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BPR Interview: Allan Fung

Allan Fung was the Republican candidate for Rhode Island Governor. Fung has been Mayor of Cranston since 2009 and was the first Asian American mayor in the state. He lost in the 2014 gubernatorial election to Democrat Gina Raimondo. The interview was conducted for BPR by Henry Knight and Michael Chernin.

Brown Political Review: How would you apply the Cranston experience to all of Rhode Island to promote better governance?

Allan Fung: The experience that I had as chief executive of the third-largest city in Rhode Island has prepared me for any challenges coming up at the state level. A lot of the things that we’ve done locally to make sure that we are not only stabilizing the city finances, but also providing appropriate services to the residents and functioning properly in terms of creating a better business environment, have all seen real results. There are real reforms that we’ve implemented locally that could be taken to the state level. Local chief executives have a pulse of what’s going on in their communities, and it’s that type of experience that I want to bring to the statehouse: to foster better relationships with mayors and town administrators and particularly to foster a healthier business climate so that we can improve our economy, get higher on national rankings and get people back to work.

BPR: Why do you think that lowering the corporate tax rate will create jobs?

AF: My $200 million tax reduction plan isn’t just focused on the corporate tax rate; it’s a comprehensive plan that focuses on the corporate tax rate, the death tax and the sales tax. All of those levers are crucial to improving our overall tax environment, particularly for businesses. My approach would be to make Rhode Island a center for business within the region. It’s difficult as a small state to compete with all 50 states and against the global economy, but my premise is that we are an important hub, and if we can support many of the businesses that are here, even in this down economy, [we can] send the message to employers outside the state that we want them here, too. That’s a comprehensive strategy that I want to implement.

BPR: Would it be more about drawing in new businesses or increasing additional hiring from businesses already in Rhode Island?

AF: It’s both, actually. The main focus of that $200 million would be on the local businesses that are here and about not forgetting the small business owners, because that’s the background that I came from. The minimum corporate tax is one that many businesses pay, and it’s frustrating for them. I hear a lot from people [who don’t view the tax as a burden]: “What’s $500?” Well, it’s those months when my parents couldn’t cash their paycheck or had to take money out of their own pockets to sustain their expenses. $500 means a lot. And that’s where those dollars can be better utilized: Small businesses can hopefully put it back into their business or even towards hiring.

BPR: Johnston, Rhode Island recently received military equipment through a military surplus program. In light of recent events, how do you think we can improve policing procedures without relying on military surplus?

AF: I think you’re raising two different questions: procedures and equipment. Because some of the resources are definitely needed to help aid the police in some of the situations that they have encountered or that they may encounter in the future. But the equipment should be a lot more targeted towards the particular needs of a police force, instead of police just grabbing as much as they can in the hopes that it can be utilized. I support providing the necessary equipment to local cities and towns and to our state police force. I think the second process question relates more to fostering improvements in policing overall, and we need a lot more communication between the police department, the officers themselves and the community. I’m a strong advocate and proponent of community policing. With a continued level of engagement at the local level, there’s a lot more trust that’s built in. It also helps from an enforcement standpoint when neighbors have an opportunity to know who is patrolling their areas.

BPR: Do you worry about voters’ assumptions about your social policies after seeing that you have been endorsed by the National Rifle Association and the Rhode Island State Right to Life Committee?

AF: I’m not too worried about quick leaps, because quite honestly, I have a proven track record during my three terms as mayor that shows who I am, what I’m about and what I hope to do. That message is resonating with many Rhode Island voters. They understand that I’m not some really hardcore person. I sit, I listen and I empathize. And that’s the same type of leadership and the same skills that I’ll take to the state house.

BPR: Rhode Island voters don’t fit neatly into either major party — there are a lot of swing voters, and party affiliation in the state isn’t very strong. How has your campaign taken this into account?

AF: One thing I won’t get into is the strategy of the campaign. But what I can tell you is that I’m out there and that I enjoy a broad base of support that crosses party lines. Rhode Islanders, regardless of party affiliation, are supporting me because they respect what I hope to do to turn our state around. I think that’s the message that I’ve been sending from day one. The track record that I have established in Cranston is about how I operate above partisan politics and do the right thing for the people.

BPR: How do you see the relationship between universities and the cities that they exist in?

AF: Universities and colleges play an integral role in helping to foster a better economy because they are educating the workforce of the future. There has to be a symbiotic relationship that exists, so that once students are done with college, they can hopefully continue to stay in the state. There are also challenges. I have part of Johnson & Wales in Cranston, so there are challenges that are presented with having students and making sure they don’t infringe on the quiet in surrounding neighborhoods. It’s a delicate balance. Actually, I’ve had a pretty good working relationship with Johnson & Wales, which was fostered through communication and a willingness to work together.

About the Author

Henry Knight '16 is the Interviews Director at Brown Political Review.