PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A new name has surfaced in the increasingly crowded Democratic primary to succeed Congressman Jim Langevin.
Multiple Democrats told 12 News that Sarah Morgenthau, a Biden administration appointee at the U.S. Commerce Department, has been exploring a run for the 2nd Congressional District seat.
Morgenthau, 58, has not responded to phone calls since late last week, and the Democrats who discussed her potential candidacy said it remains unclear whether she will enter the race. She is currently serving as the Commerce Department’s deputy assistant secretary for travel and tourism.
Five Democrats have already announced bids for the 2nd District seat since Langevin announced his retirement last month: Refugee Dream Center founder Omar Bah, former political staffer Joy Fox, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, political operative Michael Neary, and former state Rep. Ed Pacheco.
Morgenthau and her husband, Carlton Wessel, purchased a home in Saunderstown in 2016 that was previously owned by her parents, property records show. A 2018 article in the North Kingstown Independent said the Morgenthau family built the “high-end contemporary” home in 1984 “as a peaceful summer getaway.”
Morgenthau registered to vote at that Saunderstown address on Feb. 4, according to the North Kingstown Board of Canvassers. (Her registration was first reported by The Boston Globe.) The couple also own other property nearby.
Morgenthau has little public profile in Rhode Island, and it’s unclear how much time she has spent in the state over the years. Her LinkedIn profile indicates she has spent her career in Washington, New York City and New Jersey, including at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security during the latter part of the Obama administration. She previously worked on the finance team for President Obama’s 2008 campaign and before that served on the staff of New Jersey U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, her profile shows.
However, one connection tying Morgenthau to Rhode Island is with her current boss at the Commerce Department, former Gov. Gina Raimondo, who is now U.S. commerce secretary.
In 2017, Raimondo appointed Morgenthau to the Rhode Island Governor’s Homeland Security Advisory Board, a panel Raimondo said she created at the time to advise her on “the complex threats that exist today.” Morgenthau was then a managing director at Nardello and Co., a company that conducts investigations.
The following year, Morgenthau donated $1,000 to Raimondo’s re-election campaign, listing as her address a home in Washington, D.C. It is the only campaign contribution listed for Morgenthau in the R.I. Board of Elections records database. Records compiled by the transparency group OpenSecrets show Morgenthau has made contributions to various Democrats at the federal level, though none from Rhode Island.
Morgenthau’s family has a long history in Democratic politics. Her grandfather, Henry Morgenthau Jr., served as treasury secretary under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and her uncle, Robert Morgenthau, was a legendary New York prosecutor.
Her mother, Ruth Morgenthau, ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Rhode Island in 1988 as the Democratic nominee against Republican incumbent Claudine Schneider, and also wrote a biography of Rhode Island U.S. Sen. John Pastore.
Sarah Morgenthau was a key fundraiser for President Biden’s 2020 campaign, according to an article last year in Politico that described her as “both a public and behind-the-scenes force” in Biden’s orbit.
“She was national co-chair of Lawyers for Biden, a prolific fundraiser and a volunteer on national security policy groups for the campaign,” Politico reported. “She served as a surrogate who was frequently quoted in national publications about the trajectory of the race or the temperature of donors.”
Three Republicans — state Sen. Jessica de la Cruz, former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, and former state Rep. Robert Lancia — have also announced campaigns for the 2nd District seat so far.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Threads, Twitter and Facebook.