Cranston Mayor Allan Fung won the Republican nomination for governor on Tuesday, besting Barrington businessman Ken Block and setting up a November contest with Gina Raimondo, the Democratic nominee.
As of late Tuesday night, with 97 percent of precincts reporting, Fung had received 17,011 votes – 55 percent of those cast – to Block’s 13,932.
Addressing a room packed with supporters at Warwick’s Crowne Plaza Hotel – and after walking to the podium to the sounds of the theme from HBO’s “Game of Thrones” – Fung thanked his staff, family and backers while echoing the themes of economic growth, fiscal responsibility and government reform that he has made the centerpiece of his bid.
“The reason [I am running] is simple, and it’s always been the same,” he said. “I’m running for governor because I want to put the great people of Rhode Island back to work …This is the vision, this is the leadership we need in the State House, and we need it now.”
Fung said he had spoken to Block prior to taking the stage. He reached out to Block directly, and to the other GOP hopeful’s supporters to ask for their backing in the general election.
“I’m going to talk more with Ken, and I’d appreciate his support,” the mayor said.
Fung, 44, formally announced his candidacy in November 2013. The son of Chinese immigrants whose restaurant he worked in while growing up, he has frequently spoken of the role his upbringing and his Rhode Island roots have played in shaping his values. He would be the state’s first Asian-American governor.
He graduated from Classical High School, attended Rhode Island College and earned a law degree from Suffolk University. He began his career as a litigation associate in 1999, and later served as a special assistant attorney general and as government relations counsel for MetLife in 2001
Fung won his first bid for elective office as citywide councilman in Cranston in 2003. He was first elected mayor in 2008.
The Republican race early on took a negative tone, and the candidates during a string of debates sparred over their Republican credentials, records and budget plans.
In June, ahead of the men’s first televised face-off, Fung’s campaign released an ad characterizing Block’s supporters as “Blockheads.” The spot focused on what has been a centerpiece of Fung’s argument – that Block, as a former Moderate Party candidate and past supporter of both President Barack Obama and the federal health care reform law, was unfit for the Republican nomination.
During the campaign, Fung has trumpeted his own conservative credentials, and pointed to his record in Cranston – one he characterizes as rooted in fiscal responsibility, successful reform and economic growth – as making him the best choice for the state’s top elected office.
“The voters in Rhode Island, and particularly the voters in the Republican primary, deserve to know the truth about Ken Block and what he stands for,” said Fung in defense of the ads during the June debate at the Providence Performing Arts Center. “The past is the best indicator of future performance … My opponent has a history of supporting Barack Obama.”
Block at the time called Fung’s focus on those issues “an insult to voters” and a “junior high school level of campaigning.” He said throughout the campaign he would focus almost exclusively on issues of jobs and economy, and he questioned Fung’s record in Cranston on those counts.
Block also repeatedly blasted Fung in connection with the controversy that has surrounded the Cranston Police Department in recent months.
“Mayor Fung mismanaged that police department so badly,” Block said at the June debate. “This is not governance, this is not leadership. This is disqualification from being governor, in my opinion.”
Regardless of the sharp tone, both Fung and Block repeatedly said they would support the other in the general election.
In addition to challenging each other’s record, the campaign has seen Fung and Block vying for support from various segments of the state GOP. Both men received the backing of various city and town Republican committees, and Fung in late June won the state party’s endorsement.
Notable Republican figures from the state and region have also played a role in the campaign. In recent days, Fung had received the backing of Mitt Romney and William Weld. Both served as governor of Massachusetts, and Romney was the 2012 GOP presidential nominee.
Block, meanwhile, was endorsed by 2010 Rhode Island Republican gubernatorial nominee John Robitaille. State Rep. Brian Newberry of Smithfield, the House minority leader, switched his endorsement from Fung to Block on the same day.
Local committee endorsements at one point became a matter of contention in the race. Block in February had said he would not appear before any more committees with plans to make an endorsement before June or July.
Fung has faced a number of challenging moments this year. In January, the mayor disclosed that he had been involved in a 1989 accident on Route 95 that killed a 41-year-old Pawtucket man. He was not charged, and has said an unexplained loss of consciousness led to the accident.
Also in January, Fung placed former Police Chief Col. Marco Palombo Jr. on paid administrative leave and asked Rhode Island State Police to investigate allegations of retaliatory parking ticketing while conducting a comprehensive assessment of the local department’s operations.
The move came hours before a City Council vote on a resolution calling for state police involvement, and after several weeks of escalating tension surrounding the ticketing allegations.
There have been some more positive moments of late. Fung’s victory on Tuesday comes just days after the announcement that he has chosen State Police Lt. Col. Michael J. Winquist to serve as the next chief of the Cranston department. The selection is to go before the council this month.
In June, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services upgraded its long-term outlook on the city’s debt obligations. In August, the mayor announced Cranston is projecting a more than $500,000 budget surplus for the last fiscal year – marking the third consecutive year both without a tax increase and with a budget surplus.
Over the last several months, Fung has unveiled a series of in-depth policy proposals. He has called for a state constitutional convention, and in March unveiled a six-point state government reform plan.
On the education front, he has outlined measures he says would restructure governance of the state’s educational system and push collaborative efforts aimed at job skills training. On tax day in April, he proposed a $200 million tax reduction package that he said would transform the state’s tax system “from a job growth impediment to a competitive advantage.”
Fung made waves in February when state and labor leaders announced a proposed settlement to multiple lawsuits challenging state pension reform. Immediately, the Cranston mayor urged lawmakers to reject the deal.
The settlement subsequently failed to receive the needed level of support during union member voting, and litigation is set to proceed.