Article by Laura Weick and Mary Lind

Photo by Laura Weick | (Left to right) Joe Trillo, William Gilbert, Gov. Gina Raimondo and Mayor Allan Fung.

The University of Rhode Island, the Providence Journal and the Public’s Radio hosted the Rhode Island gubernatorial debate on Monday evening in Edwards Auditorium.

Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo, Republican Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, Independent candidate Joe Trillo and Moderate Party candidate William Gilbert participated. Ian Donnis from the Public’s Radio, Providence Journal reporter Patrick Anderson and the Good Five Cent Cigar’s Editor-in-Chief Lianna Blakeman moderated the debate.

“I think we had a spirited debate,” Donnis said after the event. “I was glad that we had the four candidates we did. I think that they each had a lot to say. Clearly, Mayor Fung is trying to frame himself as the candidate of change. Governor Raimondo is arguing that she deserves a second term. We heard Moderate candidate William Gilbert, who has not had a lot of exposure, talk about some of his ideas, and independent Joe Trillo, who is making his case.”

Multiple outside groups were vocal during the debate. One of them was a group of Black Lives Matter activists. Several times throughout the debate, while Trillo in particular was talking, shouts of “racist” and “no more ‘n’ word” were made, and afterward several members of the group approached the stage to speak to him.

One man shouted “If I get an assault charge, I go to jail,” in response to the recent revelation that Trillo was charged with simple assault against Nicholas Mattiello, who is currently the RI Speaker of the House, in 1975.

“Joe Trillo has a record,” said protestor Bro. Gary Dantzler. “And I don’t understand, why is he on that stage? And Gina, Gina Raimondo should’ve denounced him. I don’t understand that,” he continued.
Another protester, Gail McHugh, said that she opposed Trillo because of his alleged past use of the ‘n’ word and for having made “racist comments.”

Alan Rosenberg, the Executive Editor of the Providence Journal, said of the protesters that he didn’t think of them as “too unruly.” “They got their point across I think, but it would have been better maybe if the candidates had a chance to get their ideas across more clearly without being interrupted.”

The debate began with Donnis questioning Trillo about his temperament. A police report from 1975 released last week accused Trillo of striking future Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello in the head with a caulking gun.

“I think there’s no question that I have the right temperament to be governor, especially at this time,” Trillo said. “I think we need a governor that’s not afraid to go head-on with the special interests that are controlling this state. I’m not a laid back, easy-going guy. If you’re looking for that, it’s not me.”

Anderson continued by questioning the candidates about the tax cut passed in Congress. Raimondo opposed the bill and credited Rhode Island’s economic growth to state-level efforts under her leadership. Gilbert said that it is too soon to determine the effects of the cut. Trillo supported more tax cuts.

Fung argued that the tax cuts helped the economy, and Rhode Island should cut its sales tax and cut fees for small businesses.“You’ve seen companies in Rhode Island, CVS, take advantage of those tax cuts and reinvest in more jobs,” Fung said. “You’ve seen other companies now in across the country, get back some of those dollars to hard-working employees through bonuses, more increased wages. It works.”

Blakeman asked the candidates about how they would increase access to higher education. Raimondo said that the Rhode Island Promise scholarship, which makes community college in Rhode Island free, was one way that she had already achieved this.

“[RI Promise] has allowed students to go to CCRI for two years tuition-free,” Raimondo said. “We’ve seen record-breaking results. Forty-three percent increase in enrollment, three times as many students on path to graduate on time and particular benefits for the poor kids and kids of color. I’d like to do the same thing at Rhode Island College and URI.”

Fung responded by suggesting that the state should set a solid foundation for kindergarten through third-grade education and to create more opportunities for STEM and technical education. Trillo said that it’s more important for students to be prepared for higher education, and Gilbert said that he would like to see Rhode Island education improved.

Another topic at the debate was immigration. Trillo was asked if he would “deputize” local law enforcement and state police in order to apprehend illegal immigrants. Trillo said that he only plans to follow federal immigration law. Fung, who has said in the past that he is opposed to Rhode Island being a “sanctuary state” for illegal immigrants, said he was the only mayor in the state to cooperate fully with ICE in the handing of illegal immigrants.

Gilbert saw the issue slightly differently. “I know that there’s people that lived here their whole life because their parents brought them here and they don’t have a green card,” Gilbert said. “Should they not work? Are we gonna send two million back? Are we gonna lock them all up?” He also added that, while he doesn’t like family separation policies, he does not want what he called “illegal” competition in Rhode Island’s economy.

Raimondo argued that Fung and Trillo were politicizing the issue. She also said that undocumented immigrants guilty of a crime should be deported after completing their sentence. However, she said that the immigration system was primarily ICE’s responsibility and a “mess” that is Congress’s problem to fix. She said that as governor, she would follow the constitution and have police that help keep citizens safe.

Other issues discussed included abortion, Raimondo’s pension reform, kneeling during the national anthem, coastline preservation and the creation of an Office of Inspector General. The debate concluded with closing statements from the four candidates that summarized their points.

Many students who attended the debate had strong opinions on the candidates.

“I think that Governor Raimondo was clearly the winner of this debate,” senior Cheyenne Cazeault said. “She was the most composed. I think she knows what the people of Rhode Island need and want. And I know a lot of people think she’s not doing a lot, but change does take time, and sometimes that means it takes more than one term.”

Max Regine, also a senior, said that although the debate was close, he felt that Fung won.

“I just feel that the time that Gina Raimondo has had in her term, she hasn’t done enough of what she was going to say, and Fung really pointed that out, and I believe that Fung will do a better term,” Regine said.

However, Regine also believed that Trillo stood out during the debate.

“He really took the stage,” Regine said. “He really put his viewpoints out there, and with all the stuff going on around him, he really threw that under the mud, and then he basically blasted everything negative about him, and made it a positive.”