PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - Rhode Islanders may see the name Pell on the ballot once again before long.
Herbert Claiborne "Clay" Pell IV confirmed Monday that he's actively exploring whether to jump into the 2014 Democratic primary for governor of Rhode Island and expects to make a decision within weeks.
"I have begun a serious process to decide whether to run for governor," Pell told WPRI.com in an email. "My focus over the next month will be on making the right decision, and how it will impact my wife Michelle, our family, and Rhode Island."
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Pell, 31, is the grandson of the late U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell and has never held elected office. He and his wife, the Olympic figure-skater Michelle Kwan, own a home on Providence's East Side.
WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming said there's enough time left before the September 2014 Democratic primary for Pell to put together a credible campaign organization and be competitive, though he probably needs to make a decision by Christmastime to do so.
Pell is "a very well-known and very well-respected name in the state of Rhode Island because of his grandfather," Fleming said Monday. "He's sort of a wild card in the race right now. If he runs, I don't think anyone knows who he'll draw votes from at this point."
"Nobody knows what he stands for at this point, which is his biggest problem," Fleming added.
One advantage Pell has: his family's sizable fortune. "I don't expect money to be a problem for him," Fleming said. "But he has to get better-known with the voters."
Pell is already making the rounds to see whether he could get enough support inside the Democratic Party to secure the nomination.
Last week he and Kwan made two high-profile stops, first at the monthly meeting of the R.I. Association of Democratic City and Town Chairs at Antonio’s Trattoria in Cranston, then at the National Education Association Rhode Island union’s Executive Committee and Delegates meeting at the West Valley Inn in West Warwick.
Robert Walsh, NEARI's executive director and a key player in Democratic Party circles, said Pell was "received very well" by the roughly 140 teachers' union activists who attended the meeting in West Warwick.
"We were happy that he could take some time out and spend it with us, to not only talk about some ideas he had and support he has for public education and the hard work that our members do, but also to ask a lot of questions and get input from a wide range of members that we represent," Walsh told WPRI.com.
"It was not a campaign visit, because he's not a candidate, but if he decides to run for office we certainly would look forward to having a dialogue with him," Walsh said.
Pell "was already knowledgeable about a lot of concerns that teachers and educational-support professionals and higher education folks have, and I think folks were generally impressed with him," Walsh added.
Pell received his bachelor's degree from Harvard University and his law degree from Georgetown University. He served in the U.S. Coast Guard as a judge advocate general (JAG) and lieutenant, and was a White House Fellow in 2011-2012. Until recently he worked for the U.S. Department of Education.
Pell could be one of at least three prominent Democrats running for governor next year. Providence Mayor Angel Taveras threw his hat into the ring Monday, and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo said last week she is seriously considering it and will make a decision by the end of the year.
Fleming said it's possible for an initially unknown candidate to defeat a better-known politician in a major race.
He pointed back to Rhode Island's 1976 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, when Gov. Phil Noel and former state Senate Majority Leader John Hawkins was defeated by used-car salesman Richard Lorber, who spent a significant amount of his own money on the race. Lorber went on to lose the general election to Republican John Chafee.
Pell's grandfather, Claiborne Pell, represented Rhode Island in the U.S. Senate from 1961 to 1997, winning six consecutive terms. The elder Pell died in 2009 at the age of 90.
Dan McGowan contributed to this report.
Copyright WPRI 12
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