As Clay Pell formally announced his candidacy for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination on Tuesday, Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena had a key role.
“It was an honor to be there,” said the mayor, who served as emcee and spoke during the event at the Rhode Island Convention Center.
Pell, grandson of the late longtime U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell, had for months hinted at a run for governor. He joins a field that includes Democrats Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, and Republicans Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Ken Block.
Polisena said he met Pell seven or eight months ago, and sought a meeting with him to discuss his prospective candidacy and views.
“He was just such a down-to-earth guy,” said Polisena. “His sincerity really overshadowed everything else.”
Polisena said the two developed a friendship after their initial meetings. The mayor and his wife attended a birthday party hosted by Pell and his wife, Olympic figure skating star Michelle Kwan.
“They make you just right at home,” said Polisena, adding that Kwan “would make a great ambassador for the state.”
Aside from Pell’s character, the mayor said the newest gubernatorial candidate brings an approach and focus Rhode Island needs.
“I think he’s got a vision for the state,” said Polisena. “His main goal is public service for our state, getting our state online … In my opinion, he’s the candidate that I think can turn the state around and create the economic development that we really need.”
Polisena specifically cited what he said is Pell’s understanding of the need to support businesses and ease the burden on cities and towns.
“He’s good for Rhode Island,” the mayor said.
Pell, 32, served as a lieutenant and a judge advocate general in the U.S. Coast Guard. He also served as a national security staffer in the Obama White House, and worked for the U.S. Department of Education.
Speaking before the Cranston Democratic City Committee earlier this month, Pell cited his grandfather’s legacy as being highly influential as he mulled a bid for public office. He also said he would serve as a unifying force in state government, focused on bringing different voices together to find effective solutions on issues such as education and infrastructure.
On Tuesday, Pell, who drew laughs and applause for introducing himself as “Michelle Kwan’s husband,” echoed that sentiment.
“I will remember the advice of my grandfather – it is not the volume of the voice that matters, it’s whether you’re speaking for those without a voice at all,” he said. “And it is my pledge to uphold that tradition of public service as your next governor.”
Polisena said while Pell’s youth and newcomer status might be a concern to some; his range of experience speaks louder.
“He’s really done a lot,” said the mayor.
Polisena said he plans to work in support of Pell’s bid.
“I’m going to be active,” he said. “I’m going to do what I can to help him out.”
Polisena has in the past spoken highly of Fung and his candidacy, but said as a Democrat, he was drawn to support Pell.
“Mayor Fung’s a great guy … a dear friend of mine,” he said. “As a Democrat, I support Clay Pell.”