news media peppered Fung with questions – how would he lower taxes and which ones; who might he keep in key positions; why did he call for the elimination of the Sakonnet River Bridge toll?
Fung was also asked about the future of standardized testing and Commissioner Deborah Gist, who has been the recipient of public backlash regarding state testing as a graduation requirement in the past year.
Fung said he is a supporter of testing because testing is a part of life; as for Commissioner Gist’s future, Fung said it is too early to address department heads.
“Everyone will have to re-apply,” he said, citing the same practice he applied when he became mayor. “They have to make sure they align with where I want the state to go.”
As for the bridge toll, Fung said it is an important link to a community in the state and “we have got to get out of the habit of picking winners and losers.”
On the issue of taxes, Fung didn’t make any specific recommendations, although he said he favors lowering the sales tax. However, he said a zero percent sales tax is “overly optimistic.”
Within the last two weeks, Ken Block, the founder of the Moderate Party and its candidate for governor in 2010, declared as a Republican candidate and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras announced as a Democrat. State Treasurer Gina Raimondo is expected to also run as a Democrat.