Michelle R. Smith | Associated Press
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Providence Mayor David Cicilline won a contentious Democratic primary to succeed Rep. Patrick Kennedy in Congress, beating back three opponents in a race that turned ugly in its final weeks.
Cicilline on Tuesday, Sept. 14, defeated businessman Anthony Gemma, state Rep. David Segal and former state party chairman Bill Lynch to capture the Democratic nomination for the 1st Congressional District post. He will face Republican state Rep. John Loughlin, the House minority whip, on Nov. 2.
If elected in November, Cicilline would become the fourth openly gay member of Congress.
Cicilline has spent two terms as mayor of the capital city. He entered the congressional race in February, two days after Kennedy announced he would not seek a ninth term. Cicilline got 37 percent of the vote to Gemma’s 23 percent, Segal’s 20 percent and Lynch’s 20 percent.
Cicilline said in an interview that he expected it to be a competitive race and was delighted to be the nominee.
“This campaign was about ideas of how we get Rhode Islanders back to work, and how we get Rhode Island and this country back on track,” he said. “I was the one who could produce the best results for Rhode Island.”
He led his rivals in fundraising throughout the race, having raised more than $1.3 million, about three times the amount of his nearest Democratic rival moneywise, Gemma. He had $445,000 cash on hand as of the end of August after going on a TV ad spending spree leading up to the primary.
Loughlin, who handily beat Kara Russo in Tuesday’s primary, has raised about $470,000 but had just $67,000 in his campaign account as of the end of August. While national Republicans have said the race is their top priority in the state, their interest in it has dwindled since Kennedy said he would not run again, and Loughlin’s fundraising has dropped off.
Loughlin said Tuesday night he looked forward to presenting voters with a contrast between him and Cicilline. He called Cicilline “another vote” for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and said he would over the coming weeks work to tell voters of his own commitment to smaller government and lower taxes.
“We’ve been quietly and busily traversing the 1st Congressional District every day, and we’re going to continue that pace obviously,” he said.
Voters at the polls Tuesday said the economy was foremost on their minds. Rhode Island has consistently had one of the worst unemployment rates in the country, at 11.9 percent in July.
Mimo Gordon Riley, a painter who lives in Providence, said it’s been difficult to make a living as an artist during the downturn and said she was worried about the economy.
“I don’t know who can do anything about that,” she said after casting her ballot in the Democratic primary. “It’s a tough time.”
Cicilline played to those concerns in his TV ads, which focused heavily on job creation and on his record as mayor of Providence. Stephen Healey, 48, a registered Democrat who is director of a nonprofit, said he was supporting Cicilline because of his experience.
“I just thought that he probably had at least the ability to navigate around Washington,” Healey said. “I think he’s had a tough job. There are so many demands, there are so many people who want a piece of what’s going on.”
The Democratic candidates have bombarded the airwaves with TV ads in recent days. More recently, Gemma launched TV and radio attack ads on Cicilline’s record, and Lynch and Segal criticized him for the state of the city’s schools and for his handling of a city program designed to provide job opportunities for residents.
Cicilline never resorted to negative ads, and he said Tuesday night he was proud of having run a positive campaign.
Cicilline acknowledged last week that he was overpaid by thousands of dollars because of a mistake by the city payroll department. He said he didn’t notice the discrepancy because his paycheck went down by more than $100 because of an increase in his health insurance copay. He said he paid the city back about $28,000. But his opponents said it indicated he was out of touch.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.