CRANSTON — City Council members Cynthia M. Fogarty and Allan W. Fung sought credit for the city’s fiscal turnaround at the first mayoral debate last night, lauding the improved bond rating and a pension fund they say they helped rescue.
Michael T. Napolitano, the third mayoral candidate, was not impressed.
The former municipal court judge said Republican Mayor Stephen P. Laffey and the council presided over stifling tax increases, as municipal services and infrastructure declined.
“People have told me they’ve been taxed out of their homes,” said Napolitano, 49, who is facing Fogarty in a Sept. 12 Democratic primary. “I believe we can do better.”
Napolitano, whose well-financed candidacy was endorsed by the Democratic City Committee last month, emphasized his outsider status throughout the 90-minute debate at Hope Highlands Elementary School.
Fung, a Republican ally of Laffey, said the tax increases helped end a fiscal nightmare that left the city’s rating in “junk” status and its pension fund nearly bankrupt. Napolitano assailed them as unfair to the elderly, citing real-estate data he said reveals an exodus of homeowners.
Fogarty boasted that the city made Money magazine’s list of the top 100 places to live in the United States. It continues to improve, she said, citing the planned redevelopment of the former Park Cinema, a long-stalled project she said is “moving forward.”
Again, Napolitano disagreed, and he threatened to seize the cinema property by eminent domain if elected mayor.
Napolitano, who has never held elective office, also assailed the atmosphere in City Hall, telling the packed auditorium that local politics had become needlessly confrontational.
“The bickering must end,” he said, alluding to the multiple feuds between Laffey and the Democrat-controlled City Council. “I will change the tone in leadership.”
Napolitano was not, however, the only candidate promising change in Cranston. And in his broad themes — economic development and more efficient city services — he echoed many of his opponents’ proposals.
Fogarty, 50, called for stricter enforcement of the building code to improve the city’s increasingly “run-down” appearance. And she called for consolidating municipal and School Department services to slow budget increases.
Fung, 36, pledged to use his business contacts to recruit companies to Cranston and to aid existing small businesses with new tax incentives. The commercial tax base, he said, must grow to reduce the property-tax burden on homeowners.
“We can bring in more businesses,” said Fung, a lawyer and State House lobbyist for Metlife Auto & Home. “My goal is to make the city more affordable.”
But unlike Napolitano, neither Fung nor Fogarty described the city as particularly troubled or in need of radical change.
Instead, they argued that the strategies instituted during the financial crisis in 2002 have been wildly successful, and they asked voters to reward the architects of that turnaround.
The two council members so rarely disagreed that after the debate they lingered on stage together, even posing arm in arm for a photographer.
“We cannot return the city to the practices that were in place when I joined the council,” Fogarty, a lawyer in private practice, remarked during the debate. “The initiatives we put in place have fixed the problems.”
Fung agreed. “We righted the ship,” he said in one of several transportation metaphors. “It’s a train that’s on the right track.”
Due to my work schedule, I was not able to attend. The characterization above doesn’t really tell me much, other than that Napolitano is trying to use the tax increases as his big axe to grind. Anyone else out there attend? I would like to hear more about what went on.