Mayor Fung Refuses to Back Down

Thursday, August 25, 2011

 

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I’ve known Mayor Allan Fung for a few years. For those that know me, there are two people who were the reason I stayed in the Republican party versus becoming a life-long independent – Allan Fung and Travis Rowley. This piece is about Mayor Fung. The mayor is, in my opinion, a no-nonsense, pragmatic, New England Republican. He had a tough loss in 2006 but bounced back to win handily in 2008 when most Republicans across the country were getting crushed because of the Bush hangover. In 2010, he won by larger numbers than in 2008 and is definitely one of the most recognizable Republicans in the state.

 

If you walk the street with the Mayor – and for Cranstonians you’ve probably seen him about town – the people of Cranston respect his leadership and believe that he is the person best capable to address the city’s concerns. Democrat, Republican, or independent the Mayor enjoys the support of a majority of residents because of the work he has done, is doing, and will do in the future.

I’m not trying to make this sound like an advertisement, I’m just painting a picture of why I believe the Mayor has been successful and can continue to be successful in Cranston and potentially any other office he seeks during his career.

Mayor Fung sticks to his guns

You can count on the mayor to remain consistent with his philosophy and not change his policies just because it’s politically expedient. I have found that he’ll take positions that he believes are best for the city and most times he’s been correct.

That does not mean that once the mayor has made a decision he’s unable to change. Last year, as a way to reduce costs, the city began to turn off certain street lights. This caused an uproar throughout the city and the mayor’s office was flooded with calls. The mayor could have easily held his ground and ignored the complaints of his constituents because the city needed the cost savings. Instead, the mayor’s administration decided to turn the lights back on because of the impact on residents.

Nonetheless, the mayor’s consistent position and championing of particular ideals has held steady during his 2.5 years as Mayor of Cranston. One of those positions has been the support he has given to a mayoral academy.

Mayoral Academy – Albatross or Watershed

The mayor has been talking about a mayoral academy for quite some time. If you don’t know the mayoral academy is like other charter schools, operating outside the bounds of other public schools but would also give the mayor a greater stake within the school than he has in other Cranston schools in the city. The mayor has repeatedly stated that he’s looking to bring competition and to raise the bar on student achievement.

The Cranston Teachers Alliance (CTA) and even some school administrators expressed concern over the mayoral academy. Where will the money come from? Why do we need a charter school? Is the mayor saying the teachers aren’t doing a good job? In these and other words the CTA and school administration have fought the mayoral academy every which way.

It’s been difficult to gauge public perception on the issue, but it’s clear this issue will be an albatross or watershed moment for the mayor. Will he and others be able to convince the Board of Regents that another mayoral academy will benefit Cranston and Providence? Will residents be receptive or fearful of the new school?

In any case, the mayor is cashing in on his goodwill and only time will tell if this was a wise political move. But beyond politics and perhaps despite politics the mayor believes in the mayoral academy. The mayor believes Cranston can do better and this is one avenue to get there.

Mayor Fung impacts School Committee and Teacher’s Union negotiations

I believe the mayor’s fiscal pragmatism coupled with his desire for a more excellent Cranston school system impacted the teacher’s union contract negotiations. Undoubtedly, the members of the School Committee and the CTA spent hours hashing out the details, but they knew this mayor would fight tooth and nail for a contract that wouldn’t overly stress Cranston residents.

It’s my belief that the $5 million in savings this year is partly attributable to Mayor Fung’s insistence upon being fiscally smart in an uncertain economic world. He has stressed this to his department heads, municipal workers, and residents again and again. It seems that the School Committee and CTA are now on board with the economic realities facing the city and I’m not sure if that is possible without the efforts of the mayor.

So what’s next for Mayor Fung?

That’s the million-dollar question. Does Mayor Fung try to challenge Governor Chafee in 2014? Well, I am sure the mayor learned much from Steve Laffey’s run for Senate in 2006 in terms of biting off more than you can chew so a direct run for Governor may not be in the cards. What about a lesser office like Lt. Governor or Treasurer? Certainly possibilities but the mayor is chief executive of the city, I’m not sure if he’d be willing to take a step back?

Whatever he chooses to do, I believe this moment in time as he battles for a mayoral academy may shape his political fortunes over the next several years. The mayor has forged a legacy on pragmatism and defending the everyday resident, is the state willing to trust his leadership on a new charter school?

Time will tell.

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