Clay Pell is looking for the roots – the grassroots of Rhode Island.
That’s why the Democratic candidate for governor met with more than 70 people Tuesday evening at the William Shields Post in Conimicut. That’s why he’ll hold similar “town hall” meetings night after night in other communities across the state.
It’s no small effort. A staff of seven and an equal number, if not more, volunteers put together Tuesday’s meeting. The Pell campaign has 24 staffers assigned to various regions of the state.
The campaign office reached out to “targeted” voters, according to Pell’s campaign manager, Devin Driscoll. There was no knowing how many would show up.
Those who did attend were not familiar faces at neighborhood events. Neither Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon nor his son, Joseph Jr., who is running for House District 22, was in the audience. Two Democrats, “Jack” Kirby and Carel Callahan Bainum, are looking to run against Mayor Scott Avedisian, but they weren’t there. Absent, too, was local State Representative Eileen Naughton and Senator Michael McCaffrey, both Democrats.
Pell was given a rousing introduction by Joe Dwyer, a Conimicut resident, according to Driscoll.
Dwyer claimed to be a new convert to the campaign. Pell’s wife, Olympic figure skater Michele Kwan, didn’t know Dwyer’s full name nor did a couple of staffers.
But Dwyer was well versed in the talking points of Pell’s campaign, turning Pell’s lack of experience as an elected official into an asset.
“He has no mistakes to make up for,” he said.
The audience laughed.
The event started at 6, with an offering of hotdogs and hamburgers. Pell circulated among the tables, meeting people with his wife at his side. By 6:30, he was being introduced by Kwan, who was talking a bit about her own career and revealing, “All my life I’ve been a competitor and meeting Clay was no different.” She said they were both candidates for the same government job but he beat her out.
Pell got a laugh when he interrupted, saying it was an example “of poor government decision.”
Speaking without notes, Pell said his campaign has brought him in touch “with a group of people who share the same beliefs we have.” He said their presence is evidence “that we need to change the direction in which we are going.”
He said he is in the race “to realize the full potential of this state.”
Pell talked about his background in the Coast Guard, as a government prosecutor and as director of strategic planning for President Obama’s National Security staff. Last year, he was deputy assistant in the Department of Education for international and foreign language education.
He referred to his grandfather, the late Senator Claiborne Pell, for whom the Pell educational grants is named. He cited the debt being carried by students and mentioned his own Hope Internship and Hope Scholars programs. Under the internship program, every high school student would have access to an internship to help plan his or her future. The scholars program would double the higher education grant program.
He also said he would fight for women to get the same pay and opportunities as men; and that the minimum wage should be immediately raised to $10.10 per hour.
Pell identified the low opinion Rhode Islanders have of the state and the need to rekindle the innovative and creative spirit and skills that once made it great. He said he is not accepting political action committee contributions and he would not be beholden to lobbyists.
He aims to restore trust in government, saying, “as long as we don’t believe in government, we can’t make progress.”
Pell’s audience didn’t let him off easily. Judy Cohen wanted to hear the specifics of his plan for Rhode Island. Pell didn’t go into details, saying it was available on his website and that much of it could be accomplished without the General Assembly. Other questions focused on the dependence on fossil fuels, what can be done to promote tourism and how to stop losing jobs to China and other countries. He got asked what makes him different from the others running for governor. He was prepared for that one. He reiterated many of his earlier points, adding, “We need new leadership to unlock the state’s incredible opportunity.”
Pell held the third in his series of seven Town Hall meetings last night in Pawtucket. The next meeting will be July 7 at 6 p.m. at the Cranston Portuguese Club, followed by July 11 at the Roger Williams Park Casino. Free food will be served at each event.