BURRILLVILLE – Cranston Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung visited First Universalist Church on Main Street in Harrisville for a town-hall style meeting Wednesday night, restating his opposition to a proposal to build a power plant in town, and vowing to stand with residents against the project.
“I felt it was wrong for you out here in Burrillville to not have a say,” Fung said of the plant approval process, a procedure governed by the state’s Energy Facility Siting Board that has recently been subject to calls for reform. “It should have been a decision that should have been made locally. That’s why I stand with you in saying I am opposed to that power plant.”
Resident Donna Woods, who has organized community forums with candidates for high-ranking state offices, introduced the mayor. Fung, a Republican who has led the state’s second largest city for the past nine years, will face incumbent Gov. Gina Raimondo in the General Election on Tuesday, Nov. 6. The governor, who is seeking a second term, bested Fung in the state’s last election for its top office in 2014.
“Ignorance can be bliss,” said Woods. “It can be very comfortable. But up here in northwestern Rhode Island, we are no longer ignorant to the situation. We have been fighting a goliath power plant for what’s now going on three years. Now we stand toe to toe with this monster.”
“Mayor, I ask that if elected, you kindly remember your roots,” said Woods.
Fung discussed those roots on Wednesday, pointing to his humble beginnings working in a restaurant with his parents, who were both Chinese immigrants, at the age of nine.
“That’s how I learned the value of hard work,” said Fung. “It’s that experience that has guided me every single day as mayor.”
Fung’s record as mayor of Cranston was a focal point throughout the informal discussion, as the gubernatorial hopeful pointed to investments made in public facilities, including schools and senior services. The city, he noted, was named one of America’s 50 ‘best cities to live’ by 24/7 Wall Street three years in a row under his tenure.
“We’ve got a good educational system,” said Fung. “I’m proud of what we’ve done.”
Several residents brought up the recent attack ads against the mayor in which Fung is referred to as a “Donald Trump fanboy.”
“We all know that she’s got too much money,” said resident Kenneth Putnam of the current governor. “I hope and pray that you can beat her. ”
On Wednesday, Fung also was on the attack.
“Every single department in our state is hurting,” said Fung, pointing to issues over the past several years with the Department of Children Youth and Families, and an upgrade to the state’s public assistance computer system that caused benefit delays.
“Those kids have been seriously hurt,” Fung said. “That would not have happened under my administration.”
The candidate also pointed to several widely-publicized controversies during Raimondo’s tenure, including a advertising campaign for the state that featured Massachusetts restaurants.
“Who could ever forget “Cooler and Warmer’?” said Fung, adding, “She didn’t even know what Gaspee Days was about.”
Fund said that the company that has proposed the power plant, Chicago-based Invenergy Thermal, LLC, recently donated $30,000 to the Democratic Governor’s Association.
“She’s great at fundraising,” Fung said. “Her decisions are made by the dollars that line her campaign coffers. I will stand with you as governor.”
The candidate disputed the idea that environmental causes are exclusive to Democrats.
“I will put my environmental record up against this governor’s any day,” he said, again pointing to his work in Cranston. “We’ve worked to preserve farm land.”
“I am against offshore drilling,” he said. “I’m not going to have any type of drilling going on in our beautiful oceans. I believe in renewable and I also believe in local control. I always am a protector of local decision making.”
While the forum was intended as an interview, several in attendance instead offered the mayor advice on how to win the election. Raimondo’s initial support for the plant has led many of its opponents to vocally support her challenger.
“Let the people know her failures, and that you’re seeing her failures,” advised Town Councilor John Anthony Scott.
Councilor Raymond Trinque asked Fung to tell the story of a cement plant proposed for Cranston that was ultimately defeated.
“I was opposed to putting that concrete plant right into people’s back yards,” said Fung, who noted that at the time he was serving on the City Council. Fung noted that the board ultimately passed an ordinance barring the plant, and the town purchased and protected the property as open space.
Resident Terri Lacey pointed out that power plant opponents have found themselves raising funds to fight a legal battle through car shows and bake sales.
“We shouldn’t have to do this,” Lacey said, asking the mayor, “How are you going to allow us to be heard instead of the unions running the show, and the big corporations running the show?”
“Look at my record,” Fung replied. “I like representing the little guy. I didn’t come from privilege.”
Woods has said that Raimondo has not responded to invitations to her forums.
In terms of policy, Fung noted that he does not support the recent increase in tolls, and does support the $250 million bond on the 2018 ballot for school improvements. He noted that he hopes to “shake up RI Commerce” and would like to see sales taxes gradually cut from 7 to 5 percent.
He said he does not agree with the policy of giving tax breaks as incentives to lure in large, out-of-state corporations, saying they too often create short-term jobs with no lasting impact.
“I don’t support giving millions away to bring in new companies,” Fung said. “We’ve given a lot of these big companies tax breaks but 90 percent of the jobs in Rhode Island are in small business.”
Fung said that voters should look at the last four years when making their decision November 6.
“I think we all have to ask ourselves: Are we better off than we were then?”