State General Treasurer Gina Raimondo -- who developed a national profile after spearheading a significant overhaul of Rhode Island's pension system in 2011 -- announced in a four-and-a-half-minute video emailed to supporters today that she is indeed running to become governor next year.
Accompanied by soft music and facing the viewer from her home with a Christmas tree in the background, Raimondo starts by citing her work as treasurer "and my other job -- being a mom." After defending her signal issue, the overhaul of the state pension system, she goes on to say:
"It's because of these opportunities and challenges [facing Rhode Island] that I've decided the best way to build on our work together over the last three years is to seek the Democratic nomination for
governor, because it's time. It's finally time to turn the page in Rhode Island and have a state government with the courage to tackle hard problems, the honesty to tell you the truth, no matter what the political consequences, the commitment to bring people together on your behalf, and the resolve to get it done, no matter how the fierce the opposition from special interests and political insiders."
In the video, Raimondo says she'll kick off her campaign in January and then returns to wishing viewers a merry Christmas. The video closes with a jaunty jazz tune and a family portrait with her husband, Andrew Moffit, and the couple's two young children.
Raimondo, 42, has set the local pace in campaign fundraising on the way to 2014, accumulating more than $2.3 million by the end of September and leading many observers to consider a run for governor a certainty. Kate Coyne-McCoy, who launched the American LeadHERship super PAC to support Raimondo, says it "will begin fundraising in earnest in January. We will go full bore in January."
Her formal entry in the race sets the stage for a hard-fought Democratic primary with Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, 43, and possibly Clay Pell, 32, a former White House staffer and the grandson of the late former US Senator Claiborne Pell.
Taveras responded by welcoming Raimondo to the campaign and asking her to join his idea for limiting the influence of super PACs in the campaign. "Now that Treasurer Raimondo has decided to seek the Democratic nomination, I hope she has given further consideration to signing the People’s Pledge – an agreement that reflects the highest ideals of the Democratic Party," Taveras said in a statement. "If Treasurer Raimondo will join me, Rhode Island can set an example for keeping Wall Street and special interests from using Super PACs as a backdoor to buying their own state government."
The election could be historic: Raimondo would be Rhode Island's first woman governor, Taveras its first Latino governor, and Republican Allan Fung its first Asian governor. (Ken Block is also running as a Republican.)
A native of Smithfield, Raimondo graduated from LaSalle Academy, Harvard University, Yale Law School and was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University. She formerly worked as a venture capitalist and helped establish the VC firm Point Judith Capital, which later left Rhode Island for Boston. Her husband, Andrew Moffit, works in Boston for McKinsey & Company.
Raimondo was a first-time candidate when she won a lopsided victory over Republican Kerry King in 2010 to become state general treasurer. Although the office has generally been a political backwater, Raimondo set her sights on overhauling Rhode Island's public pension fund, arguing that the fund's $7 billion dollar unfunded liability made it unsustainable.
Significant changes were initially considered unlikely, due to union opposition and the political sensitivity of pension benefits.Yet by using the bully pulpit of her office, Raimondo reshaped the landscape, making opposing the pension overhaul more politically hazardous than supporting it. In the end, the General Assembly overwhelmingly voted in favor of the overhaul in 2011. It cut $3 billion in unfunded liability by freezing cost of living adjustments, raising retirement ages, and shifting workers into a hybrid retirement plan. (A series of public-employee unions responded by filing a lawsuit challenging the overhaul; the case remains in mediation, with the next update slated for January 3. A settlement would face General Assembly approval, and the legislature could make other changes to the overhaul.)
Raimondo received so much attention from out of town media attention following the pension overhaul that the phenomenon was dubbed "Raimondomania." The outlets, to name a few, included Time, The Atlantic, and the New York Times.
Then in April, former US Securities and Exchange investigator Edward "Ted" Siedle emerged via Forbes.com as a leading critic of Raimondo, charging that Rhode Island's pension overhaul looked more like a "Wall Street feeding frenzy," and getting hired by RI's largest public-employee union. Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi made a similar argument in September, blasting the treasurer's heightened use of hedge funds with costly fees. Raimondo responded by describing these as political attacks by opponents of the pension overhaul.
In her video announcement, Raimondo acknowledges the pension changes remain a hard thing "for many people, but it was harder still to think about what would have happened to those pensions if we didn't save them, but we did." She says the overhaul made possible new investment by the state, but says that hasn't happened due to "too much pension and fiscal uncertainty" from Rhode Island's small towns "to even our biggest city" -- a not-so-subtle jab at Taveras.
Taveras' campaign manager, Danny Kedem, offered this reaction:
"It is unfortunate that Treasurer Raimondo chose to go negative against the City of Providence in her first statement as a candidate for Governor. We have been proud to eliminate a $110 million structural deficit, invest in the opening of shops and apartments in the Arcade, help Hasbro toy company relocate to downtown Providence, finance $40 million to repair our roads, win a $5 million grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies to invest in early childhood education, and work together with our labor unions to stabilize our city's fiscal future."
In a series of polls by different organizations over recent years, Raimondo has ranked with Taveras as one of the two most popular elected officials in Rhode Island. Taveras has mostly placed first.
The early thinking among some political observers was that Raimondo faced a sharp challenge in overcoming a Democratic primary next September, where unions have a larger influence and liberal voters might prefer Taveras. Yet the outlook is now more uncertain, due in part to a possible run by Pell, who quit a job in Washington, D.C., to return to Rhode Island and lured a political operative back from Chicago this week to coordinate his exploratory process. Taveras, who has struggled to keep up with Raimondo's pacesetting fundraising (he had less than $800,000 banked at the end of September, compared with her $2.3 million+, has faced some other bumps, including the departure of a handful of key advisers.
The thinking remains that Raimondo needs strong support from independent voters, the state's largest bloc, and needs to a high turn-out election to increase her chances of success.
Raimondo telegraphed her forthcoming campaign in February when she replaced her chief of staff with Andrew Roos, an experienced campaign operative. More recently, her campaign organization hired Eric Hyers, who led two successful campaigns for US Representative David Cicilline.
Other key players in Raimondo's circle media consultant Mark Putnam; direct mail consultant Karen Petel; and research and polling specialist Peter Brodnitz.