CAMPAIGN 2020

Attorneys the focus of latest sparring in GOP race

By DANIEL A. KITTREDGE
Posted 8/5/20

Politics and the law frequently overlap, as do the players in each profession. Perhaps it should be little surprise, then, that attorneys have been the focus of a series of increasingly sharp exchanges between the Republican

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CAMPAIGN 2020

Attorneys the focus of latest sparring in GOP race

Posted

Politics and the law frequently overlap, as do the players in each profession.

Perhaps it should be little surprise, then, that attorneys have been the focus of a series of increasingly sharp exchanges between the Republican candidates for mayor.

In June, Council President Michael Farina and Citywide Councilman Ken Hopkins sparred over the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Paul McAuley from the council. Hopkins called for one of the council’s legal advisers to resign over his alleged mistreatment of the former Ward 2 councilman during a debate over planned pay raises for the next mayor and council.

Then, in July, the emergence of plans for a Costco-anchored development at the site currently occupied by Mulligan’s Island Golf & Entertainment led Hopkins to question Farina’s ties to the attorney for that project’s applicant.

Now, Farina has made new charges related to another prominent local attorney’s campaign contributions to his primary rival.

Farina on Monday issued a statement accusing his Hopkins of a “blatant conflict of interest” based on the timing of donations Hopkins has received from attorney Robert Murray of Taft & McSally LLP in recent months. The council president cites Murray’s support for the Hopkins campaign – including through the collection of nomination signatures – and goes so far as to allege the attorney’s donations represent “major Ethics Code Violations” on the part of Hopkins.

Murray, reached by phone Monday, pushed back against Farina’s claims as “wrong and frankly outrageous.” He also characterized them as a “smear attack,” and added: “This is so disappointing on so many levels, I’m almost speechless.”

Hopkins, too, rejected Farina’s latest salvo as a “totally bogus attack” and “gutter style tactics.”

“[Murray] is my friend. [Farina is] desperate and immature. Not signs of a quality leader,” Hopkins wrote in an email.

In a follow-up statement Monday, he called Farina’s charges “outrageous and the acts of a failed candidate,” and added: “Never in my life has anyone ever questioned my ethics and integrity … Mr. Farina’s suggestion that my actions could somehow be influenced by a donation is repulsive.”

In his Monday statement, Farina points to a pair of $500 campaign contributions Hopkins received from Murray – one on March 21 and another on June 23, according to campaign finance records.

Farina, too, received financial support from Murray earlier this year. Records show the attorney gave the council president’s campaign $250 on March 18.

The March and June contributions all came several weeks before the council considered proposed zoning amendments in which Murray represented the applicants.

Farina first cites the council’s April 24 vote in favor of Comprehensive Plan and zoning amendments to allow for the construction of a new liquor store and additional commercial space at the Oaklawn Avenue property that formerly housed the Mardi Gras nightclub and other businesses. Murray represented the applicant in that matter.

The votes that night on both the Comprehensive Plan and zoning amendments were unanimous and included Farina and Hopkins.

Farina then points to the council’s consideration last month of a zoning amendment that would allow applicants to simultaneously seek both a special permit and a zoning variance through the city’s Zoning Board of Review. The city’s currently rules do not allow both a special permit and variance to be sought at the same time.

Officials have said the change – which was sponsored by Mayor Allan Fung – would allow for Cranston Country Club to pursue the permit and variance needed for a proposed accessory solar-power installation on its property. Murray is representing the club in that matter.

Hopkins voted in favor of recommending the zoning amendment to the full council during the July 16 meeting of the council’s Ordinance Committee. That vote was 5-1, with Citywide Councilman Steve Stycos opposed.

Farina’s release, however, instead cites the vote taken on the matter during the council’s regular monthly meeting on July 27. At that meeting, the council voted to delay consideration of the special permit/variance zoning amendment pending additional information from the Planning Department. The vote was 7-1 in favor of referring the matter back to its Ordinance Committee for further consideration in September.

Both Farina and Hopkins were part of the majority for the July 27 vote, with Ward 5 Councilman Chris Paplauskas the sole dissenter. Farina’s release incorrectly states that Hopkins voted in favor of the zoning amendment on July 27.

Farina’s statement also raises Murray’s long legal representation of Garden City Center, suggesting that Hopkins’s opposition to the proposed Mulligan’s Island development – which Farina describes as a “potential major economic competitor for Garden City” – is motivated by “self-benefit” and a desire “to protect the financial interests of his biggest donor, Murray.”

“Ken Hopkins clearly violated the Cranston City of Cranston Code of Ethics, Section 15.04, and Mayor Fung’s Executive Order 09-07 ‘Ethics in Government,’” Farina said in his statement. “Hopkins’ actions underscore his questionable morals and shed light on unethical behavior that can not be tolerated by the City of Cranston residents. Cranston cannot afford to go back to the ‘old days’ of political cynicism, corruption, and cronyism. I pledge to the residents of Cranston that when I am elected your Mayor, my administration will adhere to the highest ethical standards and be an example of a competent, honest, transparent government that serves the people of Cranston first, foremost, and always.”

Records show Murray has donated to both Farina and Hopkins in years past. His list of political contributions in recent years includes a host of other local and statewide elected officials – among them Gov. Gina Raimondo, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, U.S. Rep. David Cicilline and House Minority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi of Warwick – as well as several past and present members of, or candidates for, the Cranston City Council.

Murray on Monday said in the last four years, he has contributed to the campaigns of both Hopkins and Farina. Records indicate he gave $1,250 to Farina between 2019 and early 2020 and has given $1,500 to Hopkins since 2016.

Murray acknowledged his support for Hopkins, which has included gathering “a few” nomination signatures, but also said he has known Farina’s family for “probably 45 years” through the political scene.

Murray defended his record and his political contributions throughout the years, saying: “I’ve supported Republicans and Democrats in this city for many years, never with the thought that I was influencing someone’s vote … It’s never been with the expectation that someone’s going to vote a certain way.”

He added: “I’ve been practicing land use and zoning in this city for the last 32 years. I’ve never had anybody suggest in any way my behavior or performance was in any way unethical, and I’m disgusted that the council president has chosen to attack me in this way.”

Murray noted that his $250 March contribution to Farina occurred around the same time as the $500 contribution to Hopkins that he council president criticized. He said the donation to Farina came in response to a fundraising mailer since the in-person fundraiser had been canceled due to the pandemic.

“Why is a contribution to him OK, and then a contribution to Ken Hopkins isn’t?” the attorney said.

Hopkins echoed Murray’s comments, writing in an email: “He took campaign contributions from Bob Murray the same time that I did … Farina had no problem taking $1,000 last year when I wasn’t running for mayor.”

Farina, through an email statement, responded: “It is true that I have received donations when I hold specific fundraising events, however, I have never received an unsolicited contribution from a lawyer who represented projects going before the City Council. If Bob had had an upcoming zoning issue on the docket when the donation was made, I would have returned or rejected the donation. In this instance my opponent blatantly exhibited unethical behavior.”

Murray also rejected as “absurd” Farina’s assertion that the proposed development at Mulligan’s Island represents a threat to Garden City Center and that any such consideration was influencing his, or Hopkins’s, approach.

The attorney added: “This is clearly a reaction to Ken Hopkins questioning [Farina’s] lack of support for the neighbors on the Costco project and his alliance with Mr. Bolton.”

Hopkins has questioned Farina’s ties to Bolton, who has represented applicants in several projects brought before city officials for consideration, including a solar installation on Hope Road the unsuccessful plan for a Cumberland Farms in Edgewood.

“My opponent works for CVS and it is well known Mr. Bolton is a leading zoning and land use lawyer for the pharmaceutical chain … Their business relationship explains why my opponent worries more about Costco’s rights than protecting neighborhoods,” Hopkins said in a recent statement.

In a statement Monday, he added: “Rather than support the people of Oaklawn Terrace, Garden Hills and the Mayfield Plat he sides with the out of state developer who is looking to wreak havoc on the lives and neighborhoods of our community.”

Records show Bolton, a partner with the firm Hinckley Allen & Snyder LLP, made donations of $500 to Farina in October 2016, November 2017, March 2019 and October 2019. Bolton, a former Cranston Municipal Court judge, has also previously donated to Fung, Gov. Gina Raimondo and other state and local officials.

Farina, in an email response, offered the following statement on his relationship with Bolton: “I have not received a contribution from John Bolton since my October 2019 fundraiser. In 2017 he gave me $500 and in 2018 his wife gave me $500. All donations were tied to fundraisers we held and he had no business before the council when those donations were made. In fact I believe the only matter that Attorney Bolton has had come before the council in the last 3 years was the Edgewood Cumberland Farms project which I removed from consideration killing the project. The idea that Bolton is a politically connected attorney is made up fantasy by Mr. Hopkins and his campaign. Mr. Hopkins started this mudslinging weeks ago and is now upset that we have let the people of Cranston know the truth he is not ‘The Name You Can Trust.’ I will support the residents in the Costco project and continue to listen to their concerns and hear the proposal from the developer.”

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