Gay R.I. Congressman Faces Tough Re-Election Campaign
Will LGBT Rhode Islanders support freshman Congressman David Cicilline during his tough re-election campaign?
The 50-year old former two-term mayor of Providence will face Republican challenger Brendan Doherty, the former commander of the Rhode Island State Police, in November. Cicilline's job approval rating dropped to a measly 15 percent among all Rhode Island voters in a Brown University poll last month. Political opponents have blamed the freshman congressman for Providence's current financial difficulties.
Businessman Anthony Gemma, who challenged Cicilline in the 2010 Democratic primary and may run against him again this year, blasted the former Providence mayor.
"I am heartened today to read that Congressman David Cicilline's public approval rating has plummeted to an all-time low," said Gemma. "It is not so much that David Cicilline has run out of lies; indeed, his supply seems limitless. What has changed, in point of fact, is that no one is listening anymore."
Cicilline remains unfazed by the polls.
"My focus is to do my job, work hard every day to help get Rhode Island on the right track and get people back to work," he told WPRI/Channel 12 last month. "I know there's lots of work to do, and I'm going to work hard to serve the people that elected me."
Current Providence Mayor Angel Taveras has endorsed his predecessor.
"As a Democrat and urban mayor, I firmly believe that Providence residents will be best served by a Democrat continuing to represent Rhode Island's 1st Congressional District," he said. "The challenges facing our city have many causes and were not created overnight. In both Providence and Washington, D.C., we must remain focused on creating jobs, improving our schools and recovering from the most severe recession in generations. I am confident that Congressman Cicilline will do that."
In spite of this support, feelings towards Cicilline among LGBT Rhode Islanders remain mixed.
"I support David because he represents true Democratic values," gay state Rep. Frank Ferri (D-Warwick) told EDGE. "His policies in Congress reflect what is good for all families and not a select few. We need his voice to stand up for equality. The economy, education, healthcare and jobs are priorities and I believe David has the experience it takes to address them."
Gay activist Lee McDaniel of Providence described Cicilline to EDGE as an "effective" congressman. Long-time LGBT activist Wendy Becker acknowledged concerns over Cicilline's record as mayor, but she stressed that she will still vote for him in November.
"I am not willing to help the Republicans gain control of the federal government nor will I vote for a candidate who doesn't fully support women's rights and LGBT rights," said Becker. "David Cicilline is the only candidate who does."
Doherty opposes marriage for same-sex couples and backs the federal Defense of Marriage Act. He is also staunchly pro-life.
Eric Pope, a former Providence resident who has fundraised for Cicilline, said he continues to receive national LGBT support. Tiffany Muller of the Victory Fund conceded to LGBT bloggers and journalists in Houston on Saturday that the former Providence mayor "isn't the most outfront person" on LGBT issues. That said, her organization will continue to support his re-election campaign.
"He's a stalwart," said Muller.
Pope further described Cicilline as a "great advocate" for the LGBT community, but the former Providence mayor's critics maintain that his sexual orientation makes no difference.
"I just can't back someone who lies to his constituents," said Steven Isherwood of Providence.
Act Blue, a website that raises funds for Democratic candidates, said Cicilline has raised more than $70,000. OpenSecrets.org said the former Providence mayor has raised nearly $1 million through his campaign committee.
Cicilline's supporters remain optimistic about his re-election prospects.
"People will see what he represents," said Pope. "They need someone who will side with the Obama administration. (Cicilline is) a fighter. He will work hard."
Michael K. Lavers contributed to this story.