A vision for Cranston’s future

A one-on-one interview with Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung

Posted 2/14/24

With the early days of Cranston’s Republican primary for Mayor making headlines state wide, Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung has once again been cast in the spotlight. However, that didn’t stop …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

A vision for Cranston’s future

A one-on-one interview with Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung


With the early days of Cranston’s Republican primary for Mayor making headlines state wide, Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung has once again been cast in the spotlight. However, that didn’t stop her from sitting down for coffee to talk with The Cranston Herald. Fenton-Fung is eager and energetic for the race, and for what she hopes to accomplish should she be elected mayor.

“We’re going to make Cranston the most dynamic and friendly family friendly city when I’m done at the end of tier two terms,” Fenton-Fung says. “And that is not all on one road. That is going down four or five roads simultaneously, and absolutely being proactive and always thinking what would get [someone] to move here? What would get somebody in their twenties to say ‘Cranston has got it going on, and not only am I going to move in here, I’m also going to bring my business.’”

And for those Cranstonians who have been here for years? “We’re providing even better services than you would expect.”

For Fenton-Fung, that vision begins by opening the doors of Cranston to the medical industries. She hopes both to address the primary care crisis facing not just Cranston, but all of Rhode Island, while also bringing the innovators who will shape the medical industry of the future to our doorstep. She says much of Cranston is ripe for this kind of development, especially with, as she sees it, Providence making it more difficult for doctors to do business.

“There’s a lot of spaces where doctors offices were being held, but now they’re being taxed and of course, being taxed at high commercial rates, as they would be in Providence… I think there’s some opportunity that they might want to come into areas that have better parking, might be a little bit safer from a pedestrian standpoint”

Additionally, she sees Cranston as a perfect place for professionals to want to put down roots. 

“I think Cranston has a lot to provide as a city and especially when you’re trying to attract higher level practitioners because then their kids are going to go to good schools. We have the right mix of parks, and it might just be a little bit better family life than an inner city.”

New tech corridors in Cranston?

Where exactly does she see these new tech corridors? “The eastern side of the city. The Wellington, Elmwood corridors. They’re underutilized. They’re not meeting their potential.”

It’s all a matter of identifying who to invite, and how to incentivize them to build here. “Who are the health care leaders of the next decade? Who are those ones that are going to innovate in these spaces?”

To answer those questions, Fenton-Fung says she plans to bring in the experts.

“When a developer comes in the door and says ‘Hey, look, I love this parcel of land.’ We can get you to meet with the fire department, we can get you to meet with planning, get you to meet with land use, so they can kind of understand what the challenges might be and get everything up front, because from a developer’s standpoint, time is money.”

Fenton-Fung says projects such as this can die on the vine if weighed down by bureaucracy. “Especially with the way financing is right now, you can’t have these projects lingering for a year or two. See what’s happened over the past few years with rising interest rates, and then sometimes you can’t follow through on those projects. And if they’d gotten them in the pipeline sooner, that’s great. So that’s how city government can really be helpful in this.”

“You need to have people who have a lot of expertise in this area. Alan (her husband and former Mayor Allan Fung)  had a great economic development director, and also number two and number three in that area, where they just worked seamlessly together. And they were deeply connected to the community.

“When I look at an economic development director, it’s a guy who really understands financing and who really understands what businesses need from that development standpoint so let’s get these through the permitting process fast.”

She envisions a future in which areas such as Knightsville, Rolfe Square, and Pawtuxet village are bustling with weekly events. She mentions the Federal Hill Commerce Association as an example of what could be set up to facilitate such projects.

She points to Newport as well, and its robust local public transit. “They have the trolleys,” she says. “Maybe you don’t need a bus, maybe you can do something on a smaller level to interconnect them. And then you get that stronger sense of community that also brings a vibrancy to a city that attracts more companies.”


But for Fenton-Fung, that development is only part of the picture. Cranstonians need to be comfortable at home as well as out in the city. She spoke about older Cranstonians she has spoken to who have told her about the struggles they face as utilities, taxes, and mortgage payments increase. She plans to address those issues directly at the city level.

“I like to see housing initiatives that are very specific, specific to older adults initially, and making sure people with disabilities who need that more one-level living. We can start giving them those options so that they can live in piece, and they can enjoy Cranston in their later years now.”

Fenton-Fung spoke of safe neighborhoods and sidewalks as well, and public transit once again. “There’s always been this dream of the cross city bus. It’d be able to connect the entire city. And I think that’s something we could work with RIPTA to do. Being able to use smaller routes we could definitely work with [Scott Avedisian] and the team over at RIPTA.”

“We’re trying to attract new companies coming in but their workers need somewhere to live. Okay? And whether that’s somebody who can afford a larger home, whether it be in Edgewood or on the western side of Cranston, or maybe it’s just a new family starting out with a one-level ranch, they want to make sure you have the housing that supports the economy, your growth and so that’s why [we’re] going to take a look at maybe really focusing on the east side, as far as that commercial development, you know, is there a possibility for mixed use development as well so that there could be apartments to support some of those newer positions.”

Safe streets

With all that development, safe streets are a necessity to Fenton-Fung. She feels especially qualified to tackle that issue given experience she had as a legislator.

“I was part of a national cohort of legislators last year. We looked at safe street designs. So it goes back to not just paving but what can you do with street art that actually helps to slow people down? What do you do with curb shape?”

She continues, “My first grant that I got when I became a state rep was tens of thousands of dollars for those speed modulator lights that we have. So they went up in my area around Hope-Highlands, on Scituate Ave. There had been a horrible accident with death resulting a few years prior on that so we got those to make people realize how fast they were actually going.”

Fenton-Fung sees this as just one opportunity to work closely with City Council to meet the unique needs of each district. She hopes to pick up what she sees as a slacking administration in this regard.

“You’ve got to work with City Council because every ward has very different areas of concern,” she says. “Ward four is definitely nothing like ward three when we’re talking about speeding issues and traffic issues. But that means getting involved in being highly involved on a day to day basis. And that’s just it’s a very intensive effort. It’s just not happening right now.”

Efforts to improve street safety in Cranston continues beneath the streets as well. She hopes to take advantage of state and federal funds to address the infrastructure meant to curb the catastrophic flooding we’ve seen so often recently, and to address the ongoing issue of lead pipes still operating beneath the city.

“President Biden put in a ton of money recently, just to address the lead pipes,” she says. “And last year at the State House, we passed massive steady state funding to address those lead pipe issues. So that’s one.”

She continues, “Also two is working on stormwater drainage. Everywhere you see street flooding. When we put in these pipes nearly a century ago, we weren’t having these intense storms… What can we do with the bipartisan infrastructure bill money to really increase the diameter of those pipes and work on the drainage?

Knowledge of the available state funding is just part of what makes Fenton-Fung’s experience as a state rep valuable as a mayoral candidate. After ousting former speaker of the house Nicholas Mattiello in 2020, Fenton-Fung has gained years of experience holding herself accountable to constituents, and working across the aisle to get work done in a Democrat supermajority general assembly.

Returns calls

“As a state rep, I call everybody back within 24 to 48 hours,” she says. “Even if it means sometimes the answer might be I can’t do anything for you, or let me look into this, but they just want to know that somebody’s heard, that somebody listened, and we’re gonna walk down this road together.”

She continues “I’m not promising you that I’ll get everything right the first time, but I’ll absolutely admit if I ever make a mistake.

On her experience working across the aisle, she gives the example of her work with Senator Hanna Gallo on Meshanticut State Park.

She says “The first thing we did was we had a huge community meeting at the library, back in October. And we were like ‘Guys, so here’s what how we’re looking at the problems. But if, if we can get this to a better place in a year or two, what do you want this to look like?”

In reaching out to the public like that, Fenton-Fung says she heard “Just things that you never thought about, from people in that neighborhood who are deeply invested.”

“I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or Republican,” Fenton-Fung says. “You represent that area, we’re going to walk through this together to get to a better spot. You can’t be fighting all the time.”

Bipartisan efforts

That bipartisanship Fenton-Fung says is lacking in today’s city government. “Some of those city council meetings are difficult to watch, she said.

She recalls the work her husband former mayor Allan Fung did with the City Council during his tenure as mayor. “Alan had a nine Democrat Council when he first started. They still worked together and got pension reform.”

That bipartisan spirit led to a number of successes in the house, Fenton-Fung recalls.

“We got rid of the we call the tangible tax here for about 75% of all businesses and most small businesses,” she said. “In Cranston we will no longer have to pay the tangible tax for that. We eliminated the tax on military veterans filing. So over the past three and a half years up there at the Statehouse we’ve gotten a lot done. And, you know, I’m proud to support budgets that reflect that not only is Cranston getting more, but I think it’s been good deals for the state.

She credits all this partially to Speaker Shekarchi as well. He’s been a very honest broker with me.

Should Fenton-Fung win the mayoral race, she would be starting her term in the first year with no American Rescue Plan Act funding, or other similar COVID era funds. That doesn’t seem to trouble her overmuch because she’s not sure what good it did in the first place.

“I don’t know what we got out of it. They were talking about the state funding and how much there will be at the end of the day to see from that ARPA, and I don’t know what we’re going to be able to say in Cranston.”

Strong finance team

That uncertainty is one reason she wants a strong finance team coming in with her, to immediately get as strong a handle as possible on the city’s finances. She says it may turn out that not everything they want can be accomplished right away.

“What exactly do we need this year versus what do we want? And sometimes those have to be deferred if we don’t have that money right now.”

She points to what she sees as evidence of frivolous purchases by the current administration. “Does the mayor need a new vehicle? Does the director of administration need a car? So many of the staff members that did not have cars before all of a sudden have these vehicles. They’re renovating the offices in [The Mayor’s] office, not the other ones that are more public facing so there’s a lot of issues that I’d say that I know from an internal perspective, as people have told me, I need to kind of be dialed back a little bit because those were all nice to have. Okay, we’re gonna make sure that the needs are filled first, and then we’ll build off from there.”

Fenton-Fung, who has never been shy about criticizing the current administration, highlighted the main difference between her prospective tenure as mayor and that of the current mayor.

“The administration here has been a little bit too reactive and not proactive. And if I’m coming in, I’m looking at what can I do in the next four to eight years to make sure that a decade from now Cranston is top of mind for people not only who want to move in here, but also companies that want to go in, because that helps from a tax stabilization perspective. You just can’t keep raising taxes to get people more, you have to create that balance.

Recently, Mayor Hopkins’ reelection campaign released a letter signed by every republican member of the city council and school committee, asking Fenton-Fung not to run. In the same letter, the Cranston Republican City Committee officially backed the mayor. This doesn’t seem to intimidate Fenton-Fung over much.

“I know the insiders don’t want me in there because they know I’m a very big disruption to the status quo,” she says. “But if you’re benefiting from this current administration, you have a really good idea that you’re probably not going to have that same type of benefit when I come in.”

In regards to the City Committee, she says “The City Committee is meant to protect incumbents. The reason there’s a new chair is because the old chair was supporting me. There’s been multiple resignations from the committee.”

In regards to her potential competition following the Republican primary, Democrat City Councilman Robert Ferri, she isn’t worried about that either. She wonders if Ferri, who she says is prone to public outbursts at city meetings, has the temperament to be mayor. She also highlights his recent change of party. However, she does say that he “Seems like a nice guy, and I would probably have a beer with him.”

The mayoral election runs in parallel to the national election for President. In 2016 and 2020, Fenton-Fung supported Trump. With what’s looking to be an election with the same candidates in 2024, Fenton-Fung isn’t so sure anymore.

“Look, I won’t vote for President Biden In 2024,” she said. “I think the foreign policy gaps alone from Afghanistan to the Middle East to the way he approaches China, that’s disqualifying for me from a leader. When it comes to Trump, I am not numb to the 91 felony counts. I am absolutely not numb to January 6. So I’m not there yet. I could give you a very political answer and make my life incredibly easy in a primary but I’m trying to give you an honest one. I’m not numb to those. And we’ll see how this goes.”

Fenton Fung ultimately says that should she win, she is eager to fill the position, and all the work it entails.

“If I’m lucky enough to be mayor, it’s a 24/7 job. I loved watching my husband and I can’t wait to step into that role myself.”

Fenton- Fung, mayor, election


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here