Clay Pell for Governor in 2014?

Oct 15, 2013

Clay Pell, a grandson of the late US Senator Claiborne Pell, is looking at a possible Democratic run for governor in 2014, according to local Democrats.

"It's my understanding that Clay Pell is considering a run for governor here in Rhode Island," says state Democratic Chairman David Caprio. Asked about the potential effect on the expected Democratic primary field of state Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, Caprio says,"Too early to tell right now, but I think it would certainly have an impact on the race, considering the legacy of the Pell name and the presumably available resources that Mr. Pell has to put into the race."

President Obama appointed Pell in April as deputy assistant secretary for the International and Foreign Language Education Service (IFLE). He has studied Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin Chinese.

Pell, who did not respond to a request for comment, has previously flirted with a run for Congress.

Clay Pell graduated from Harvard and Georgetown Law School, and like his well-known grandfather, he has been active in the Coast Guard. Pell, who is married to former Olympic skater Michelle Kwan, came to the White House as a fellow on the national security staff.

If he runs, Pell would offer a rich political pedigree, not to mention the kind of resources that come with significant family wealth. His grandfather, Claiborne Pell, was first elected to the US Senate in 1960 and served until deciding against seeking re-election in 1996. President John F. Kennedy called the idiosyncratic Pell the most unelectable man in America, yet he never lost an election. Upon his death in 2009, the New York Times called Pell the most formidable politician in Rhode Island history.

Claiborne Pell was known in particular for the Pell Grants that bear his name, and writing the legislation that created the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Despite his well-known last name, Clay Pell remains an unknown political quantity. If he gets into the race for governor, it would be after many months of preparation by Taveras and Raimondo. Formal announcements by Raimondo and Taveras are anticipated shortly, so Pell needs to make a relatively fast decision on his plans.

Asked about his concerns about another candidate possibly jumping into the race, Democratic chairman Caprio says, "Everyone has the freedom to run. As Democratic chairman, we're focused on listening to the candidates' views and vision for the state of Rhode Island and seeing how that coincide with the platform of the party."