Allan Fung, the three-term mayor of Cranston, unveiled himself Monday as Rhode Island's Great Republican Hope, emphasizing his plan for improving the state's economy and education system while paying homage to his family's immigrant roots in kicking off his long-anticipated run for governor.
Fung described himself as a pragmatist who has fostered economic growth in Cranston, with the addition of more than 1000 new jobs since he was first elected mayor in 2008. "We supported existing businesses and attracted new ones, and this is what I intend to go as governor in every community throughout this state of Rhode Island," Fung said. "There's only one important mission, and that's to put people back to work."
In a comment reminiscent of former GOP governor Don Carcieri -- whose second term and hopes of economic improvement coincided with the Great Recession -- Fung vowed to create 20,000 new jobs.
He declined to specify how much he'll need to run a competitive primary race against Moderate-turned-Republican opponent Ken Block, although Fung (who presently lags Block in fundraising) asserted he'll certainly have enough. Block, who attracted 6.5 percent of the gubernatorial vote in 2010, announced last week he's running for governor as a Republican.
Fung made his announcement before a packed room of Republicans at Taco, the third-generation manufacturing company located a few blocks from where his parents opened a Chinese restaurant 44 years ago after coming to the US from Hong Kong. He said he began working in the restaurant at age 9.
Fung says that as governor he would remove barriers to economic growth and declare "that our state is open for business." He also said a "better statewide solution" is needed to replaced an unpopular toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge between Tiverton and Portsmouth.
Here are a few highlights from Fung:
-- He wants to fund a $1 million program to give $5000 grants to individual entrepreneurs, initially waive the $500 minimum corporate tax for recipients, and provide a tax credit for their hires "within the first few years." During a subsequent Q+A with reporters, Fung said the seed program could be funded through money used in legislative grants -- a concept that might not be embraced in the General Assembly.
-- Fung called for a thorough look at Rhode Island's entire tax system, with an eye toward enhancing the state's competitiveness, reducing regulation, and moving past a series of poor rankings in national surveys.
-- While vowing to be the state's top economic development officer, Fung also highlighted education. "We have to be innovation and accountable," he said by way of shorthand. Fung called for boosting education in science, math, robotics and the arts; closing the achievement gap between suburban and poor communities; freezing tuition at the state's public colleges and universities for four years; and making the commissioner of education report directly to the governor.
Later, in speaking with reporters, Fung said all members of the past gubernatorial administration would have to apply for their jobs if he takes over.
Fung earned a BA from Rhode Island College and went to law school at Suffolk University in Boston. He worked as a lawyer, a special assistant AG in the attorney general's office, and government relations counsel for MetLife before becoming mayor.
Despite the overarching control of state government by Democrats, Republicans have mostly held the governor's office in Rhode Island over the last 25 years. The only Democrat to win election as governor during that time is the late Bruce Sundlun, who served from 1991-95 and succeeded the scandal-tarnished Edward DiPrete.
Fung's announcement was lengthier and more detailed than the one a week ago by his longtime friend, the Democratic mayor of Providence Angel Taveras. State Treasurer Gina Raimondo is expected to also be a Democratic candidate for governor, perhaps joined by Clay Pell.
Republicans on hand for Fung's announcement included former governor Lincoln Almond; Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian; House Minority Leader Brian Newberry; State GOP chairman Mark Smiley (and predecessors Mark Zaccaria, Giovanni Cicione, and John Holmes); GOP state reps Michael Chippendale and Antonio Giarrusso; and Mike Vallente of the Republican National Committee. Members of Fung's family shared the stage with him, along with his girlfriend, Barbara Ann Fenton, head of the Rhode Island Young Republicans.
The moderate Fung, who was discouraged from becoming a Democrat by Cranston's old guard as he grew interested in politics, steered clear of social issues during his announcement, touting himself as a centrist who believes in accountable government and compromise. "Respectful, result-oriented, fiscally oriented, this is who I am," Fung said.