U.S. Sen. Jack Reed D-R.I., made official this morning what everyone in Rhode Island’s political circuit assumed: That he is a candidate for reelection to a fourth six-year term in the Senate.
Reed’s announcement came before a crowd of 1,000 of his supporters at the senator’s 25th annual May Breakfast at Rhodes-on-the- Pawtuxet in his home city of Cranston.
Surrounded by a crowd of Democratic pols and friends he has known since childhood, Reed said he wants to return to Washington, D.C. to bring more jobs to Rhode Island and fight for a Democratic Party agenda that he believes will help forge an ``opportunity society’’ for the future.
Reed has arguably the safest Democratic Senate seat in the nation. So far, he has no serious primary or general election challengers. Conservative activist Ray McKay of Warwick has said he wants to carry the Republican banner against Reed in the November general election. Yet McKay also wants to keep his Warwick city job while he runs. That issue is currently tied up in court, as McKay challenges a city ordinance that bars civil service, or so-called `classified’’ employees, from running for such an office while they are collecting a city paycheck.
Reed’s spring breakfast is a must-stop for Democrats, especially those running for office. Today’s was no different as candidates schmoozed the morning away, meeting and greeting voters who are definitely going to be casting ballots in the September 9 primary. There were candidates, has-beens, the inevitable never was group and Democratic officials from party chairman David Caprio down to ward chairs. Also in attendance were Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, U.S. Reps Jim Langevin and David Cicilline and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, who is a candidate for his party’s nomination for governor. Sitting near the stage were some of the state's top leaders of organized labor, including George Nee, president of the state AFL-CIO, and Jim Riley of the UFCW.
There were no empty tables this year as organizer Julie Andrews and Reed friends pumped up the crowd to an even larger than usual throng. The tables were pressed so close together that Democratic primary gubernatorial candidates Clay Pell and Gina Raimondo literally bumped into each other while saying hello to Barbara Cottam, a top Citizens Bank executive, and her husband, Providence lawyer John Garrahy, son of former Gov. J. Joseph Garrahy.
Reed’s annual breakfast is a page taken from Joe Garrahy’s campaign book. Garrahy held a similar event every May at the old Rocky Point Palladium in Warwick Neck.
The emphasis is on a family-friendly repast that resembles the May breakfast gatherings held at churches around Rhode Island this time of year. Plates are piled high with scrambled eggs, muffins, bacon and sausage. A brass band warmed up the crowd before Reed’s speech. In an Internet political age, this event has the feel of an old-timey retail campaign event, a hihowareyah from an era of torchlight parades and speeches delivered from the back of a flatbread truck. Reed’s wife, Julia Reed, and the couple’s daughter, 7-year old Emily Reed, danced to the swing music at the end of the senator’s speech.
What Reed does better than many of his liberal colleagues is to connect his personal story with Democratic Party values. In the last half- century, Reed and the late John Pastore have been the only Roman Catholics and the lone Rhode Islanders from modest backgrounds to represent the Ocean State in the U.S. Senate.
Rhode Island was once known in Washington as the blue-collar state that elected blue-bloods to the Senate. Roman Catholic factory workers regularly sent Episcopalians from the wasp upper-crust to the Senate; their names were Green, Pell, Chafee and Whitehouse. They were silver-spoon Yankees who were prepped at the best schools and went to Ivy League colleges.
That’s why some in our state’s political community refer to Reed as the `Irish Pastore.’ As was the case with Pastore , Reed is a staunch liberal when it comes to using government policies as an instrument for social mobility for people who weren’t born on third base.
Few political figures grasp the underpinnings of American government as well as Reed. The difference between Reed and Pastore is generational. Their stories are a vivid example of how the New Deal, World War II and the Cold War forged a country where people like them could rise to the top if they had ability and were willing to work diligently.
Pastore was an immigrant son of Federal Hill poverty in the early 20th Century. He was a bright young man who got into Brown University because he was such a fine student at Providence’s Classical High School. Yet Pastore never crossed Van Wickle Gate because he couldn’t afford the Brown tuition.
So he took a job at the local gas company as a customer service representative. Later he went to night law school in the days when a college degree was not required for the law school run at a Providence YMCA.
Reed’s father was a school janitor in Cranston. Reed was raised in the 1950s, an era when the nation had a stronger faith in the public sphere than it did before the Great Depression. (And much more faith in government than exists today; one doesn’t have to be George Gallup to divine that).
The Cold War consensus in the U.S. led to big government investments in public schools, parks, the Interstate highway system and especially, in colleges and universities. Reed took advantage of the opportunities that were afforded young people, especially men, who were ambitious and hard-working. Reed won admission to West Point, served as a U.S. Army officer, taught political science at West Point, and earned both a master’s degree and law degree from Harvard University.
In his speech this morning, Reed spoke to policies that he believes will help plane down some of the rough edges of the sluggish economy and the inequality that has cropped up from Providence to Los Angeles.
``America is about giving everybody a chance,’’ said Reed to applause. ``If you work 40 hours a week you shouldn’t be living in poverty in the United States of America.’’
Reed pledged to continue to push the Congress to raise the minimum wage and extend unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed.
If the Democrats keep control of the Senate, Reed is a lock to become chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a panel that is crucial in deciding where federal defense outlays are spent. Reed pointed to his successful advocacy for new submarines that will be built at the Electric Boat facility at Quonset Point and the more than 400 new jobs that this construction will bring to a state with the nation’s highest unemployment rate. Representing Rhode Island in the senate, Reed told the crowd, is ``the greatest privilege of my life.’’
Reed also pledged to fight for equal pay for women. ``Talent isn’t just for those who wear suits, talent is talent,’’ he said.