In a 25-minute speech to a standing-room-only crowd at the RI Convention Center this morning, Clay Pell, grandson of the US Senator, announced his bid for the Democratic nomination for governor.
“I have the values, the skills, and the experience to lead our state to a better future,” said Pell, saying his aim was to, “bring a fresh perspective and new approach to government, to put an end to cronyism and insider politics, and to make the economy work for all Rhode Islanders again.”
Among the 100+ attendees were a handful of state legislators and representatives of several unions, in addition to a large contingent of Providence media. Sharing the dais with Pell were Johnston mayor Joseph Polisena, Victor Capellan, Deputy Supt. of Transformation at Central Falls high school, grandmother Nuala Pell, and his wife, Michelle Kwan, now a senior advisor to the State Department.
Nuala Pell said of her grandson, “Clay, in many ways, is defined by how much he cares.” Kwan introduced the candidate, saying, “We share the same devotion to public service,” and praising his “quiet courage.”
Early in his speech, Pell spoke about the values passed on to him by his family. From his grandfather, he learned “You don’t need to be the loudest voice. You just need to speak for those without a voice at all.” From his father, he learned “to dream and never to fear.” He talked of the difficult times when his father’s businesses were driven to bankruptcy during the S&L crisis, and his difficult battle with cancer. “He never gave up,” said Pell, “And his values brought me here today.”
Pell spoke about the challenges facing the state: challenges of economy (“50,000 Rhode Islanders are looking for work,” he said, “and thousands more will report to their second or third job of the day.” Too many, he said, have been “squeezed out of the middle class.”), government (“Businesses are burdened with process, and state government is often seen more as an impediment than a partner.”) and confidence (“A loss of hope that the next generation will be able to build a career or family here, and a loss of faith in the ability of our government to lead.”)
Rhode Islanders, he said, “no longer feel invested in.”
Pell promised a “comprehensive approach” using the “big picture strategy that Rhode Island needs now,” and laid out several policy priorities, first of which was economic growth and job creation. He stressed the importance of investing in education (including affordable higher education and a strong school-to-work pipeline) and infrastructure (ports, bridges, the I195 corridor, and parking and transit terminals at the Garrahy complex and the train station.)
And while he called for a focus on science, technology, engineering and math, he said that must be paired with languages, physical education, and the arts, “areas that are too often pushed out and forgotten in public education today, but they are essential to the growth of our students.”
To help create new jobs to keep students in Rhode Island when they graduate, Pell proposed a $10 million loan fund, “where small businesses and entrepreneurs can access grants or loans ranging from $2,500 to $25,000″
In what appeared to be a swipe at the EDC’s 38 Studios debacle, Pell said, “Four hundred grants of $25,000 is a much better investment of taxpayer money than spending $12.5 million dollars bailing out someone else’s mistake.”
Pell promised to reverse the decline in direct aid to cities and towns, which he said had fallen by more than 70% in the last five years. “I pledge to renew the state’s commitment,” he said, “so they can support the schools our students deserve and provide the property tax relief our taxpayers need.”
Finally, he said, “as someone coming to politics from public service,” he promised an “accessible and transparent” government that would serve “all Rhode Islanders, not just the chosen few.”
“That’s why,” he said, “I will not accept contributions from PACs or state lobbyists. I want to send a clear signal to Rhode Islanders that my office as governor will be open to everyone, not just the best connected and the most powerful. That is my pledge to the people of Rhode Island. And that will be my first step in restoring faith in state government.”
The event closed (played out by Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own” booming over the big speakers) with Pell taking questions from reporters for at least another twenty minutes, looking calm and unruffled at the center of his first local media scrum.