The most important difference between them, though, is that Raimondo was the one spearheading a deal to reform the state's underfunded pension system in 2011. The deal raised the state retirement age, cut benefits, and changed the system from a defined-benefit plan to a mixed one including some personal savings accounts, sparking massive pushback and litigation from Rhode Island's unions. And part of Raimondo's plan to keep the state's investments growing including putting a big chunk of them into hedge funds, where some of her biggest campaign backers come from.
Taveras is trying to capitalize off growing populist sentiments by painting Raimondo as the candidate beholden to Wall Street. In one TV ad, Taveras says: "Wall Street values, they make money off of your hard work. I believe we're all in this together," and claims "I'll take Main Street in Rhode Island over Wall Street any day." Taveras's ads feature construction workers, and his campaign puts heavy emphasis on his support from labor.
Taveras's mantra is derivative of Elizabeth Warren's refrain: "We need a cop on the beat so no one steals your purse on Main Street or your pension on Wall Street." But the tagline willfully ignores all Taveras and Raimondo share in common, even when it comes to those same pension investments and relationships with organized labor.
A handful of public employee unions see almost no difference between Taveras and Raimondo, particularly teacher's unions, which take issue with Taveras's policies as mayor — specifically, when he fired and then rehired thousands of teachers in his first year in office to allow greater flexibility to close the city's huge budget gap.
"Gina Raimondo is under fire for having so much of the state's pension funds invested in hedge funds, but Angel actually had a higher percent of the city of Providence's funds invested in hedge funds," said Robert Walsh, the executive director of the Rhode Island National Education Association. "And the changes Angel made are now also tied up in litigation," like Raimondo's.
But Taveras's slogan "conjures up a whole stream of resentment" that many feel toward "Wall Street" right now, University of Rhode Island political scientist Maureen Moakley said, and he's brought them to bear against Raimondo effectively.
"The Wall Street attacks are untrue and a deliberate mischaracterization of who I am and what I've done as treasurer," Raimondo said. "I don't work for Wall Street, I never have. I'm from Rhode Island and I ran a business in Providence."
"Regardless of whether it's true, it fits into the national conversation," Raimondo said. "It's rhetoric. There is that nationally. It's a theme, and it's a problem. Income inequality is a huge problem in America."
Raimondo actually has more union endorsements than Taveras. She has consolidated support among private sector building trades unions, which tend to be more conservative. Public employee unions have split their support between Taveras and Clay Pell, the grandson of former Sen. Claiborne Pell and the third Democrat in the race. Walsh's teachers union, one of Rhode Island's largest with 12,000 members, opted to endorse Pell.