Talk With Mayor of Cranston, Rhode Island
Aired September 5, 2003 - 07:35 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Now to Rhode Island. The mayor of Cranston, Rhode Island cracking down on city workers that he claims are taking too many liberties while on the clock. For the past five months, he's been keeping a private eye, literally, on public employees. Investigators videotaping workers showing up late, leaving early and sleeping on the job.
The Cranston mayor, Stephen Laffey, is with us live today in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
Mr. Mayor, good morning to you.
MAYOR STEPHEN LAFFEY, CRANSTON, RHODE ISLAND: Good morning.
HEMMER: Was it worth the 15 grand that you paid out to investigators?
LAFFEY: Yes. Yes.
LAFFEY: Yes. The City of Cranston and the State of Rhode Island for the last 40 years have degenerated into a dying industrial state. The outrage of people sleeping on the job and crossing guards not taking care of the children has resonated throughout the State of Rhode Island with overwhelming support. And what I need is a change in behavior.
Cranston has the lowest bond rating in America and it's in dire financial straits and we're coming out of it and we need everybody to be working hard for the citizens and the taxpayers of Cranston.
HEMMER: Where did you get this idea?
LAFFEY: I got it from the taxpayers. I exposed probably the most egregious municipal contract in the United States, crossing guards who make $121 an hour, including free medical and collect unemployment on the state dime.
HEMMER: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. A cross guard makes $121 an hour?
LAFFEY: They make -- they work one hour a day, $45 in cash, complete free health care, dental, paid holidays, sick time and the kicker is they collect unemployment on the summertime on the city's dime.
HEMMER: Did you see them as easy targets?
LAFFEY: No. What I saw were specific complaints from the citizens of Cranston when I exposed this egregious plan when I became mayor, where people called me and said mayor, not only are they making too much money, they're not crossing our kids. Or they're standing on corners where there are no kids crossing. Absolute political patronage.
LAFFEY: And so I undertook an investigation for a small amount of money and look at what we found.
HEMMER: The head of the union for the cross guards issued a quote. He says you were just trying to capitalize on headlines, essentially. We'll put it up for our viewers to see. Donald Iannuzzi says, "This is just another indication the mayor is seeking headlines, creating hysteria and blowing life out of proportion."
They want to take you to court.
Your reaction on this?
LAFFEY: Well, two things. One, it would be nice if Don Iannuzzi said no, the mayor's wrong, the people were really working hard. He can't say that. And, two, I invite him and I invite you to walk with me in the working class districts of Cranston, Rhode Island and talk to people who can't pay their Alzheimer's medication because taxes are too high, where people can't buy books for their kids or take them to Fenway Park because their taxes are too high. the American Dream is at risk of dying in Cranston and other cities in Rhode Island if we don't change the way we do business.
HEMMER: Now, you've been criticized saying, and I'm not quite sure what happened on these dates. You can explain it for me.
HEMMER: You were there with the cameras on the 12th of April. Where were you on the 13th of April?
LAFFEY: Oh, we did an investigation that was completed on the crossing guards after school was out. At the same time, we heard about the street sweepers from my consumers, the citizens, and I noticed that the streets weren't being sweeped. So before school started, we've now exposed both programs. But I didn't want to bring one to the public's eye without finishing the other investigation.
HEMMER: Yes, tell me a bit more about the reaction. What are you hearing?
LAFFEY: I have, I mean, over -- I have new -- I have stuff coming in from all over the nation. But from Cranston, I mean, I've got a pile here. "I applaud the mayor for his courage to do the right thing." Here's a guy who called me and said this has been going on for years, it's nice to see it's finally being exposed. In the '80s, he used to go down Resor Avenue (ph) at 5:00 a.m. and see all the street sweepers lined up in Dunkin' Donuts asleep in their cabs.
People are outraged. Rhode Island is a unique municipal government. There's about six private workers for every municipal worker. There's 55 in the national average. People are literally being taxed out of their homes in Cranston and other cities, and we've got to turn it around.
HEMMER: Here in the City of New York, Mayor Giuliani back in the mid-'90s busted panhandlers and subway jumpers.
HEMMER: He said it was the small things that would add up to the bigger things.
LAFFEY: That's exactly right.
HEMMER: You agree with that? Or are we giving you too much credit on this?
LAFFEY: No, Mr. Giuliani is exactly right. He's right about the street sweepers. He's right about the panhandlers. The little things turn behavior and people now are realizing in Cranston, and hopefully in Rhode Island, that things have to change. And what's happening in Rhode Island, the outrage, but the real thing that was sad to me was there was no surprise. No one called me, no one in the coffee shops yesterday said I'm surprised this is going on. They all knew it was going on. That's the sad thing. That's the behavior we have to change to make Rhode Island and Cranston great again.
HEMMER: Stephen Laffey is the mayor of Cranston, Rhode Island, in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
Thanks for your time.
LAFFEY: Thank you, sir.
HEMMER: Appreciate it.
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