RI-01: Democratic Rep. David Cicilline, a fixture of Rhode Island politics and a prominent leader of Donald Trump's second impeachment, unexpectedly announced on Tuesday that he would resign from Congress to head a philanthropic foundation. Cicilline made history following his 2010 win when he became both the first gay and first Jewish person to represent the Ocean State in Congress, and he quickly established himself as a vocal advocate for progressive causes.
However, Cicilline was best known for co-authoring the article of impeachment accusing Trump of "incitement of insurrection" following the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol. Soon after, the House voted in favor of the article, making Trump the first president to ever be impeached twice. Cicilline was tapped by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi to manage Trump's trial before the Senate, which ended in an acquittal, albeit with the support of a record number of Republicans.
Cicilline said his resignation would take effect June 1, at which point Gov. Dan McKee will be able to schedule a special election—the state's first since 1967. Cicilline's district, which covers the eastern half of the state and a large swath of Providence, is unlikely to change hands: Joe Biden would have carried the district by a 64-35 margin, and the congressman handily defeated an unheralded Republican opponent by a similar 64-36 spread to win a seventh term last year.
That victory capped a long political career that began with an unsuccessful bid for the state Senate in 1992, when he failed to oust Democratic incumbent in the primary. But that was the first and last time Cicilline would ever lose: Two years later, he bounced back by winning an open seat in the state House that he easily held for a decade.
In 2001, Cicilline took a bold leap that would see him make history. Buddy Cianci, the legendary longtime mayor of Providence, had overseen a renaissance in the city, transforming it into "a trendy destination spot for Boston yuppies, Hollywood filmmakers, college kids, gays, artists, empty nesters, and tourists," as Yankee Magazine's Mike Stanton put it in a 2009 retrospective. But though Cianci was immensely popular, he was also notoriously corrupt and was indicted on a wide range of federal corruption charges that April dubbed "Operation Plunderdome."
Cicilline gambled that Cianci, a Republican-turned-indepenent, would be vulnerable, but the mayor took his opponent seriously. Cianci, who had long ties to the city’s gay voters, was determined to blunt Ciccilline's advantage with this group, and Stanton says the mayor "flew the rainbow flag over city hall, championed gay rights, and served as marshal of the Gay Pride parade." The outreach prompted Cicilline to quip, "He spends more time in gay bars than me."
That courtship, however canny, wasn't going to save the mayor, though. He was convicted on a single count of racketeering in June of 2002, just before the candidate filing deadline. A new trio of Democrats jumped into the suddenly uncertain race, but Cicilline had been laying the groundwork for a year and defeated his nearest rival for the Democratic nomination 52-34. Without Cianci on the ballot, that was the ballgame in dark blue Providence: Cicilline won the general election resoundingly, becoming the first openly gay person to serve as mayor of a state capital and making Providence the biggest city in the country with a gay mayor.
After easily securing a second term four years later, Cicilline made the leap to Congress in 2010 after 1st District Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a fellow Democrat, announced his retirement. Cicilline defeated three rivals, outpacing businessman Anthony Gemma 37-23. That fall, however, he faced the most difficult general election of his career thanks to the year's intense GOP wave, but he nevertheless earned his first term in the House with a 51-44 win over Republican state Rep. John Loughlin.
Shortly after heading to D.C., however, Cicilline faced a barrage of accusations that he'd mismanaged Providence's finances, leaving a shortfall his successor as mayor called a "category 5" hurricane. The mess prompted Gemma to seek a rematch with the new incumbent, but Cicilline held him off 62-30. The new incumbent also got a boost when the Democratic-run legislature made his district about 3 points bluer at the expense of the state's other district, prompting fellow Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin to accuse Cicilline of influencing lawmakers to his advantage. Cicilline denied the accusations and defeated former State Police Superintendent Brendan Doherty 53-41 in what was the last tough election he ever had to deal with.
The timing of the special election to succeed Cicilline is murky, however, since Rhode Island's long-dormant law governing congressional vacancies now conflicts with federal laws that require absentee ballots to be sent to overseas voters well in advance. It's likely, however, that one will take place this fall, preceded by a primary that will likely prove all-important given the district's strong Democratic lean.
While Cicilline’s resignation took the state by surprise, numerous fellow Democrats immediately started to show interest in competing to succeed him. The people publicly considering are:
Supporters of Biden administration official Gayle Goldin also say she’s interested, while The Valley Breeze writes the same of North Providence Town Council President Dino Autiello.
In the not ruling it out column are:
A huge number of Democratic politicians have also been mentioned by the Boston Globe, the Providence Journal, and WPRI:
- Biden administration official Gabe Amo
- Democratic National Committeewoman Liz Beretta-Perik
- State Rep. Nathan Biah
- State Treasurer James Diossa
- former Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea
- State Rep. Katherine Kazarian
- 2014 gubernatorial candidate Clay Pell
- State Sen. Ryan Pearson
Several Democrats have already said no, however, including Providence Mayor Brett Smiley and three of his predecessors.