PROVIDENCE — Cumberland Mayor Daniel J. McKee made it official on Wednesday and became the first announced candidate seeking election to the state’s lieutenant governor seat in the 2014 state general election.
McKee, now serving his sixth term as mayor of Cumberland, pointed to his roles in leading Cumberland out of past financial difficulties and helping to improve its schools as successes that would help him lead the lieutenant governor’s office into new areas of responsibility aimed at improving the lives of Rhode Islanders.
He was joined on the basketball court of the Neutaconkanut Recreation Center on Plainfield Street, by his wife Susan; daughter Kara, who served as co-emcee with Cumberland Town Councilman E. Craig Dwyer, and his mother, Helen Willa McKee.
About 70 town residents, friends, political allies and fellow Democrats, including Central Falls Mayor James Diossa, Mayor Joseph Polisena of Johnston, Mayor Charles Lombardi of North Providence, Cumberland state Rep. Mia Ackerman, and Cumberland officials including Dwyer’s council peers, James Higgins, president, and William Murray; Craig Duffy of the School Committee, Police Chief John Desmarais, Sean Thompson of town rescue services among those attending McKee’s announcement.
Polisena said he was “honored and proud,” when called to the podium by Kara to voice his support.
A friend for many years, McKee had joined himself, Mayor Lombardi and even Lincoln Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond, a Republican, to form a coalition group to “basically make sure that our voices are heard at the Statehouse,” he said. The group worked very closely with the General Assembly members of their communities on a mission to “improve the quality of life for all the communities and to protect the taxpayers from cumbersome mandates,” he said.
“Many mandates have been removed thanks to the work we’ve done, but more importantly from what our General Assembly delegation has helped us to do,” he said.
McKee, Polisena said, has been a “proven leader” in that process, “improving education for all students, no matter what city or town they come from, no matter what socio-economic background they have.
“Dan has the vision compassion and drive to help move our state forward. And as our next lieutenant governor, his unwavering commitment to our state will help Rhode Island succeed and build job creation and improve the lives of all Rhode Islanders,” he said.
McKee could well have chosen to stay as mayor of Cumberland, Polisena noted, but added “he wants to do more for our state and he will do it.”
Polisena credited McKee with putting Cumberland “on a sound financial footing,” and said he has “made Cumberland a role model community for other communities to take notice.
“Dan will always put Rhode Island first. Rhode Islanders need Dan McKee as our next Lt. Governor and we need Dan McKee as our next lieutenant governor to work for all of the citizens of this state and to work very hard,” Polisena said.
“So let’s all roll up our sleeves and work together and let’s get to work and get Dan McKee elected as a our next lieutenant governor,” he said.
Kara, a graduate of Boston University, said her father was pleased to have “all these supporters in the room today.”
She pointed out two who had not yet been introduced, Eric Abney and his brother Derrick, who had been members of McKee’s AAU basketball team that trained on the Neutaconkanut Recreation Center court while he was their coach.
“I watched Eric and Derrick play many games on this basketball court, as they were coached by my dad, they were teammates of my brother (Matthew) and have become very close to my family over the years and we are happy to have them here today,” she said.
Kara said she also wanted to take a moment to “brag” about her father a bit. One thing about him that she admires most was “that he has always led with a great deal of integrity,” she said.
“I can always trust him to make the right decision, to give the right guidance and to always stand by what is good. I think that is an incredible quality, it’s hard to come by and it’s something I place tremendous value in,” she said. “I think is an important characteristic for any official running for public office. So with that in mind, it’s my privilege to introduce you to my dad, the next lieutenant governor,” she said.
McKee also pointed out Eric and Derrick nearby while noting how he came to know the former basketball players when they were 11 years old and stopped in at his health club in Woonsocket back in the mid-1990s.
“I was fighting to keep our business alive in Woonsocket at the same time they were fighting their battle to stay safe in a neighborhood that was very dangerous, and they were looking for opportunities that were hard to find,” McKee said while describing the difficulties of running a Northern Rhode Island business in the aftermath of the state’s banking crisis.
“For the next seven years I was their basketball coach, and we traveled around the country playing some of the very best teams and the best competition around.
We were the Rhode Island Shooting Stars, a diverse and talented group of young men, and we were the United Nations on wheels,” McKee said.
“I coached hundreds of games, dozens in this gym. I watched each member of our team become a better and stronger person as they drew on one another’s strengths and weaknesses and experiences. In many ways I learned more about what it takes to improve Rhode Island between the lines of this court than I did in the few years that I spent at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government,’’ McKee said.
“I was able to meet many people from very diverse backgrounds as a result of that experience,” he said. Eric and Derrick are raising their own families today and are good fathers, McKee said while noting he loved watching them play on his team and also that they remain a part of his life today.
“Their story isn’t really mine to tell but it has had a profound influence on me,” McKee said.
McKee also pointed to his late father James J. McKee’s role in founding the Cumberland-Lincoln Boys Club in 1955, who he said cared “deeply about all young people and wanted to find great opportunities for them.
“I share my dad’s passion and believe a young person’s education is the foundation of a young person’s success. That is why I have been so vocal in my efforts to bring more innovation and choice to Rhode Island’s public schools. And in my corner of Rhode Island, it is working,” McKee said.
The six-term Cumberland mayor, said he works “every day to make Cumberland a place where people want to live,” and added “I take pride that our schools have improved and are stronger, our streets are safer and our town’s financial has been restored since I took on mayor in 2001.”
McKee offered that he sees today as a time “for a new Rhode Island,” and said “I have demonstrated my ability to create the type of positive change needed to make that happen as a coach, as a business man and as a mayor.
“That is why today I am announcing I am a candidate for lieutenant Governor in 2014,” McKee said to applause from the crowd.
“I believe that Rhode Island is in the fight of its life today. It’s not good enough just to get Rhode Island back on track, it’s time for Rhode Island to get on a new set of tracks. It is time to turn our visions into reality. It is time for action,” he said.
“If you want stronger schools, if you want safer streets, then I’m your candidate. If you want cities and towns to be in better financial shape, then I am you candidate. If you want more economic opportunity for everyone, then I am you candidate,” McKee said.
“Stand with anybody who stands right, stand with him while he is right and part with him when he goes wrong,’ These are the words of Abraham Lincoln. I believe they apply here in our state of Rhode Island today,” McKee said.
“As your next lieutenant governor I will stand with anyone who stands right on the important issues that our state faces. And I will have the courage to part with anyone whose interest puts Rhode Island on the wrong path,” he said.
McKee said he will stand with “the municipal leaders and their residents as I have as mayor,” and added he will “advocate for municipalities who have been severely impacted by recent budgetary decisions.”
McKee said he will work to regionalize and consolidate public services “when it makes sense as I did when I helped to consolidated the four independent fire district in the town of Cumberland, as I did when I helped found regional high-performing public schools called mayoral academies in the Blackstone Valley, and as I did working with my fellow municipal leaders to create a group health insurance program that has saved taxpayers in the state of Rhode Island millions of dollars over the past five years.”
He also plans to make it a top priority to help municipal leaders in their four-year effort to regionalize public safety dispatching as part of his duties as lieutenant governor.
“Finding ways to be more efficient and provide better government will be the hallmarks of my office. I will continue to stand and support of our students and be willing work with anyone who is willing to transform our public schools,” he said in reference to his work in creating new independent public school opportunities in Northern Rhode Island.
“And I will stand with small business because I understand first hand how difficult it is to keep our heads above water,” he said.
“And as lieutenant governor, I will stand with the workers of Rhode Island, union and non-union, to fight for good jobs a fair wage because every job is important,” he said. McKee promised to support enforcement of trade licensing regulations and the trade apprenticeship programs “that help young people prepare for a future.”
He also plans to be the “people’s advocate when government is not working. I will work to help public sector employees, including the teachers who are being penalized in retirement by unfair federal laws that shortchange their social security benefits.
And as your lieutenant governor I will stand with the taxpayers by supporting fair and equitable local and state tax policy that is competitive with the neighboring states,” McKee said.
“When elected I will work everyday to make the lieutenant governor’s office more meaningful and responsive to the people of Rhode Island. How is that possible? It’s simple. I have a vision for a new Rhode Island, better public schools, safer streets, solvent communities and more economic opportunity for all of our families,” he said.
McKee concluded his announcement by quoting Benjamin Franklin about a painting of a sun on the back of George Washington seat at the Constitution Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. “Franklin told his fellow representatives he wasn’t sure if that was a rising or setting sun until the Constitution was signed,” McKee said.
“Here in Rhode Island, our citizens are asking the same question. Are we a rising sun or a setting sun?” McKee said. “It’s time for Rhode Island to rise and as your next lieutenant governor, I will do everything I can to make that happen,” McKee said.
McKee is a lifelong resident of Cumberland and a 1969 graduate of Cumberland High School, before going to Assumption College and then to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
He has served 12 years during his six terms as mayor, with a break between 2004 and 2006, and was also a member of the Town Council.
Higgins, the current council president, said it was with “mixed emotions” that he watched McKee making his bid for higher office. “In Cumberland we are going to miss the mayor’s leadership, but it is a transition for him to take it to the next level,” Higgins said. “The guy thinks outside of the box and he comes up with ideas that no one thinks will work, and he makes them a reality,” Higgins said.
Although there are others considering runs to replace outgoing Lt. Go. Elizabeth H. Roberts, McKee was the first to formerly announce for the seat thus far, his supporters noted. Roberts is leaving her current state role due to term limits.