Calling for 'courageous impatience,' McKee makes his statewide challenge official

Calling for 'courageous impatience,' McKee makes his statewide challenge official

CUMBERLAND - Six-term Mayor Daniel McKee was expected Wednesday to make official his plans to move onto the Rhode Island stage with a run for a lieutenant governor a year from now.

The announcement was to come yesterday at noontime at the Neutaconkanut Recreation Center in Providence followed that evening by a hometown reception at the Lusitana Club.

McKee's prepared remarks reflected the typically upbeat persona that has characterized his two decades of elected service in Cumberland.

He called for both "bold determination" and "courageous impatience" in crafting a new Rhode Island direction.

"If you had the choice, would you paint a Rhode Island with high unemployment, struggling schools and a poor business climate like we have today?

"Would you paint a Rhode Island where more and more of our innovative and talented young people move away rather than stay like is happening today?

"The New Rhode Island that I would paint would have better public schools for our children, safer streets for our families, more solvent cities and towns for our taxpayers and more economic opportunity for all of us.

"I see a New Rhode Island where young people move into rather than move away from," he said.

McKee, 62, and a lifelong Cumberland resident, started out in local politics as a member of the Town Council when he represented Cumberland Hill before moving to Hillside Road. After failing to unseat Mayor Francis Gaschen in 1998, McKee was elected to the corner office in 2000 and served two terms until he was defeated by David Iwuc in 2004. He recaptured the position in 2006 and will tie Mayor Francis Stetkiewicz as longest serving chief executive when he leaves office at the end of 2014.

His decision to move on will create an open mayoral seat at Cumberland Town Hall for the first time since Mayor Edgar Alger stepped aside in 1996 to unsuccessfully run for state Senate.

McKee is married to a retired school teacher, Susan, and they raised a son and daughter, Matthew and Kara.

He's the son of James McKee, founder of what's now the Boys & Girls Club of Cumberland-Lincoln. He's a part owner of McKee Oil Service and recently sold the Woonsocket Health and Racquet Club that he operated for three decades.

He's a graduate of the Harvard University JFK School of Government and was part of the class of 1969 at Cumberland High School.

McKee told The Breeze he thinks it will take $500,000 to fund a successful campaign. If he survives the Democratic primary, he'll be eligible for matching funds.

His last campaign finance report showed $176,356 cash on hand, including the $52,000 he had after last year's uncontested mayoral race and the $73,564 in loans payable to himself.

In the last several months, he raised $26,425.

His treasurer is Town Council member Craig Dwyer.

He has retained consultant Bill Fischer to assist with his announcement plans, Amy Gabarra to assist with fundraising, and Democratic consultant Jennifer Burton of Sway in Washington, D.C.

McKee's legal job description at the Statehouse might be limited, but he suggests "it is what you make of it."

As a small-town mayor, he's inserted himself into the dialogue about statewide concerns such as car taxes and municipal aid, as well as launching the entire Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy based on a controversial charter school plan that exempts teachers from the pension plan and other typical dictates of school teacher contracts.

As lieutenant governor, McKee is pledging:

* Support for municipal leaders and a willingness to speak out when state cuts threaten local taxpayers as happened to Cumberland.

* Be a champion of public education. "I will continue to stand in support of our students and will work with anyone who is ready to transform our public schools," he said.

* Continue his push for consolidated services. He notes success in merging Cumberland's fire districts, regionalizing "high performance" school districts and the group health purchasing plan he organized that saved schools and the town millions of dollars.

* Support unionized and non-union workers, including trade and apprenticeship programs.

* And as chairman of the Emergency Management Administration Advisory Committee he said he'd help municipal leaders in their four-year effort to regionalize public safety dispatch.

"Finding ways to be more efficient and provide better government service will be a trademark of my office," McKee said.

McKee declined to say who he's endorsing as the next mayor, noting that no one has officially announced plans. His close friendship with Cumberland Hill's Councilor Bill Murray is well known.