Clay Pell Talks Like He's Made His Mind Up To Run for Governor

Jan 16, 2014

Credit Ian Donnis / RIPR

Although Clay Pell doesn't plan to make a formal decision until later this month, he's already speaking as if he's mind up his mind to enter the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

"I believe that Rhode Island is at a crossroads and that we have to inject a new level of energy into moving the state forward, to thinking creatively about the economy, to thinking boldly about how we're going to equip our students with the skills that they need. And I believe we can't wait any longer; I want to take action now."

Pell made the remark during an interview at his home on Providence's East Side Thursday afternoon, after being asked why, as someone who's never held elective office, he's looking at running for governor, rather than a lower office. He continued:

"The experience that I bring in moving people together and moving an agenda forward from the White House, I think, will transfer very well to what I believe to be the central challenge facing the next governor, which is developing a strategic and comprehensive approach that leverages all elements of state government to move this state forward not only into the next year, but 10 years down the road."

Pell formed a political organization in November, before hiring Democratic fundraiser Amy Gabarra, and campaign coordinator Devin Driscoll.

At 32, Pell is considerably younger than the two announced Democratic candidates, Angel Taveras, 43, and Gina Raimondo, 42. Here's how he responded when asked if he's experienced enough to be governor:

"Well, I bring a distinct set of experience from my time in the Coast Guard, from my time at the White House, as director for strategic planning, where I was part of a process, and led a process, to bring resources to important areas of opportunity and growth; to bring people from across government together, to focus on the future; and of course, at the [US] Department of Education, where I led the country's international and language education programs and worked very hard to equip our students with the international language skills they need to compete in the global economy."

Pell continued, "So I believe I bring a distinct set of experience in moving an agenda forward, in building faith and confidence in government, and a set of values, from my service with the Coast Guard and a belief that government, when done right, can make a real difference in people's live. That experience, that set of values, and my belief in connecting with people, I think, is what will be critically important in moving the state forward."

Pell indicated he and his family are prepared to contribute significant resources to his campaign, although he argued that his ability to make a personal connection with voters will be more important.

Pell is the grandson of the late former US Senator Claiborne Pell, who served from 1961-1997. He serves in the Coast Guard reserve and formerly was director of strategic planning on the National Security Council at the White House. Before returning to Rhode Island last year, he was a deputy assistant secretary at the US Department of Education.