Pell expected to retire from Senate

September 03, 1995|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island has scheduled an announcement about his political future for Tuesday and is likely to become the seventh Democratic senator to decline to seek re-election next year.

Bill Bryant, Mr. Pell's press secretary, said yesterday that the announcement would come at 10 a.m. Tuesday, but he would not confirm a report by a Providence television station, WJAR, that the 76-year-old Pellsenator had decided not to run for a seventh term.

"I'll let him speak for himself," Mr. Bryant said.

Senator Pell's possible retirement has been the subject of frequent speculation, particularly since he disclosed in April that he had been found to have Parkinson's disease, a progressive neurological disorder. First elected in 1960, and re-elected by a wide margin in 1990 despite a vigorous challenge by a much younger Republican congresswoman, Claudine Schneider, he is third in seniority in the Senate behind Republican Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and Democrat Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia.

The expected announcement underscores the problems the Democrats face in their effort to hold enough seats in 1996 to make a difference in the Senate, which hardly anyone expects the party to recapture. Democrats now hold 46 seats, and unless they can keep at least 41 they will be unable to exercise the leverage that comes from being able to sustain a filibuster.

Fifteen Democratic Senate seats and 18 Republican seats are up for election in 1996. Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey announced last month that he would not seek re-election. He was preceded by Sens. Howell Heflin of Alabama, J. Bennett Johnston of Louisiana, David Pryor of Arkansas, Jim Exon of Nebraska and Paul Simon of Illinois.

Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia is widely expected to retire as well.

Further hurting the Democrats' chances, two senators elected as Democrats, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama and Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, have switched to the Republican Party in the past year.

Only one incumbent Republican, Hank Brown of Colorado, has announced his retirement. Another Republican, Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas, said last week that she would announce in November whether she planned to run for a fourth term. Republican Mark O. Hatfield of Oregon is also considered a possibility for retirement.

Senator Pell, a soft-spoken patrician whose ancestors were the original lords of the manor of Pelham Manor, N.Y., has been a popular figure in a state where scrappy ethnic politics have often made him seem an anomaly.

His father, Herbert Claiborne Pell, served a term in Congress as a Democratic representative from Manhattan's old silk-stocking district. Four other forebears also served in either the Senate or the House of Representatives. The large estate in Newport, R.I., that family members used in the summers was later donated to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rhode Island for use as a school.

Until the Republicans captured the Senate last November, Mr. Pell was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee; he is now the ranking minority member. He is a World War II veteran and former Foreign Service officer.

His legislative accomplishments have been principally in the fields of education and the arts, where the federal government's role is now under strong attack by the Republican majority in Congress.

He was the sponsor of the Pell grants, which provide federal scholarship aid to college students, and was one of the $l architects of the National Endowment for the Arts. Last fall, President Clinton awarded him the Presidential Citizens Medal in recognition of his advocacy of the arts.

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