By Tessa Roy, WPRO News
Two Republican candidates for governor, House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan and businessman Giovanni Feroce, squared off on Wednesday night in the first of WPRO’s primary debates.
Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, the frontrunner of Republican candidates for governor, did not participate. He has committed to only one primary debate at a station outside the Providence market, and an empty chair sat in his place on Wednesday.
Feroce said he was disappointed in Fung’s absence and wondered whether he could show up for the state if he doesn’t show up to a debate. Both candidates later weighed in on whether Fung could handle statewide public safety issues in light of debacles with the Cranston Police.
“They said it was run like the mafia,” Morgan said of a State Police report on the “Ticketgate” issue.
Feroce was asked to address his business woes that have been documented in the news media and whether he should get his personal finances in order before considering any run for office. He claimed many of the issues he’s faced could be chalked up to “errors” made by other parties.
“Someone at the court wrote that I was in receivership… you can’t do that,” he said.
He said people matter more to him than his own money.
“Want to know why someone like me doesn’t care about my own money? Because I care about people. Okay? I don’t care about me. This isn’t about me,” he said. “This is about people, and if you can find anyone even remotely qualified, certainly not you [Morgan], that would be positioned to run the state of Rhode Island better than me, then they should run for office.”
Morgan hit back.
“You did lose your house. You did lose your business… You made grave errors,” Morgan said to Feroce. “It’s hard to put faith in your ability to run the state.”
Feroce at one point accused Morgan of “defaming” him. He said she has not run a business on the same scale as he has.
Morgan countered, saying she got her own small business experience while running an air charter and flight school out of Green Airport.
“I have hired people. I have had to come up with solutions. I have had to deal with suppliers, vendors, employees. We made a successful business,” she said. “We grew it from 4 aircraft to 12 over 10 years.”
Though Morgan argued small businesses are a strong force in Rhode Island, Feroce maintained his experience and qualifications are “so far superior” to hers, saying he oversaw 1,200 employees as opposed to the 7 or 8 employees at her airport business. Feroce asked whether Morgan had ever “stroked a check” for millions of dollars or more. Yes, she said, the $9.6 billion state budget.
“I’m a former state senator,” he retorted. “Don’t tell me about the budget.”
Feroce even suggested at one point that Morgan is running for governor out of a “hatred” for Fung. Morgan said she didn’t hate Fung, but doesn’t believe he is a solution to Rhode Island’s problems.
The candidates were also asked about large scale issues the state has faced, namely the ongoing UHIP backlog. Feroce said if he’d been governor, that system would never have been implemented, while Morgan knocked Governor Gina Raimondo, saying she “checked out” of Rhode Island upon election and didn’t hire the right people.
In closing comments, Feroce said he wanted to “make a new Rhode Island,” while Morgan said she could help “make Rhode Island great again.”