Fung slams Raimondo, debuts new TV ad to kick off second gov campaign

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) – Cranston Mayor Allan Fung launched his second campaign for Rhode Island governor on Tuesday, slamming incumbent Democrat Gina Raimondo for “dumb mistakes” and putting big money behind a new TV ad now hitting the airwaves.

“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,” Fung, a four-term Republican mayor, declared in his kickoff speech. He added: “Our governor has failed miserably, and it’s time to lead our state in a better direction.”

Fung suffered a narrow loss to Raimondo in the 2014 gubernatorial race, taking 36% of the vote to her 41%. (A third candidate, the late Robert Healey, received 21% as the Moderate Party nominee.) He was re-elected to a new four-year term as mayor last November, but was always expected to run for governor again.

“I told you I’d be back again, didn’t I?” he laughed on arriving at the podium Tuesday.

Fung, a 47-year-old son of Chinese immigrants, delivered his address to a few hundred supporters gathered in a vacant building at Chapel View, the former reform school that the Carpianato Group development company has turned into a major shopping center. He suggested it represents the type of economic development that would happen statewide if he’s elected.

“We know we have what it takes to make that happen because we have done it right here in Cranston,” he said.

Fung – who refused to answer questions from reporters after the event – also on Tuesday began running a new biographical TV ad reintroducing himself to voters. His campaign has bought about $82,000 of local broadcast time to air the commercial through Nov. 2.

Fung is the second Republican to jump into the gubernatorial race, joining the fray one day after House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan announced her own bid for the GOP nomination. In a statement welcoming Fung to the race, Morgan said, “I am a new face with fresh solutions to lead Rhode Island to a better and brighter future.”

More candidates could follow. Two other Republicans, former state Rep. Joe Trillo and businessman Giovanni Feroce, both said this week they are also leaning toward running – raising the possibility of a crowded party primary. (No Democrats have launched primary campaigns against Raimondo at this point, but former Gov. Lincoln Chafee has been publicly flirting with the idea.)

Offering a message likely to appeal to many local Republicans, Fung used his speech to assail Raimondo on a long list of issues: the Cooler & Warmer tourism debacle, her hiring of former Rep. Don Lally despite a revolving-door rule, her support for business tax breaks, and the state’s ever-growing $9-billion budget.

“Our fellow Rhode Islanders have become frustrated, disenchanted, and beaten down,” Fung said. “They see a government that’s held hostage by the rich and powerful, a select few who serve themselves instead of taking care of us.”

Fung also made the critique personal, describing how his elderly father’s application for public assistance to defray the cost of long-term care at a nursing home was held up for seven months because of the state’s problem-plagued new computer system for benefits, UHIP.

“Our parents, children, friends and neighbors deserve better,” he said.

A spokesman for Raimondo declined to comment Tuesday night, but Democratic Governors Association spokesman Jared Leopold quickly argued Fung “is trying to bring [President] Trump’s agenda to Rhode Island.”

“Time and time again, Fung has refused to criticize the Trump administration as its policies threatened to harm Rhode Islanders,” he said. “Rhode Island voters already rejected Fung once, and Fung’s embrace of Trump means they’ll do it again.”

Added Rhode Island Democratic Party executive director Kevin Olasanoye: “While he, Patty Morgan and Joe Trillo will inevitably argue about which version of TrumpCare they like the best, Governor Raimondo remains focused on the hard work that’s required to strengthen our economy and get results.”

Fung’s speech made no mention of Trump and contained no detailed policy proposals. He promised to “focus on cutting taxes, cutting through the red tape for businesses, cutting the Raimondo administration’s out-of-control and wasteful spending, and cutting out the culture of insider deals that benefit the elite.”

Fung has hired a new campaign manager, Andrew Vargas Vila, whose LinkedIn profile shows he is a Republican political operative from Florida. Fung has also retained a national GOP consulting firm, Convergence Media, that gained attention earlier this year for its work on a costly special congressional election in Georgia.

Fung had about $180,000 in his campaign account as of June 30, significantly more than other Republican hopefuls but vastly less than Raimondo’s massive war chest of $2.67 million, R.I. Board of Elections filings show. He acknowledged the governor’s cash advantage in his speech Tuesday.

“Friends, this is going to be an uphill climb,” Fung said. “We’re running against an incumbent governor who’s lined her pockets with millions of dollars from Wall Street, from people in Chicago, people in California, and from other places that is not Rhode Island. … She knows she can’t win running on her own record, so she’s going to spend all that money making excuses for the status quo and attacking me.”

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook