CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Veteran state Rep. Charlene Lima is weighing a run for Cranston mayor next year, when the corner office in Rhode Island’s second-largest city will be open for the first time in more than a decade.
“I’m seriously considering it,” Lima, a Democrat who serves as deputy House speaker, told WPRI 12.
“A lot of people have talked to me about it — even Republicans,” she said, adding: “I have a lot of energy and a lot of ideas. I’ve talked to a lot of people, former mayors, present mayors, who felt that when you’re the executive of a city, you can get a lot more done.”
Lima said she expects to make a decision by early autumn. She was first elected to the General Assembly in 1992, making her one of the House’s longest-serving members. She is currently sitting on $111,000 in campaign cash, giving her a sizable war chest to fund a bid.
It’s not the first time a run for mayor has been on Lima’s radar screen: she recalled getting a phone call years ago from late Providence Mayor “Buddy” Cianci encouraging her to run. She said Cranston residents deserve “a better quality of living” because “we pay high taxes.”
“I always wonder, why hasn’t anybody taken the initiative?” she added.
Cranston has never elected a woman as mayor. If Lima ran, it would also open up her seat in House District 14, which runs westward roughly from Route 5 to Route 10 and also takes in a small portion of Silver Lake in Providence.
Republicans have had a near-lock on Cranston City Hall over the past century, with a Democrat serving as mayor during only six years since 1963. The incumbent, Republican Allan Fung, was first elected in 2008 and is barred by term limits from running again when his current four-year term ends in 2020.
Lima is not the only Cranston Democrat who could seek the party’s nomination. Former Mayor Michael Napolitano — who narrowly beat Fung to win the office in 2006, but retired two years later — confirmed he is mulling a comeback.
“Let’s put it this way, I would certainly consider it,” Napolitano told WPRI 12 in a brief phone interview. But, he added, “That’s not necessarily the only office I would consider.”
The top Democrat on the Cranston City Council, Steven Stycos, is also a potential candidate. “I am considering a run for mayor,” Stycos said. But, he added, “I have no idea when I would decide that. I just got through the last election.”
Cranston’s most powerful elected Democrat is House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. Asked whether Mattiello would support Lima for mayor, since she is a member of his leadership team, Mattiello spokesperson Patti Doyle said, “The speaker thinks it’s way too early to provide comment on speculation about who may or may not run for the office.”
With Fung on his way out, Cranston Republicans will also need to pick a new standard-bearer. Holding onto Cranston City Hall is likely to be a top priority for the statewide GOP, since the party no longer holds any statewide offices and last year lost the Warwick mayoralty for the first time since 1992.
Among those being discussed as contenders for the Republican mayoral nomination is Fung’s wife, Barbara Ann Fenton, who has not ruled out trying to succeed her husband. “I know there is a new rumor everyday about our future plans,” she said last month. “I won’t be pouring any fuel on that fire.”
“I don’t know what she wants to do,” Fung told The Public’s Radio last week when asked about his wife’s plans. “No matter what, she will be fantastic at it, if that’s what she decides, and obviously I’ll support her. But she’s got a lot that’s going on right now between her working career and doing on a lot of boards and commissions, helping our community.”
Cranston City Council President Michael Farina, who was first elected as a Democrat but switched parties in 2016, is frequently mentioned as a likely contender for the GOP mayoral nomination. He said he expects to make it official “in early 2020.”
“As far as mayoral run goes, my team and I are well beyond the consideration phase, forming committees or talking to residents,” Farina said in an email. “We know what we need to do to make a successful run for mayor and most all the people we have spoken with are supportive of our run.”
“We have started the process and we’re having lots of fun working towards the goal together,” he continued. “There are several milestones we need to hit as we work through our plan but we have been on the path since last year.”
Two other Republican City Council members, Chris Paplauskas and Ken Hopkins, also confirmed they are looking at a bid.
“My number one priority right now is to keep working hard for the city I love,” Paplauskas said in an email. “The past five years on the council has been great and a lot has been accomplished, but I certainly am not done working for Cranston. Now if I continue that on the council or in the mayor’s office only time will tell. I haven’t given myself a hard date to make a decision.”
Hopkins said he has formed an exploratory committee as he ponders whether to run. “A bit early but giving it plenty of consideration,” he said in an email.
Former Republican City Councilman Jim Donahue, a Fung ally who has helped the mayor raised campaign money over the years, said Wednesday he too is “giving some consideration to a run.”
“Obviously I’m committed to supporting Mayor Fung through the next 22 months of his term,” Donahue told WPRI 12. I believe he’s doing a great job and he’s got a number of things he wants to accomplish for the city.”
With a year and a half to go before the election, he added, “it is early.”
An earlier version of this story described Michael Napolitano’s political career incorrectly.