Gay RI Congressman Battles LGBT-Friendly Rival
In the race for LGBT votes in the Ocean State, gay U.S. Representative David Cicilline (D) is facing serious competition from businessman Anthony Gemma. On September 11, voters in the state’s first congressional district will decide whom to put up as the Democratic nominee against Republican Brendan Doherty in the November election.
Cicilline, 50, has a wealth of political experience, including two terms as Mayor of Providence and as a State Representative. Progressive and LGBAT activists have embraced his liberal views. More significantly, Cicilline is only one of a handful of openly gay representatives in Congress.
But the criticisms lodged against Cicilline by political opponents have taken a tough toll on the freshman congressman. Cicilline’s job approval rating dropped to a measly 15 percent among all Rhode Island voters in a Brown University poll last February.
Gemma, who was also one of Cicilline’s primary challengers in 2010, has been harshly critical of Cicilline for the way he handled the city’s finances when he served as Mayor.
"He has misled the voters," Gemma said. "He’s lied to us."
Cicilline is concentrating on helping to repair the state’s battered economy. Rhode Island’s unemployment rate is the highest of all the New England states and is second highest in the nation.
"I will keep fighting for the Make It In America agenda," Cicilline told EDGE. "We used to make things in this country and it helped build our middle class. We need to bring that back. Manufacturing is actually a growing sector of our economy and I believe we need to do everything we can to help nurture this. That includes ending the tax loopholes that actually reward companies for shipping jobs overseas and instead make it easier for companies to insource, creating jobs here at home."
Cicilline said he has co-sponsored legislation to create a national infrastructure bank that would leverage private and public partnerships to help rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.
"I’m also committed to fighting to protect from Republican attempts to privatize Social Security and end the Medicare guarantee," Cicilline continued. "And I will continue to push back against the far-right’s attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, slash funding for early childhood education, nutrition programs and student loans, and undermine access to reproductive health care including birth control."
Gemma, 41, is a Lincoln resident who attended Suffolk University in Boston, and later ran his family’s business, Gem Heating and Plumbing. In 2008, Gemma founded Mediapeel, a full-service marketing firm created to help organizations promote and market their products and services.
"I want to make a positive impact," said Gemma, who intends to focus on job creation. Gemma has pledged to bring 10,000 jobs to the state if he is elected.
Gemma describes himself as fiscally conservative but socially liberal. He touts his business experience and ability to create jobs as reasons for voters to trust him. He said his support of the LGBT community was "unconditional." He favors same-sex marriage as well as the repeal of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act). In addition, he supports the passage of ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act).
Cicilline said this has been a "historic" year for LGBT rights and is optimistic DOMA will be repealed. President Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality was "a huge symbolic step forward," Cicilline told EDGE.
"It is critical that we keep strong pro-equality voices in elected office," Cicilline continued. "With (Congressman) Barney Frank (D-MA) retiring, and (Congresswoman) Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) hopefully moving on to the Senate, our House LGBT caucus will be down to just two members. It is important that we keep pressure on Congress to pass legislation for full equality."
Gemma believes most LGBT voters are more concerned about integrity than a candidate’s sexual orientation and therefore will gravitate towards his candidacy: "The community knows I’m an honest man."
Whether voters choose Cicilline or Gemma, one must face off in November against Doherty, a former Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police who may prove to be a formidable opponent for whoever wins the Democratic primary. Doherty is conservative on social issues. He opposes same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
Gemma is "very confident" he can defeat Doherty in the general election. He also believes Democrats who have been disenchanted with Cicilline will "come home" in November.
Cicilline believes the differences between himself and Doherty could not be more pronounced, especially in looking at how Tea Party-backed Republican leadership has been trying to slash the social safety net and wage a far-right culture war.
"It really matters who Rhode Islanders send to Congress," Cicilline said. "I have seen firsthand just how far right the Republican Party has moved and the policies they are pushing in Washington would have devastating effects for Rhode Island seniors, students, women, small businesses and the middle class. Sending another vote to keep the same Republican leadership running Congress would mean more gridlock, more inaction and more support for policies that are bad for Rhode Islanders. It’s time for us to work together in order to get things done for the American people."