The Pilgrim Political Involvement Club (Pil-PI) welcomed Cranston Mayor and 2018 Republican gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung to the school on Tuesday to talk about his bid for governor and how he hopes to be able to impact the state in a positive way.
Fung weaved through a number of topics including his personal background working in his parent’s Chinese restaurant in Cranston from the time he was nine years old, to his accomplishments in Cranston and how he hopes to bring those successes into the state’s highest office.
It was clear that the students were particularly interested in asking questions related to school safety, and Fung tackled the questions by relating how school resource officers work in conjunction with community police officers in Cranston to create a steady presence within the city’s 24 schools.
Fung was then asked specifically about whether or not students are having an impact on politics regarding firearms legislation.
“I think so. It’s forcing many leaders in office to listen,” he said. “No matter where you might stand on the issue of firearms, it is forcing a conscious discussion with many leaders about the existing laws out there.”
However, he did not go so far as to claim any one argument has won the debate yet, or that there is any one clear “winner” for such a complex issue.
“Sometimes there’s no easy answers either,” he said. “I keep hearing discussions about banning everything. Sometimes when you go to extremes it isn’t the right answer either. Something I’ve learned, and I can’t believe I’ve been in office almost a decade now, is that there are no easy answers. The best solutions sometimes have all sides at a table with a compromise where all of us walk away not happy – sometimes that’s the best answer.”
He also focused first on how the current economic conditions have made it more difficult for young people today to be successful than when he was in school.
“I understand the hard work it takes to survive and run a business, how hard it is not only to earn a dollar but keep that dollar,” he said. “It is tougher today for people to start a business, keep that business and run a business. And it’s tougher for you guys as the next generation coming out of school to have that choice to stay in Rhode Island if that’s where you want to be.”
First and foremost, Fung said to the gathering of students, the state needs to figure out its financial problems, which has resulted in a $9 billion budget and a $200 million looming deficit. He said his experience leading Cranston from its own deficit when he first took over as mayor is evidence he can do just that.
“We fixed Cranston and taken it to one of the highest bond ratings the city has seen in about 25 years, we have one of the largest surpluses in any community in Rhode Island, and we’re investing in businesses the right way without throwing millions at them,” said, later touting Alex and Ani being headquartered in Cranston and the development of Chapel View and Garden City Center as being three marquee success stories seen in the city within his tenure as mayor.
Fung said that the state has lost the taxpayers’ trust in how their dollars are spent, pointing to the recent 911 call center scandal and the State House lighting apparatus that cost $675,000. He said he would reel in that spending while still achieving positive results for the people.
“That’s the stuff that I’ll fight and the stuff I’ve been fighting since day one in Cranston. I still drive my own car,” he said. “People in Cranston can see what I’ve done, how I’ve acted and how I’ve been responsible with their tax dollars and I can show that’s an example of what I’ll take to the State House.”
One student asked if Rhode Island could ever see economical boon like it saw at the beginning of the 20th century during the Industrial Revolution. While Fung didn’t go that far, he did say there were many opportunities for the state to make itself stand out among its neighbors on the East Coast.
“I think first and foremost we have to find our identity as a state and how we want to sell ourselves, and which opportunities will be the next opportunities,” he said. “If we can find that one area that can make us an outlier from the rest of New England or the rest of the northeast region that we can be known for, I think that’s one of the keys that the governor’s position really can focus on.”
Fung said that the state should focus efforts on its fishing industry, since it is already one of the world’s leading exporters of calamari, and that each community in the state should be able to contribute something differently to the state’s overall economic condition.
“I would expand a lot on what we’re already doing,” he said, adding that it wasn’t savvy to try to force the state to become something it’s not (like a new Silicon Valley). “But if you can create the right dynamic from that governor’s office, you can have an identity.”
On politics, Fung said that he was trying to keep positive and learn from the lessons of his prior run for governor, when he lost by a small margin to incumbent Democrat Gina Raimondo. He said he wasn’t going to fall victim to mudslinging fights between primary opponents.
“I know what I’m about. I’m talking about my story and the success we’ve had in Cranston from education, from cleaning up messes we inherited, to finances and taking the city to where it is,” he said. “That’s a recipe that can work for the state of Rhode Island. I’m staying on message and not going down some of these rabbit holes that some of my opponents want.”
At the same time, he took plenty of issues with the way things are currently running, not only from a fiscal standpoint – pointing out that currently the state employs two meteorologists at a salary of $150,000 a year, plus benefits – but also culturally on Smith Hill.
“That’s something that really has to change, that same “You have to know a guy” attitude,” he said. “All of you should have a fair shot at a job based on your resume, your merit, what you’ve done in the classroom and your work experience, not because you know Allan Fung.”
When asked if being a Republican in a Democratically-dominated state was a challenge, Fung joked that it could be “very lonely,” but said the only thing that ultimately mattered to him was doing right by his constituents, regardless of affiliation.
“Once you get into office, it’s not a Republican way versus a Democratic way,” he said. “You’re not just serving Republicans in office, you’re serving everyone. I care about everyone regardless of party affiliation.”
Fung is the most recent major Rhode Island politician to accept an invitation from the Pil-PI club, which began in December of 2017. They have also pulled in Mayor Scott Avedisian, Superintendent Phil Thornton, Lt. Governor Daniel McKee, Rep. Aaron Regunberg (who is running for Lt. Governor), as well as Warwick city councilmen and school committee members.