Steve Laffey Creates Controversy At Operation Clean Government Forum

The former Cranston Mayor was the keynote speaker at the event that took place at the Varnum Armory on Main Street in East Greenwich on Saturday morning.

Former Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey stirred up controversy at Saturday's Operation Clean Government forum in East Greenwich.

Approximately 200 people from around the state attended the forum, which took place at the Varnum Armory on Main Street. OCG is a grassroots advocacy organization.

Verbal fireworks resulted during the event when Laffey, the keynote speaker, accused state Sen. James Sheehan of North Kingstown of being the type of politician who talks down to voters.

Sheehan wasn’t on the program, which included a panel discussion and remarks from the audience, but he had come to the podium in response to one such remark.  Sheehan told the gathering that he understood the anger out there, but said that people had to understand that there have to be logical, reasonable ways to do things.

As Sheehan walked away, Laffey described him as the perfect politician on this topic. 

“He said to you again that he understood, that he wanted you to connect with him, that he understands your pain,” said Laffey.

“These people keep saying this to you,” he said. “When they say it to you, they are talking down to you, like you don’t know what they are saying.”

Sheehan rushed back to the podium and told Laffey he was an egomaniacal person.  “Everybody knows you like to play to the crowd,” he said. "You like to come back, fly in from Colorado, where you’ve given up on [Rhode Island]. 

“You have a very big ego, Mr. Laffey. You don’t even know what I’ve done, you don’t even have an idea where I represent, but you want to make me this puppet for everything you don’t like about government," Sheehan said.

“Mr. Laffey is coming here as the great bomb thrower, but not proposing solutions.”

Laffey, who was a U.S. Senate candidate in 2006, now lives in Fort Collins, Colo., where he recently started a media company and is currently filming a documentary entitled Fixing America.

OCG invited Laffey to be part of the forum, along with Edward Mazze, of the URI business school; Gary Sasse from Bryant University; and Larry Valencia, a former head of OCG, now a state representative from District 39.

In his remarks, Mazze told the audience that local government should be re-organized into a five-county state.  “We continue to play the game that we can take care of the problem with a Band-Aid,” he said.  He also said that in addition to massive cuts in government spending there will have to be increased taxes.

Sasse said that the state has a spending problem, not a revenue problem and that he wants to see some budget cuts before talking about a tax increase.

Laffey, in his keynote remarks and as a panel member, was the most blunt. He described all the past budget fixes as "phony-baloney" and said the City of Providence should file for bankruptcy now and do a restructuring similar to that of General Motors."

He was even more blunt about the huge pension debt, saying it should just be ended. 

“The guy getting a pension is not going to get that money,” he said. “Give him a check and say the truth, 'We're really sorry they screwed it up, for forty straight years.'”

One audience member, Mark Gee, a Councilman from East Greenwich, reflected on the event.

"It was a wild morning at the East Greenwich Armory. It was unbelievable," Gee said Sunday. "People erupted with what I would say was controlled rage.

"The problems of Providence and Rhode Island are going to affect all the cities and towns in Rhode Island," Gee said. "I don’t think the legislators have the political courage to fix it."

Laffey was the Mayor of Cranston from 2003 to 2007.

Don Botts May 16, 2011 at 05:43 PM
Sen. Sheehan is a public school teacher who represents the status quo. Don't fix the problem, kick the can down the road, and keep throwing band-aids on a gaping wound. The pension system, and in turn, the state, will implode on itself if reform is not enacted yesterday. The Cranston School Dept. contributed $9 million to the state pension fund for teachers and school administrators. With the recent changes enacted by the State Retirement Board, that contribution will need to rise to $18 million to keep the same pace (should be $26 million if they contributed what is required). One word: unsustainable.
Jim Hackett May 16, 2011 at 06:52 PM
Says Laffey: "write them all a check and say I'm sorry" Says Sheehan: “Mr. Laffey is coming here as the great bomb thrower, but not proposing solutions.” Says me: Laffey's solution is pretty clear. Sheehan sounds stupid.
Foxeyroxie15 May 17, 2011 at 03:13 AM
I was living out of state during Laffey's tenure but I knew he had moved to CO. Why is he here, what interest does he have in RI anymore? I don't disagree with him, I just don't understand what he has to do with the goings-on in RI??? He made his choice, is no longer a citizen of this State. He is correct in saying "write them all a check" - that is being done in a world-wide corporation that will remain nameless. Managers are now given a lump sum payt., no pension, no benefits. I shall say that while that company makes big $$$, they answer to stockholders who are looking at the bottom line. They used to have mucho bucks in the pension system but has, like the gov't., been underfunding the pension plan for a number of yrs. now. Personally, I wouldn't be surprised to see Mr. Laffey back in RI, throwing his hat into the ring. Guess time will tell... Mr. Sasse is also correct - the State has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. With the news of a projected $119 mill. in revenue, the Guv/GA is already trying to figure out how to spend it. They don't have the money in hand, it's a predicition/projection, an educated 'guessitmate'. You can't spend money you don't have - take away their million dollar credit card because the interest rate is too high.
Don Botts May 17, 2011 at 03:22 AM
Because someone leaves the state, one gives up caring about what happens? His mother still lives in Cranston, and I'm sure has many friends here. Or maybe it is an ego thing. Never the less, having a voice from the outside, with inside knowledge minus any political aspirations is probably the best voice to have. Laffey is not coming back to RI to run for office. My guess is he is gearing up for a Congressional run in Colorado (he alluded to anyone being able to run in Colorado because everyone is an outsider, not an insular state).
Donna C May 17, 2011 at 06:38 PM
Steve Laffey is what RI needs. His plan that he presented at the Tea Party meeting had me convinced. I was very excited. He is the ONLY person who could get it done. He is the only person in this state that has the bravado to pull it off, and make the unpopular decisions. But he left us, for whatever reason(s). I had high hopes and was 110% behind him for his potential run for Governor. But he bailed. I still think he is the only one with enough testicular fortitude, but I doubt he is coming back, so we are stuck with a Governor who is driving businesses OUT, and a GA who never do what they know is they have to. In the end, the taxpayer loses...again.
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