PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The Democratic candidates for Rhode Island governor met for their final televised debate Wednesday, a forum featuring surprisingly few fireworks as the candidates instead focused on convincing voters they're best-suited for the job.
General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and former Obama administration official Clay Pell met at Johnson & Wales University in Providence for an hour-long debate aired live on WJAR-TV.
They covered issues, including lessons learned from the 38 Studios debacle, their stance on imposing tolls on Interstate 95 and whether they would try again to settle the court challenge by unions and retirees to the 2011 pension law that Raimondo crafted.
But the debate— which featured an extra half-hour streamed only online — didn't break a lot of new ground, and the offensive jabs that marked their most recent forum were largely absent.
Raimondo continued to hold herself up as someone who is not afraid to tackle tough issues and whose experience will best serve residents in the economically struggling state.
"We need a governor who will act. I will be a governor who will take action to get you back to work," she said, highlighting her plan for what she calls a manufacturing resurgence in Rhode Island.
Taveras emphasized his efforts to prevent municipal bankruptcy in Providence and oversee its turnaround. He tamped down recent rhetoric accusing Raimondo of being aligned with Wall Street and didn't criticize Pell's qualifications, as he previously has done.
"I'm going to stand with you because I'm one of you," the mayor said, echoing the extensive member outreach being done by a coalition of unions backing him.
Pell, the grandson of the late U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell who is making his first run for public office, said he would bring a fresh perspective and new energy to the job.
"We need a different choice in this election," he said of the Tuesday primary.
A fourth candidate, Todd Giroux, who got fewer than 1,000 votes when he ran for governor in 2010 as an independent, won the laugh of the night. He said that when he hears Pell talk about offering Rhode Island a fresh face, he thinks "that's me!"
The debate highlighted several differences. Pell and Taveras said they oppose the future use of moral obligation bonds, the type that financed the deal that gave ex-Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling's video game company a $75 million state-backed loan. Raimondo said she wouldn't rule out using them if it's done "appropriately" and with proper disclosures. 38 Studios went bankrupt, leaving the state with a massive bill.
Pell said he would support a toll on I-95, while Taveras called it "regressive" and said he opposes it. Raimondo said it would be a difficult time to impose a toll — it would require special federal approval anyway — but said the state does need to find a way to fund infrastructure maintenance.
The Republican candidates for governor, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and businessman Ken Block, also met Wednesday to tape their final debate, which is scheduled to air Friday. They tried to highlight differences on policy and in leadership style and continued the sniping that has come to characterize their race.
Fung stressed again his municipal experience, saying he has undertaken "real reforms" in Cranston, including consolidating services and overhauling pensions.
"He's all talk," Fung said referring to his primary opponent. "I have done it."
Block pledged to bring "gigantic change" to the economically struggling state. He said state government must be leaner, and cited the work of his small Warwick-based software company, which specializes in detecting waste and fraud in public programs and services.
"I'm an expert at making things run more efficiently," Block said. "I'm an expert at making government run more efficiently."
Both candidates expressed support for privatization and the sharing of services. Block said he would abolish the lieutenant governor's office; Fung said he would keep it, invest it with more authority and have the governor and lieutenant governor run as a ticket.
Asked to name a mistake they've made on the campaign, Block said he had "hit it mostly right." Fung said he would have begun campaigning earlier, partly to raise more money.
The debates were co-sponsored by WJAR and Rhode Island Public Radio.