PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence Mayor Angel Taveras late Tuesday launched a frontal assault against his Democratic gubernatorial rival Clay Pell, debuting a new TV ad that criticizes the political newcomer as “inexperienced and out of touch.”
The commercial, which began airing Tuesday, shows Pell on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers last winter giving a halting answer to a question about how long he’s lived in Rhode Island full-time. “I’ve been coming to Rhode Island ever since I was a child,” Pell replies. PolitiFact Rhode Island later described Pell’s residency as “open to interpretation.”
The Taveras ad’s narrator goes on to say that Pell has “had nine jobs in the past eight years – two of them internships” and has spent “less than 18 months of that in Rhode Island.” He then extolls Taveras as an alternative who will focus on jobs, education and infrastructure.
The new commercial offers the strongest evidence yet that Taveras, the frontrunner in the polls as of late May, is facing a serious challenge from Pell, grandson of the late U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell. Taveras allies argue that Pell could split the vote and hand victory to the third candidate in the race, General Treasurer Gina Raimondo.
Pell’s campaign manager, Devin Driscoll, argued that both Taveras and Raimondo have been engaging in campaign attacks while his candidate has worked to stay positive, arguing they represent “politics-as-usual and the pay-to-play culture that has plagued our state for too long.”
“Because of the growing momentum of our grassroots campaign, Mayor Taveras has now turned his mudslinging in our direction,” Driscoll said. “We, however, firmly reject the politics of attack and innuendo. Clay learned from his grandfather that campaigns shouldn’t be about tearing people down, but should be about ideas for the future.”
The Taveras campaign, which has significantly less cash available than its opponents, said it is spending $90,235 on advertising time this week airing the Pell spot and other commercials. As of June 30, Raimondo’s campaign had $3 million on hand, while Pell’s had $2 million and Taveras’s had $1.3 million.
While Raimondo has aired multiple ads that are sharply critical of Taveras, until now the mayor has largely stuck to positive spots and responses to the treasurer. Pell, meanwhile, has flooded the Rhode Island airwaves with a barrage of positive commercials portraying him as a civic-minded reformer with serious policy ideas.
“Mr. Pell’s newly discovered commitment to our state and lack of executive experience raise serious questions about his ability to handle the job of governor – managing more than 10,000 employees, tackling an $8 billion budget and driving real economic growth in a struggling economy,” Taveras spokeswoman Dawn Bergantino said in a statement.
Also on Tuesday, the head of Rhode Island’s largest state employee union – Council 94 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – announced it’s “in the process of launching our most advanced and aggressive political action program to date” in an effort to get Taveras elected governor.
In an email, Council 94 President J. Michael Downey said the union will start making door-to-door contact with its members Wednesday, and “will be in full political mobilization mode conducting member-to-member canvasses, phone banks, or both on a daily basis” through the Sept. 9 primary.
Council 94 endorsed Raimondo for treasurer in 2010, but its leaders quickly soured on her as she championed a pension overhaul the following year that reduced benefits for its members. “The last few years AFSCME employees and their families have taken many hits,” Downey wrote Tuesday. “Now it’s time to fight back.”