PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Treasurer Gina Raimondo officially jumped into the 2014 race for governor of Rhode Island on Wednesday, placing an emphasis on her commitment to her family and her desire to tackle the state’s intractable economic problems.
Raimondo, 42, revealed her decision in a four-and-a-half-minute video sent to supporters, confirming a move the state’s political class has long expected and capping a quick rise in Rhode Island politics since she first won public office just three years ago.
“It’s time to finally turn the page in Rhode Island and have a state government with the courage to tackle hard problems,” Raimondo said in the video, which emphasized her personal biography and work as treasurer but did not specify what policies she’d propose as governor.
Raimondo said she would have “the honesty to tell you the truth no matter what the political consequences, the commitment to bring people together on your behalf and the resolve to get it done no matter how fierce the opposition from special interests and political insiders.”
In a brief phone interview, Raimondo told WPRI.com she made the final decision to run over the Thanksgiving holiday after consulting with her husband as well as her parents. “Are we up for this?” she said she asked. “Are we ready for this? Are we ready for this? Are we really ready to commit ourselves to the state in this way and put our family through it?”
Raimondo said she’ll kick off her campaign more formally after the holidays – promising to put forward some “meaty policy ideas” – but would not hold any public events Wednesday to follow the video’s release.
“There’s going to be plenty of time to talk about the campaign in a few short weeks,” she said in the video. “Until then, in our house we’re anxiously awaiting Santa Claus and looking forward to the new year.”
Raimondo’s announcement is likely to quiet persistent speculation that she would bolt the Democratic Party and run as an independent due to public-sector labor unions’ opposition to her candidacy; many of their members remain angry about the 2011 pension law she spearheaded, which saved roughly $3 billion mainly by reducing benefits. The state and the unions have been in court-ordered mediation over the law for the past year.
“I know pension reform was and still is a hard thing for many people,” she said in the video. “But it was harder still to think about what would have happened to those pensions if we didn’t save them.” She noted the legislation was approved by “overwhelming majorities” in both houses of the General Assembly; Gov. Lincoln Chafee angered his supporters in the union movement by signing it into law.
Raimondo enters the governor’s race with a big financial advantage over her other declared opponent,Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, thanks to the national network of supporters she’s attracted with her pension work and finance career. The treasurer’s campaign had $2.3 million on hand as of Sept. 30, three times more than the mayor’s, which had $759,150.
A third Democrat, political newcomer Clay Pell, has formed an exploratory committee to weigh a bid. This week he hired Devin Driscoll – who ran President Obama’s Rhode Island campaigns in 2008 and 2012 and worked on this year’s successful push to legalize same-sex marriage – to coordinate the effort.
“This is no big surprise,” WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming said. “This is a very poorly kept secret. Everybody knew Gina Raimondo planned to run for governor of Rhode Island.”
One of Raimondo’s biggest advantages, Fleming said, is that under Rhode Island campaign-finance laws after Dec. 31 she can go back to all the contributors who have already given her campaign money and ask for another donation. State law allows donors to contribute up to $1,000 to a campaign in each calendar year.
“She’s going to have a very big war chest, which is going to make her a formidable opponent in the Democratic primary,” Fleming said. Pell’s entry into the race could also benefit Raimondo if he and Taveras split support from union members and liberal voters, he said.
A WPRI 12/Providence Journal poll of Rhode Island voters last month gave Taveras a 57% job approval rating, with Raimondo close behind at 51%. Pell was largely unknown, with 60% of voters saying they didn’t know enough to express an opinion about him. He is the grandson of the late U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell and the husband of figure-skater Michelle Kwan.
In a statement, Taveras welcomed Raimondo into the Democratic primary and renewed his call for her to sign a so-called “People’s Pledge” aimed at limiting campaign spending by super PACs and other outside groups. A super PAC called American LeadHERship has already been formed by Kate CoyneMcCoy to buoy Raimondo.
“If Treasurer Raimondo will join me, Rhode Island can set an example for keeping Wall Street and special interests from using Super PACs as a backdoor to buying their own state government,” Taveras said. “This is an important question that needs to be answered.”
Raimondo didn’t rule the idea out Wednesday, telling WPRI.com: “I’m open to it and, once the field is settled, at that time I think we’ll figure out what makes sense” – a likely reference to the fact that Pell hasn’t formally declared his intentions yet.
But the Taveras campaign quickly fired back, saying the pledge would only take effect if all candidates agreed to it and arguing that therefore Raimondo should sign it now. “Let’s stand together for our democratic values,” Taveras’s campaign wrote on Twitter.
CoyneMcCoy told WPRI.com she is “thrilled that Gina is running for governor” and declared: “American LeadHERship PAC will build a well-funded and aggressive campaign of its own to support Raimondo and provide the competitive edge a PAC can provide.” Raimondo is also set to receive financial support from EMILY’s List, a national PAC that backs female Democratic candidates who favor abortion rights.
Raimondo took a shot at Taveras’s efforts to stabilize Providence’s finances in the announcement video, saying that necessary investments in education and job training “have yet to be made because some of our smallest towns to even our biggest city have too much pension and fiscal uncertainty, and decisions are still being kicked down the road.”
Taveras campaign manager Danny Kedem replied that it was “unfortunate that Treasurer Raimondo chose to go negative against the city of Providence in her first statement as a candidate for governor,” and noted a number of steps the mayor has taken to close Providence’s budget shortfall and boost the city’s economy.
Pell spokesman Bill Fischer declined to comment directly on Raimondo’s announcement Wednesday. “As part of Clay’s exploratory process, he continues to speak to Rhode Islanders every day about the challenges and opportunities that must be addressed to turn Rhode Island’s economy around,” Fischer told WPRI.com. “Clay expects to make a decision by the end of January.”
On the Republican side of the race, a primary battle is heating up between Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Ken Block, the Barrington businessman who founded the Moderate Party and ran in 2010 but is now seeking the GOP nomination. (Chafee, the incumbent, who joined the Democratic Party this year, is not seeking re-election.)
“Democratic primaries tend to get nasty at times, and if they do get nasty that can help the Republicans if they have a very civilized primary,” Fleming said.
Raimondo’s gubernatorial bid is being run by Eric Hyers, who managed U.S. Congressman David Cicilline’s hard-fought and successful 2010 and 2012 campaigns. Her outside consultants include Mark Putnam of Putnam Partners for media; Peter Brodnitz of Benenson Strategy Group for polling; and Karen Petel of Petel & Co. for direct mail.
Raimondo faced no opposition in the 2010 Democratic primary for treasurer, her first run for public office, after which she easily dispatched Republican Kerry King in the November election, winning 62% to 38%.
The new treasurer made waves soon after taking office, first by convincing the State Retirement Board to lower its long-term investment forecast – which increased the state’s pension shortfall – and then by campaigning successfully for passage of the law that made sweeping changes to the system.
Raimondo has been the subject of fierce criticism in recent months from finance-sector critic Ted Siedle, who was hired by a local labor union to probe why Raimondo moved more than $1 billion of the state’s investments into hedge funds. Siedle has suggested an SEC investigation is warranted; Raimondo’s office has dismissed his allegations, which were highlighted by The New York Times and Rolling Stone.
Raimondo grew up in Smithfield and attended LaSalle Academy, Harvard University and Yale Law School. She was also a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. After clerking for U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood, she worked for Village Ventures, an early-stage venture-capital firm, then co-founded her own venture firm, Point Judith Capital, which counted the Rhode Island and Providence pension funds among its investors.
Raimondo lives in Providence with her husband, Andrew Moffit, an education consultant with the elite firm McKinsey & Co. The couple have two young children, Cecilia and Tommy.
“I never thought I’d be a political candidate, but I decided to run for treasurer because I knew that our children and our parents deserved a state that didn’t continue to kick financial decisions down the road, digging ourselves deeper and deeper into a hole that someday we might not be able to get out of,” Raimondo said in the video.
With Raimondo seeking higher office, the treasurer’s office will be open for the third time in as many election cycles. Three Democrats have already said they’ll seek the job: Frank Caprio, Raimondo’s predecessor as treasurer; Ernie Almonte, a former auditor general; and Seth Magaziner, a first-time candidate. No Republican has entered the treasurer’s race so far.
Steve Nielsen and Dan McGowan contributed to this report.