Fung for mayor
Last year in this space, following the release of the Rhode Island State Police assessment report of the Cranston Police Department, we wondered whether Mayor Allan Fung’s political future was in doubt – and whether he would be able to restore the frayed or lost trust of many city residents.
The report was deeply critical of the mayor, his administration, and the former command staff of the Cranston department. It specifically asserted Fung and his aides had interfered politically in the department’s operations, and that his relationships with top-ranking police officials had enabled abuses of power that profoundly affected the lives and careers of other officers.
Many months later, the report’s contents remain troubling, and some of the matters it outlined continue to unfold. Thankfully, the city’s police force seems to have largely emerged from the cloud of controversy. We, like all Cranstonians, are heartened by that development. Those who put their lives on the line to keep our community safe deserve support, stability, and leadership worthy of their service.
Fung, for his part and to his credit, has taken meaningful steps to address the questions and concerns the report raised. While his answers in some cases have been lacking – and his handling of the department before and after the so-called “Ticketgate” episode was often far less than ideal – we acknowledge that the problems he faced within the department were deep-seated, stemming from decades of factionalism. These were problems destined to boil over at some point. They were also destined to be painful and difficult to deal with once they did.
Just as Fung deserves scrutiny for incidents that occurred on his watch, he should be credited for the improvements that have taken place. It seems beyond dispute that the Cranston Police Department today is in a far better place than it was in November 2013. And regardless of the timing or impetus, it is Fung who ultimately asked the state police to become involved, and who selected Col. Michael Winquist to be the local department’s chief.
We have made the police issues so central to this piece because Fung’s challenger this year, Democrat Michael Sepe, has made them such a core component of his campaign.
Sepe has repeatedly, and rightfully, referred to the 182-page state police report as a must-read for city residents. During a recent debate on WPRI’s “Newsmakers,” he began his opening remarks by reprising a familiar indictment of Fung – accusing the mayor of “cover-ups, deception, and political interference,” and cautioning Cranston voters that a vote to re-elect the mayor would bring more of all three.
Sepe has dedicated himself to the community in multiple capacities over the years. He has deep roots in, and knowledge of, the city. We have no doubt he wants what is best for Cranston and its citizens. His prior service in city government, and his professional background as a CPA, certainly give him the tools needed to step into the mayor’s office.
Throughout the campaign, however, we have found Sepe’s candidacy to be largely predicated on the fact that he is not Allan Fung, rather than on a concrete, compelling, and affirmative case to voters. For some, that may be enough. But based on the entirety of Fung’s record – and the clear progress the city has made since he first assumed office in 2009 – we support the mayor’s re-election, and urge Cranstonians to do the same.
The police matters have not been Sepe’s only focus for criticism. He has also made Fung’s 2014 unsuccessful bid for governor – and the widely held belief that the mayor hopes to run for that office again in 2018 – a central line of attack.
It is without doubt fair to ask whether Fung still aspires to higher office, and whether he intends to again run for governor. We believe the city’s voters understand that possibility, and are sophisticated and fair enough to determine whether it ought to be a decisive factor at the polls. From our perspective, it should not be. We do not believe in penalizing ambition, particularly when the fluidity of politics means no outcome is certain.
Fung is seeking what would be his final term in the mayor’s office, a post to which he was first elected in 2008. He has spoken of wanting to “finish the job,” of completing a journey that began in the wake of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and has seen Cranston take undeniable strides forward in a host of areas.
For a city that has seen tough times and borne the brunt of fiscal imprudence in many cases over the years, it is difficult to view Fung’s tenure as anything but a success. He has taken meaningful, lasting steps to contain and address Cranston’s legacy costs. The city has seen its cumulative surplus grow, and its bond rating improved. There has been meaningful economic development, and not just at Chapel View and Garden City.
Cranston is in a far better place financially than it was eight years ago, and there is more work to be done. The city’s voters should give Mayor Fung the opportunity to continue building on what has already been accomplished.