2014-03-07 / Around Town

Newporter to Run on State Ballot

By Tom Walsh

Guillaume de Ramel has launched his campaign for Secretary of State. Guillaume de Ramel has launched his campaign for Secretary of State. Native Newporter Guillaume de Ramel, a descendant of French philosopher Montesquieu and a former Boston mayor, looks north to the robust economy enjoyed by Massachusetts and wonders, why not Rhode Island?

De Ramel, a businessman who will turn 40 this year prior to Election Day, is a Democrat running for Secretary of State, an office he came unexpectedly close to capturing in 2006. While the Secretary of State’s office might seem more about formal record keeping and election matters, de Ramel has other ideas – he would use the office to try to improve Rhode Island’s economy by taking advantage of what he calls “missed opportunities.”

“The Secretary of State’s office can play a role in improving the economy if we improve the transparency of state government,” he said. ”I would use the office to try to create a road map for people to navigate state government.” For example, he said, his road map might help to navigate quasi-public bodies such as the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority that may not have the same rules as the state Department of Transportation.

De Ramel praised incumbent Democratic Secretary of State Ralph A. Mollis, who is constrained from running again by term limits, for inaugurating a “first-stop business center” during his tenure. “I would make that into a one-stop center,” de Ramel said. “The problem is that we need to connect the silos.”

De Ramel said he would use his two decades of experience in the private sector to try to make these things happen. He understands that with the likelihood of a tense political battle for governor, he faces a difficult challenge to get voters to focus on “his” issues.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in architectural studies from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, de Ramel bolstered his education with a master’s degree in real estate development from Columbia University. He worked as a real estate investment analyst for Holiday Fenoglio Fowler, L.P., a leading New York real estate investment bank. When he moved back to Rhode Island, he worked as chief operating officer at B.R. Arnold Construction. He was appointed to the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council by Gov. Lincoln Chafee in 2011.

In 2006, de Ramel, without his party's endorsement, received 47 percent of the Democratic primary vote in his race against incumbent Mollis. This time, de Ramel said he will seek the party's blessing. His campaign announced in late February that 17 Cranston elected officials have endorsed him. So far, the only opponent to formally emerge is Nellie Gorbea, also a Democrat and former executive director of Housingworks RI.

According to published reports, de Ramel had more than $500,000 in campaign funds available as of Dec. 31. Gorbea reported nearly $130,000.

De Ramel and his family – his wife Molly, a former television news reporter in New York and now a media consultant, and children Charlie and Elizabeth – are involved in numerous philanthropic efforts in Newport and throughout Rhode Island. De Ramel is chairman of the Newport Hospital F.H. Prince Memorial Fund and also serves on the Advisory Council of the Rhode Island Hospital Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute. The Institute began in 2010 with a de Ramel family gift of $15 million.

De Ramel said politics first attracted him because “I realized that if you participate in the process you can effectuate change.”

Asked whether he harbors ambitions to have a political career that goes beyond Secretary of State, de Ramel said he would move forward cautiously with “baby steps.”

"First, I would like to gain the Secretary of State’s office and make that office a vehicle to help transform the state’s business community,” the candidate said. “And that’s about creating an open and transparent government.”

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