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Dan Lawlor: David Cicilline Represents the Best & Worst of Politics

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Who is David Cicilline?

Politically, the sitting Congressman from Rhode Island House District 1, former Mayor of Providence, and former State Representative from the East Side.

Why did he win re-election to Congress? Why did the party let him win?

He won because he had one heck of a ground game. Throughout his tenure as Mayor, for his first term he did good. In his last term, he did easy. In his later years as Mayor, Cicilline sacrificed hard decisions and hard choices to promote his political career- and, through a combination of delayed problem-solving and his limited reaction to state budget cuts, risked the capital city going into bankruptcy.

Last Spring, Cicilline was polling double-digits behind Doherty. The Democratic Party establishment did not shun Cicilline, encourage him to leave, or put up a challenger. Despite numerous qualified and popular officials - including Lt. Governor Liz Roberts - no establishment person tried to hold Cicilline accountable. Outsider businessman Anthony Gemma launched a failed bid to unseat Cicilline in the Democratic Primary, and in the process brought forward a series of allegations - some depressingly true, some bizarre and fantastical - about misconduct and misuse of power. Associates of Cicilline have faced investigation and censure, Go Local's research into the city's loan program demonstrated repeated misuse of funds, and questions were raised about using a $100,000 city backed HUD loan as a reward to an organizer of a Cicilline mail-in ballot campaign.

Yet, there was no skyfall.

Despite numerous warning bells that Cicilline was headed toward defeat - alongside last minute grabs at "Democratic Unity" and repeated commercials about protecting Social Security - Cicilline continued his march toward the polls - and won. From Barack Obama down, there was a party to be had in the Democratic Party. Even in some quarters of the party, I'm sure, Cicilline's victory was a surprise.

Yet, I say, let Cicilline's victory be a warning. Those who say that the Democratic Party is out of touch with voters are clearly wrong. Blaming the effectiveness of the Democratic Party does nothing to mobilize new voters or attract people to bring in new perspectives. At the same, activists must be leery to place faith in occasionally corrupted political allies. Without Obama at the top of the ticket, I'm not convinced, even with the ground game, that this win would have taken place. The people of this state are angry, upset, disappointed, and with the right candidates, the complexion of the legislature could change quite a bit.

The Green Party, Moderates, and a better organized pool of independents could, with the right connections and ground game, shake things up. As they truly should be - we need more good government reforms, more out of the box thinking to shake up the state, more ideas and engagement to build up our civic culture and our reputation.

Luckily for the state Democratic Party, the Rhode Island Republicans have been fairly disorganized over the last twenty years, since the disappearance of liberal Republicanism in the early 1990s. The Greens haven't had an electoral win since David Segal on the Providence City Council. The Moderates won a school committee seat in Burrillville, but lost their General Assembly race in East Providence, and parted ways with their Central Falls candidate, Nick Gelfuso.

For good or ill, Brendan Doherty represents a style of Republicanism that was demonstrably appealing to many Rhode Island voters. The suburban Moderate Republicanism of Scott Brown and Brendan Doherty, a blend of old school Democratic values (protecting Social Security), old school morality (opposition to marriage equality, strict immigration rules, tighter welfare rules), and business Republicanism (low taxes, openness to vouchers, or at least charter schools, to provide choice in education) represent the values of a decent chunk of Rhode Islanders. Not a majority by any means, but with the right game plan, this form of Republicanism would do well here locally. The fact that it hasn't is testament to GOP disorganization and to (very sensible) local suspicion of the national GOP's policy. Romney's "47%" comments didn't help by the way.

Consider a few years back the high popularity of Carcieri during his first term, before he began to more directly mimic the rhetoric and policies of the national Republicans.

Yet, Dohertyism aside, the local GOP was at its strongest in the 1980s when a series of intelligent, hard working women were elected to statewide and federal offices- Secretary of State, Attorney General, Congress and Treasurer. The GOP elected its first black female representative in the early 1990s - Mary Ross - who had been involved in creating the West End Community Center in South Providence. The GOP was successful in electing people to multiple offices when it was open to new ideas and to new parts of the electorate in Rhode Island. Scott Brown's successful 2010 campaign was based on connecting with disaffected Democrats resentful of machine politics. Brown's style of appealing to budget squeezed suburban and working class constituencies worked in 2010, and caused the Democrats to work hard and go all out this time around, resulting in Elizabeth Warren's victory.

Adopting an Arizona playbook for purity will ensure that local GOP candidates will never achieve elected office. Adopting a quest for purity will also undermine the local Greens. Change the message of the local GOP to better engage city dwellers and working class suburbanites, and we might have some surprising years ahead. At this point, I would suggest Cicilline's victory is more a vote against the national GOP (which funded those crazy attacks ads and has ties to the Bush years and the Tea Party), more than an endorsement of him as a person. How many of you have had a conversation which included some version of, "I don't like him, but I don't want to vote Republican." In short, if the local GOP wants to start winning, and bringing good government ideas to the forefront - let go of the bitterness, and go left. Be the party of accountable government, not no government.

Cicilline represented a curious mix of the best and worst of politics - he tried to promote innovation in city government during his early tenure, yet he also played to the crowd and overlooked reality for expediency, and had questionable ways to reward allies. The later is particularly disappointing as he pledged to clean things up after the fall of Buddy Cianci.

Cicilline's votes in the US Congress were an awesome reflection of progressive thinking - yet he almost didn't make them anymore because he gave up so much of his integrity to get to Congress in the first place.


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lol , where do you get your information from? He had no ground game, he had a handful of the same workers he has always had, he had no ground game because nobody wanted to work for him. His headquarters in Providence was a dive in a basement and there was never more than a handful of workers.

Dan you have to get your facts straight, what evidence do you have that he had a ground game?

Comment #1 by anthony sionni on 2012 11 14

Sionni, by arguing that Cicilline had no ground game you are only lending credibility to the argument that your boy Gemma, and Doherty, were completely incompetent, misguided and lousy candidates.

Thank you for clarifying things.

Comment #2 by Edward Smith on 2012 11 14

not true ed, people voted for cicilline because he was a democrat and have no clue what he has done or dont care, thats how they vote in this state. Go ask around and see what people tell you as their reason for voting for cicilline. They will say something like ,hes a democrat,but when you press them on why their taxes have gone up because of cicilline, they dont make the connection or dont care,but then complain of high car taxes.

Comment #3 by anthony sionni on 2012 11 14

People aren't that stupid, Sionni. They vote for the "least bad" option. Your boy Gemma made Cicilline look like Claiborne Pell. Doherty could barely read the talking points handed to him. It's that simple.

Comment #4 by Edward Smith on 2012 11 14

they are stupid, I have questioned people who voted for cicilline, one guy told me he voted for cicilline cause he hired spanish people another one told me in regards to all of cicillines downfalls, he says they all do that.

Wake up!

Comment #5 by anthony sionni on 2012 11 14

these are the same folks that voted for frddy st germain and patches kennedy.

intellectually challenged voters would be an understatement.

Comment #6 by jon paycheck on 2012 11 14

just imagine if we had 435 congressman like david cicclini... and patches kennedy.

the country would be in just great shape right??

Comment #7 by jon paycheck on 2012 11 14

The fact-free myth that Cicilline was responsible for Carcieri and the General Assembly cutting Providence's budget into near bankruptcy soldiers on.

Comment #8 by Samuel Bell on 2012 11 15

Dan, just to make it clear Republicans are not out to get rid of Social Security, Medicare or Pell Grants. I argue that David Cicilline made this the issue of his campaign and did not tell the truth to voters.

Secondly, you missed one very important issue, the redistricting of the Congressional Districts in Rhode Island. This moved tens of thousands of voters when only a fraction of that had to be moved. Clearly this gave David Cicilline a big advantage in more heavily Democrat areas.

Also, not a single new Republican statewide officeholder won in a state that Mitt Romney did not carry.

Comment #9 by Michael Napolitano on 2012 11 15

samueul, if you want to blame cuts from state aid, maybe cicilline should have made cuts to. You dont keep spending, for instance $560,000 for police detail ,an orange P , over $100,000, director of protocol, 100,000, you get the picture.

YOU have heard the saying tax and spend havent you!

Comment #10 by anthony sionni on 2012 11 15

Cicilline is a rat, and the people of Rhode Island continue to find excuses for him and politicians like him. If it isn't Bush at the Federal level, then it is Carcieri at the state level. It is ridiculous that we elect the same politician, just a different last name.

"Cilline's votes in the US Congress were an awesome reflection of progressive thinking" I dare you to read that without simultaneously laughing and crying....sentences like that are the reason our great state is a joke.

Comment #11 by Silence Dogood on 2012 11 15

Dan, I am really struggling to understand "the Best" that Cicilline represents.

What he does do is:

1. Validate that lying politicians are okay and as a State and a society, we should not expect more.

2. Confirm that voters in the First District can be swayed by free pizzas, as if we were watching Wesley Snipes hand out Thanksgiving turkeys in the drug corridor in New Jack City.

3. Solidify the notion that past performace does not matter; nearly bankrupting a City, lying about, and delaying access to the Category 5 truth is a track record of failure - not success.

4. Prove that politicians will stick together, ethical lapses, lying and all, as the band of merry Democrats rallied - Raimondo, Category 5 Taveras and the worst, Clinton - to get this liar re-elected.

5. Establish that Rhode Islanders do not want to move forward. Cicilline did not get one epiece of his submitted legislation past - he is zero for ten. Yet, Rhode Islanders are okay with that?

he brought out the worst in all things Rhode Island.

The big question in two years to citizens of the First District should be, "Four years later, are you any better off..." The answer will be NO.!!

Comment #12 by David Allen on 2012 11 15

By the way, we should add that his trials and tribulations here in Rhode Island and the Dominican Republic, I understand are far from over.

FACT: The Providence Economic Development is under investigation and the allegations involving his activities in the DR are also being scrutinized.

I imagine some of his Xmas bonus will be going to legal representation.

Comment #13 by David Allen on 2012 11 15

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