Clay Pell, grandson of Rhode Island’s late and former 6 term U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell (1961-1997) seems poised to make it official and pledge his candidacy for Governor of the State of Rhode Island. Unblemished and qualified by a sound education, he is nevertheless relatively unknown and is greatly elevated by his grandfather’s legacy. And, his wife also contributes a hard earned legacy. She is none other than five time World Champion and Olympic medalist figure skater Michelle Kwan, also “public diplomacy ambassador” under both the Bush and Obama Administrations. Given the legacy from his Grandfather Senator Pell, his wife Michelle Kwan’s well-earned legacy, and a legacy of family wealth to boot, Clay Pell’s political ambitions have commanded the attention of the press.
In prominent interviews this week with Ian Donnis of RI NPR and Bill Rappleye, WJAR NBC10, Pell did not officially commit to a campaign for governor but it sounded like a near certainty. In both interviews he spoke “D.C.” fluently and promised to connect Rhode Island to the “global economy” and to “bring people into government” (where hope and his paychecks have lived abundantly.)
Pell alluded to leadership accomplishments in Washington. He has some short postings in Washington that look great on the resume, but prove no real accomplishment. Someone should start asking what accomplishments he is talking about.
In 2011 he began serving as the Director for Strategic Planning on the National Security Council at the White House. That’s when he met Ambassador Michelle Kwan too whom he was married on January 19, 2013. By May of 2013 he was out of the White House Post and appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary for International and Foreign Language Education (DASIFLE, if I may). He was at that post for six months. Prior to that there is some reference to some other posts. Pell also served as a JAG officer achieving the rank of lieutenant in the Coast Guard. One might view his rise as “meteoric” but without any real noticeable accomplishments, one might wonder if his record isn’t just mercurial.
In “Language Magazine” the then newly appointed DASIFLE expressed great excitement and his “laser focus” “ and talked about the ” next generation of students, ”and helping them “thrive in the 21st century” and building “critical foreign language and international skills.” You know, political green tea. He’s fluent.
And foreshadowing of this weeks interviews, he was asked by Language Magazine and answered:
LM: Do you have any specific goals in terms of improving [language education] in the U.S.?
CP: Yes! I really want to hear from the community about all the many ways we can work together..
Brackets added. [insert Rhode Island here.]
Just six months later the “laser focus” was over. By October of 2013, the man Language Magazine excitedly described as the nation’s new “language Czar,” had left the post and moved on.
But Clay Pell is missing something else that makes some sense of campaigns by political novices. He lacks a unique or alternate vision or, a signature idea that he believes in. If all he’s got is a notion that RI isn’t tuned into the global economy, boy is he out of touch. Rhode Island business is surprisingly tuned into the global economy. Rhode Island is no economic backwater. We just rank at the bottom for business climate. And the global economy gets it.
We’re listening too. And we hear the voice of a promising young man who has not actually fulfilled any great promise or proved an ability to lead this state off the bottom of the rankings and out of the “ Obama recovery.” We hear young enthusiasm and a pledge of service. But mostly we hear a political neophyte from the “born this way” class who proves that “government speak” is the language he believes in most of all.
Clay Pell’s pledge to lead us reminds me of another pledge, Larry “Pinto” Kroger in Animal House, the very young looking, a little bit earnest and giddy pledge who, after striking out at “Omega” tags along with Kent Dorfman, (Flounder.)Flounder had a “legacy” claim to a pledge at Delta house.
Like Pinto, Clay Pell is very young, very young looking and very young sounding. It is really only his Grandfather’s legacy, and his Wife’s hard earned legacy that command attention. If all he had to rely upon were his credible education and some brief postings in D.C. and a very short military career as a Coastguard JAG, ClayPell would not be considered as a serious challenge to Treasurer Gina Raimondo or Mayor Angel Tavares.
Now, maybe the Animal House (1978) reference is a little long in the tooth, but let’s faces it, so is the legacy of Senator Claiborne Pell. The “Pellgrant” is widely known, but not every voter got one, yours’ truly included. I earned too much working a part time job while in high school.
In a “Delta” primary against two offices known holders and their established political organizations, the enduring power of the Pell legacy will be tested. Michelle Kwan’s legacy will be refreshed by the winter Olympics coverage, although, not on NBC. She will be covering them for Fox sports (ettu Fox News?) and certainly helps.
But, Will Pinto’s legacy be enough? Remember it was Bluto (G.P.A. 0.0) who went on to become a U.S. Senator. Larry Pinto Kroger went onto becomes the editor of National Lampoon Magazine. Given Pell’s Mercurial resume so far..who knows? Maybe Governor of Rhode Island, maybe National Lampoon. Either way he sure to be very enthusiastic and earnest about bringing people together
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