Clay Pell Carries on Family’s Political Dynasty

by Joe Siegel
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Apr 7, 2014

Clay Pell is one of the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for Governor of Rhode Island. At 32 years-old, he is a member of a distinguished political family - his grandfather, Claiborne Pell (D), represented the state in the U.S. Senate for 36 years before passing away in 2007.

The Pell's political legacy runs deeper, however, and has roots to the LGBT community, as Clay Pell's late aunt, Julie Pell, was a veteran LGBT rights activist and a past president of the state's Alliance for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights.

Clay Pell, who is married to Olympic figure skating medalist, Michelle Kwan and resides in Providence, is a lieutenant and judge advocate in the United States Coast Guard, and served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for International and Foreign Language Education in the United States Department of Education. He also served as director for strategic planning on President Barack Obama's National Security staff.

Pell's political rivals include State Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, as well as Todd Giroux, a gay building contractor from Bristol. Governor Lincoln Chafee (D) is not running for a second term and businessman Ken Block and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung are vying for the Republican nomination.

Pell sat down with EDGE to discuss his family's influence on his career, his views on LGBT equality and what he can bring to improve Rhode Island.

He first talks about his grandfather and how he learned a lot about government from him, saying that he taught him that "you can do things for the right reasons, in the right way and help people."

The politician has a lasting respect for the work his aunt Julie Pell did in furthering the cause of LGBT rights in the state.

"She spoke truth to power," Pell told EDGE. "She was a wonderful aunt and I think about her every day. I know how happy and proud she would be to know that marriage equality finally passed. She was a voice for people who didn't have a voice."

Pell wants his campaign to be an inclusive one, and is reaching out not only to the LGBT community, but also to all minority communities in the state.

"We know campaigns are about electing new leadership, but they are also about bringing up ideas and about bringing people together," Pell said. "I really want my campaign to serve that role and to be a voice for people in the LGBT community and for those who want Rhode Islanders to come together and work together."

He also explained that he believes he is amply qualified to run the state and notes his knowledge of government as an asset.

"We need to change how government does business and we have to make [Rhode Island] a place where people are getting things going, like getting a job, getting involved in education, and where people can build their lives and dreams," he said.

Rhode Island has the highest unemployment rate in the country, a situation Pell aims to change.

"I think we need a comprehensive approach to rebuilding our economy, and that means looking at our school system so that we have world class education available to our students," Pell said. "Where we have got into trouble in the past is a one-stop solution, such as 38 Studios [Curt Schilling's failed video game business cost taxpayers $100 million]. Lowering [the sales tax] might be a part of it, but people need the skills to help the economy grow."

Pell also wants to increase the minimum wage to more than $10 an hour.

"Right now, people are struggling and one of the reasons I am running for Governor is to make sure people can get in and stay in the middle class," Pell explained. "Right now in Rhode Island, if you are working full-time on minimum wage, you are below the poverty level. [$10.10] is an absolutely reasonable amount. It's important to the economy because it puts more dollars in people's pockets."

Pell supports the Affordable Care Act, saying healthcare in Rhode Island "has gotten off to a good start."

"It's a step in the right direction as far as enhancing access and providing affordable health coverage."

You can visit Pell's campaign website at

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.


  • , 2014-04-07 13:38:06

    Why didn’t your article discuss the Prius?

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