The Magazine

Arrivederci, Cicilline

Mayoral malpractice comes back to haunt a ­congressman.

Jun 25, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 39 • By ETHAN EPSTEIN
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And so Cicilline is now attempting frantic damage control. In an interview with a local news channel in April, Cicilline apologized for his claim that Providence’s finances were “excellent.” “I should not have used that word,” he said. “It obviously doesn’t describe the condition the city is in [and] it was never my intention to mislead people intentionally.” He’s also trumpeting his support for the Paycheck Fairness Act and gay marriage, and his opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act.

But the congressman’s cultural liberalism looks unlikely to save him. Cicilline’s district, which includes blue-collar bastions like North Providence and Pawtucket, is no Berkeley or Portland. In fact, it’s something of a category mistake to refer to Rhode Island as liberal; it’s more machine-Democrat. Consider, for example, that Rhode Island and Maine are the only New England states that haven’t legalized gay marriage. (And even Maine looks set to enact it in November.)

The state is clearly willing to elect Republicans—it hasn’t voted in a Democratic governor since 1990. Catholic, “ethnic,” and economically depressed, Rhode Island is not a natural fit for a self-styled “progressive” like Cicilline. When he was elected to his first House term in 2010, replacing Patrick Kennedy, Teddy’s son, who had served eight terms, Cicilline beat his Republican opponent by a mere 10,000 votes (6 percent)—this before his mayoral shenanigans had come to light. That raised eyebrows, given the Democratic makeup of his district. But electorally, that may have been his finest hour.

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