Stephen Laffey, mayor of Cranston, Rhode Island, believes in his city. Armed with a combination of street smarts, populism and a Harvard M.B.A., for almost three years he’s been putting this heavily working-class community of about 80,000 on the road to sound fiscal footing. But certain local labor bosses are determined to make his job as difficult as possible.
Laffey, 43, and a Republican, was first elected mayor in this traditionally Democratic stronghold in 2002. Upon his taking office the following January, Cranston’s bond rating was the lowest of any U.S. city; bankruptcy loomed. Reluctantly, Laffey persuaded the city council to raise taxes. In return, he won spending concessions, including cutting costs of labor-intensive activities inflated by the demands of public-employees unions. “We were paying unionized crossing guards the equivalent of $129 per hour,” he recalls. “We had to do all those things. There was really no other option except bankruptcy.” His administration’s most controversial move was to install hidden workplace cameras at selected locations. Suspicions proved warranted; members of Teamsters Local 251 were caught, literally, sleeping on the job.
Despite the ensuing uproar, Laffey’s policies have raised Cranston’s bond rating to investment grade. Voters re-elected him a year ago. Now he’s challenging incumbent Lincoln Chafee for the U.S. Senate in 2006. Organized labor can be counted on to oppose Laffey. Less expected, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has joined in. The NRSC, not to mention Teamsters Local 251, might try explaining to Rhode Island voters why time-clock thievery is somehow nobler than cash thievery. (National Review Online, 10/18).