Cranston Mayor Allan Fung used his campaign announcement Tuesday to describe himself as the answer for Rhode Islanders who are unhappy with Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo and her job performance.
In a speech in front of more than 100 enthusiastic supporters at the Chapel View shopping complex, Fung signaled he plans to run an anti-Statehouse campaign while trying to unseat Raimondo after her first term in office. (He did not mention that he first has to emerge as the winning of a multi-candidate GOP primary.)
"Too many of us say, 'well, that's just the way things are done on Smith Hill,' or 'that's Rhode Island for you,' " Fung said. "My friends, we are so much better than that. We see it in the news every single day: the complete incompetence, wasteful mismanagement and shady behavior from our governor and many others sitting in that marble dome in Providence."
In 2014, Raimondo beat Fung by four points to become Rhode Island's first woman governor and the first Democrat to win the job in more than 20 years. Unemployment has fallen during her time in office, and other indicators point to economic improvement. But Republicans consider Raimondo vulnerable since publicly available polls continue to show her approval rating at below 50 percent.
Fung painted an upbeat picture of Cranston's direction and contrasted that with a series of controversies linked to Raimondo, including a botched tourism campaign, the troubled implementation of the state's costly IT system for administering human service benefits, and the hiring of a former state lawmaker for an administration job less than a year after he left office.
"I am here tonight to fulfill a promise that I made a few years ago -- if our governor couldn't turn things around, I would be back to take on the status quo, the entrenched special interests, and the dysfunction on Smith Hill," Fung said. "Well, our governor has failed miserably and it's time to lead our state in a better direction."
Campaign aides hustled Fung out of the room after he briefly greeted supporters and denied interview requests from news organizations including Rhode Island Public Radio.
In a statement ahead of Fung's announcement, the Democratic Governors Association linked him with President Donald Trump:
"Fung already lost the race for governor once back in 2014. Shortly after his loss, the Providence Journal Editorial Board said, 'It’s a good thing Fung wasn’t elected governor.' But he wants another bite at the apple and no one should be happier about it than Donald Trump. Fung was supportive of Donald Trump during the 2016 election and continues to stand by as his policies threaten Rhode Islanders. Most notably, Fung was completely silent during the Trumpcare debate, which threatened to jack up premiums and devastate Rhode Island’s state budget."
One area where Raimondo has an advantage is campaign fundraising: her campaign account tops $2 million, compared to the less than $180,000 in Fung's war chest.
Fung did not mention Trump during his speech, although he used a Trumpian line: "The status quo has to be run over with a bulldozer!"
Nor did Fung mention his GOP rivals, including House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan of West Warwick, who announced her campaign Monday. Former Rep. Joe Trillo has said he's 99 percent committed to making a run for governor.
“I want to welcome Mayor Fung to the race and look forward to discussing the issues facing the Ocean State," Morgan said in a statement. "I’m confident that I can make a case to voters that I am a new face with fresh solutions to lead Rhode Island to a better and brighter future."
In one barb aimed at Raimondo, Fung cited how Chapel View and Garden City have grown without any economic incentives.
"Our governor and her friends on Smith Hill would have us believe that businesses will only come to Rhode Island if we bribe them with taxpayer giveaways," Fung said. "As if that is the only way we can compete with our neighbors in Massachusetts."
The GOP primary for governor will be held in September 2018. Voters will decide the state's next governor in November 2018.
A son of Chinese immigrants, Fung has served as mayor of Cranston since first winning election in 2008. Term limits prevent him from seeking re-election.