PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — General Treasurer Seth Magaziner formally launched his campaign for governor on Tuesday, adding his name to the expanding list of Democrats seeking to wrest the party’s 2022 nomination away from incumbent Dan McKee.
The 38-year-old Magaziner, currently serving his second term as treasurer, would be the first millennial to serve as governor of Rhode Island. He kicked off his campaign at an under-construction elementary school in Pawtucket, in an effort to highlight his role in passage of the $250 million school building bond in 2018. He also planned to visit two small businesses in North Kingstown later in the day.
“I’m running for governor because I believe that the economic future of our state hangs in the balance in this election, and we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build an economy that is bigger and stronger and fairer and more inclusive,” Magaziner told supporters.
He said his focus as governor would be on “education, innovation, and infrastructure,” calling for universal pre-K, net-zero carbon emissions and more spending on broadband.
“We are at a critical moment where we need bold and creative action to transition our state to a 21st-century economy where everyone can have a chance to succeed,” he said.
“I’m running because I know the only way we’re going to rebuild Rhode Island’s economy is if we move past the cronyism and the old school politics that have been the mark at the State House for far too long,” Magaziner said. “We need a government that is honest and ethical and works for everybody.”
(An earlier draft of his prepared remarks had taken an even harsher tone in light of recent controversies surrounding Gov. Dan McKee, slamming “old-time politicians who lean whichever way the wind blows, and their cronies who think a job in government is the opportunity to enrich themselves and their friends.”)
Evoking the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Magaziner said the state needs a governor who “will listen to the experts and make decisions on health and safety by listening to the science, not the loudest voices in the room who think they have the license to put other people’s kids at risk.”
The treasurer refused to take questions from a pack of reporters trailing him after his speech, saying he would answer them after a different event later in the day but not in Pawtucket.
Magaziner enters the campaign as the financial leader in the Democratic primary, which his advisers hope will help them overcome McKee’s inherent advantages as Rhode Island’s sitting governor. McKee, a two-term lieutenant governor, succeeded Gina Raimondo in March when she became the nation’s commerce secretary.
Magaziner’s campaign had $1.5 million on hand as of June 30, according to his most recent filing with the R.I. Board of Elections. McKee — whose spokesperson emphasized Monday he will not officially enter the race until next year — had $716,000. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, who launched her own campaign in May, had $668,000. A fourth candidate, Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz, had a little over $1,000.
“These people had planned on running when Gina Raimondo was governor – she was going to be termed out,” said 12 News political analyst Joe Fleming. “Just because Dan McKee inherited the post, they’re not stepping out of the race, they feel like there’s still an opportunity for them to move up to the governorship.”
Even more potential candidates are still on the sidelines. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, who has $1.15 million in his campaign account, has said he is in no rush to decide whether to run. Former Secretary of State Matt Brown, who unsuccessfully challenged Raimondo in 2018, has remained silent for weeks amid rumors he’s running. Former CVS Health executive Helena Foulkes is also privately mulling a bid.
McKee said he’s focusing for now on his day job as governor rather than the campaign, saying his priorities are “to keep the people safe, get shots in the arm, keep the economy going, get our kids back to school safely.”
But, the governor added with a chuckle, “I’m taking notes, that’s for sure.”
No Republican candidates for governor have emerged so far, but R.I. GOP Chair Sue Cienki has insisted her party will field a strong contender.
On the campaign staffing side, Magaziner has tapped as his media consultant Tad Devine, who worked on his two treasurer campaigns and helped elect Sheldon Whitehouse and Lincoln Chafee, along with Devine’s partner Julian Mulvey, who worked on the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign.
Magaziner’s campaign pollster is Mark Mellman, while his direct-mail consultant is Central Falls native Karen Petel, who worked on both of Raimondo’s bids for governor. Andy Roos, a former Treasury chief of staff to both Magaziner and Raimondo who later worked for Google, will be handling digital. Kate Ramstad, another former Raimondo staffer, came on as Magaziner’s finance consultant earlier this year.
Son of Clinton confidante, defeated Caprio
Magaziner is the son of Ira Magaziner, the prominent Democratic policy strategist who was one of President Bill Clinton’s top advisers and confidantes. His mother, Suzanne Magaziner, is a prominent local philanthropist.
The younger Magaziner was born and raised in Bristol, but attended high school at the elite Milton Academy in Massachusetts. He went on to receive his bachelor’s degree from Brown University in 2006 and an M.B.A. from Yale University in 2010.
Between Brown and Yale, Magaziner spent two years teaching at an elementary school in Louisiana as a member of Teach for America corps members — an experience he cites regularly by referring to himself as “a former public school teacher.” On return to Rhode Island he spent a summer working at Point Judith Capital, the venture-capital firm that Raimondo co-founded, before entering business school.
After graduating from Yale, Magaziner spent three-and-a-half years at Trillium Asset Management, a Boston-based investment management company, where he rose from portfolio associate to investment analyst to vice president.
When Raimondo left the treasurer’s office after one term to run for governor, Magaziner entered the 2014 Democratic primary to replace her against Frank Caprio, who was making a comeback bid for his old job. The younger man achieved a two-to-one victory against Caprio, in part by pouring $800,000 of his own money into the campaign. Magaziner easily won the November election, and was re-elected in 2018.
In the treasurer’s office Magaziner has attempted to strike a balance in navigating the legacy of his predecessor, who was now the sitting governor but also deeply disliked among unions and leftists for spearheading the 2011 state pension overhaul.
He helped negotiate and execute the 2015 settlement that ended most lawsuits challenging the pension changes, and has since overseen a period of record growth in the value of the state pension fund, which hit an all-time high of $10.3 billion in July as the market stays frothy.
Apart from the pension fund, Magaziner has worked assiduously to cultivate strong ties with the state’s union leaders. He helped lead a 2017 task force on the woeful condition of Rhode Island’s school buildings, leading to voter approval of a $250 billion bond for such projects the following year.
Magaziner and his wife Julia McDowell live in Providence. The couple are expecting their first child in November.
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 Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram
Steph Machado contributed to this report.