Gubernatorial candidates hurl insults during NBC 10 News debate

(WJAR)

Tensions flared during a televised gubernatorial debate on NBC 10 News Thursday night.

Not only was there a fiery exchange of ideas and accusations, the event was entertaining, informative and at times, out of control.

“These folks who are running against me are going to throw our progress at risk,” Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, said. “Rhode Islanders are going to lose their jobs and we're going to go right back before we started changing things.”

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung fired back.

“You've got to stop with your fairy tales about the economy in Rhode Island because people see those license plates going up to Massachusetts,” Fung, a Republican said.

The crowd at the debate, which was held at Rhode Island College, was lively and raucous as the opponents hurled insults at one another.

The four candidates were on their game, just five days before voters go to the polls Tuesday.

The first set of questions right out of the gate from moderator Gene Valicenti: was there any secret deal Raimondo and independent candidate Joe Trillo to take votes from Fung?

"I would have to be the craziest person in the world to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of my own money to get a favor that I don't need,” said Trillo, a wealthy businessman and real estate investor.

A rumor has circulated that Trillo’s step-daughter, a state magistrate, would benefit from some alliance between the two candidates. Raimondo denied any quid pro quo.

“I don’t even know who Mr. Trillo’s step-daughter is,” the governor said.

Valicenti pressed the candidates, including businessman Bill Gilbert, from the Moderate Party, on jobs, the economy and taxes. Raimondo asked Rhode Islanders for more time to finish the job she began four years ago.

“Today, all around us, we're rebuilding the roads, fixing schools,” she said. “We have the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years.”

The governor admitted to her mistakes with the state's social service computer debacle, known as UHIP. She quickly hit Fung on past problems with the Cranston Police Department, and a damning state police report from 2014.

Fung shot back.

“You want to talk about the report? If that report was so bad, why did I get the support of our Cranston Police Department? Why did I get the endorsement of the state FOP? And why did your own trooper's association donate to me and not to you?” Fung said.

Trillo zeroed in on being a small business governor and creating a loan program for small business owners. He criticized Fung and Raimondo for their flaws.

“They're learning from their mistakes. Mayor Fung, he messed up the police department in Cranston, he's sorry for it. ‘I learned, I'm growing.’ Governor Raimondo, ‘I'm learning, I'm growing.’ Guess what, go out and grow and come back in a few years,” said Trillo to audience applause.

Gilbert fought for his chance to be heard on crumbling schools, vocational education, and tourism. He called student debt our next financial crisis.

“I want to elevate the discussion. I want to inspire people. These people came to hear ideas, not see a fight. We can go fight somewhere else, not here,” he said.

Other topics during the hour-long debate centered around legalizing marijuana, ICE, driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, and guns in schools.

Meanwhile, independent candidate Dr. Luis Daniel Munoz and Compassion Party candidate Anne Armstrong were not eligible to participate in the debate, but are also on the ballot.

Watch the full debate here.

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