Bucci, Hopkins spar over records, leadership in 12 News Cranston mayor debate

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The two candidates vying to become the next mayor of Cranston sparred Friday in a wide-ranging 12 News debate, butting heads over each other’s records, leadership and the legacy of outgoing Mayor Allan Fung.

Democratic candidate Maria Bucci is facing Republican candidate Ken Hopkins in the Nov. 3 election to replace Fung, who is leaving office because of term limits after 12 years at helm. Both candidates have been campaigning in the shadow of the outgoing Republican mayor, who has proven popular among voters over the years.

For Hopkins, a two-term city councilman endorsed by Fung, his campaign is largely built off the promise of carrying on the current administration — he even gave Fung’s performance in office a letter grade of “A-plus-plus-plus-plus.”

“Do we really want a change?” Hopkins asked hypothetically, suggesting Bucci wants to take the city in another direction.

Bucci disagreed, saying she has no plans to make any dramatic changes. But she underscored that Fung would no longer be in the corner office come January, and life in Cranston already looks different. (She gave Fung’s performance a letter grade of B.)

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic,” Bucci said, adding the city needed to think more creatively about how to generate economic and financial stability in the years to come. “It’s not changing the way we’re doing things; it’s doing things better and being ready for 2021.”

Bucci, who would be the first woman to serve as Cranston mayor, served as a city councilor in the 2000s and again briefly in 2012. She fired back at her opponent, challenging Hopkins on his record in office, saying she’d never seen him introduce a significant ordinance.

“We need solid ideas moving forward,” Bucci said.

Hopkins, who didn’t deny the accusation, nonetheless defended his record, pointing out he’d voted in favor of giving schools more money, lobbied to bring the golf-themed entertainment company Top Golf to the city, and pushed for new infrastructure though his time working on city budgets.

He also pointed out his opposition to a controversial Cumberland Farms gas station proposed for the city’s Elmwood neighborhood, which ultimately failed.  

“It’s also the ones you vote against that count,” Hopkins said.

The councilman reiterated his criticism of Bucci over her City Council attendance record, claiming she only showed up to “some of the meetings” when she served.

Cranston voters “don’t want a part-timer,” Hopkin said.  

Bucci disputed the accusation, saying she was “very proud” of her time on the council.

In a rapid-fire portion of the debate, where candidates were expected to answer questions with brief answers, Bucci and Hopkins agreed that police should wear body cameras. (Currently, the city has no body-worn cameras.)

They also both agreed to take a closer look at Fung’s current support of a lawsuit to overturn a controversial state law that keeps the terms of union contracts in place even if they expire when no new agreement has been reached. (Both candidates have earned union endorsements.)

In a surprising point of disagreement, the Republican nominee said he supported the legalization of recreational marijuana, while the Democratic nominee, who current works at Thomas Slater Compassion Center medical marijuana dispensary, was more uncertain.

“It needs careful consideration,” Bucci said. “I think we need to learn a lot more on how we go about it.”

Cranston is currently facing financial uncertainty because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has created challenges for local budgets across the country.

When asked how they would balance the city’s budget moving forward – which will likely be a top challenge for whomever takes office – both candidates opposed any supplemental tax increase on property owners.

They instead offered unspecified promises to find efficiencies in the city’s existing tax-and-spending plan.

“Everything is on the table,” Hopkins said, while underscoring that tax increases would not be on the table.

“We need to have a professional team with me go through the books,” Bucci added, saying she hasn’t done that already because she’s not in office.

Election Day is scheduled for Nov. 3, but voters have already started to cast their ballots. As of 1 p.m. Friday, 867 Cranston voters had either voted early (851 people) or submitted a mail ballot (16).

Cranston City Hall will be open weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. for emergency voting from Oct. 14 through Nov. 2, according to the city’s website. For more information on voters, residents can visit the city’s Canvassing Department website here.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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