In Fight for Gay Rights in RI, Gay Candidates are Not Always the Top Choice
One of the major Rhode Island showdowns on Primary Tuesday, September 11, is in the state’s First Congressional District, where gay Congressman David Cicilline faces a challenge from businessman Anthony Gemma for the Democratic nomination. The winner of the primary will go on to face Republican Brendan Doherty, the former Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police, in November.
Cicilline served as Mayor of Providence for two terms and has faced withering criticism for misleading voters about the financial condition of the city when he ran for Congress in 2010. During that campaign, Cicilline had said Providence was in "excellent" shape. The city was later revealed to have a $110 million structural deficit, which was handed over to Cicilline’s successor, Mayor Angel Tavaras (D). But Tavaras has endorsed Cicilline’s re-election bid, as have State Treasurer Gina Raimondo (D) and Governor Lincoln Chafee (I).
The rivalry between Cicilline and Gemma has become increasingly nasty in the last few months, with Gemma accusing Cicilline of committing voter fraud in his two Mayoral campaigns. Cicilline disavowed the allegations.
Anthony Sionni, a Gemma campaign staffer, recently compared Cicilline to Jerry Sandusky, a convicted pedophile. Sionni’s statement drew a rebuke from Joe Lazzerini, who had served as Field Director for the Gemma campaign.
"This kind of hurtful, intolerant smear has no place in electoral politics," said Lazzerini, who is gay.
"Unfortunately, it’s not the first time I heard someone in the Gemma organization make such a suggestion about David Cicilline. It made me uncomfortable and I communicated to my direct supervisor that I felt this effort was moving the campaign in the wrong direction, both tactically and morally. Ultimately, the fact that the Gemma team continued to pursue this line of inappropriate messaging was a major part of why I resigned."
Members of the LGBT community have wildly different perceptions of Cicilline. Cicilline’s most loyal supporters applaud his liberal views, while his detractors point to what they call Cicilline’s lack of honesty and integrity.
Randy Davidson, who lives in Pawtucket, voted for Cicilline two years ago but is now supporting Gemma. Another Gemma supporter is Greg Wright, who is not pleased with Cicilline either.
"I believe that where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and I’m not happy with the financial condition (Cicilline) left Providence in," noted Davidson.
"Cicilline has proven himself to be dishonest over and over again, starting with his blatant lie about the financial status of the city of Providence," echoed Wright. "Although he will say he misspoke, it was clearly a lie to win the congressional seat. The evidence is overwhelming. I also find it appalling that many in the gay community are supporting Cicilline on the sole fact that he is gay."
Among those who continue to support Cicilline is longtime LGBT activist Lee McDaniel.
"Cicilline does the right thing for the right reasons," said McDaniel. "He will continue to fight for Rhode Island and American businesses, social justice for all, and will vote to keep Medicare safe for our seniors."
LGBT Activists Continue to Fight for Pro-Marriage Equality Legislators
Meanwhile, other LGBT activists have pinned their hopes on getting more pro-marriage equality legislators into office. Gay House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence) has vowed to call for a vote on marriage equality when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.
Last year, the legislature passed a civil unions bill, which was signed into law by Chafee. Opposition to marriage equality is most pronounced in the State Senate. Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed (D-Newport) is one of a dozen senators who oppose same-sex marriage.
In Warwick, Laura Pisaturo is challenging State Senator Michael McCaffrey in the Democratic primary. McCaffrey, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is an opponent of same-sex marriage.
"I’m volunteering so much of my time and heart for Laura’s campaign because I believe she’ll make a real difference in the Senate, not only for LGBT people but also for residents of Warwick like me," said veteran LGBT activist Kate Monteiro. "We need someone who can be a voice for us."
In Cranston’s State Senate District 26, the Reverend Gene Dyszlewski faces a challenge from Frank Lombardi in the Democratic primary. Dyszlewski is a longtime supporter of LGBT rights and marriage equality, while Lombardi opposes same-sex marriage.
In Providence’s District 3, lesbian Maryellen Butke faces a challenge from Gayle Goldin in the Democratic primary. Both women are vying for the chance to replace outgoing Senator Rhoda Perry (D), who has been one of the General Assembly’s most vocal supporters of marriage equality and a champion of LGBT rights.
In Cranston’s District 18, State Rep. Arthur Handy, one of the state’s most pro-LGBT legislators, is facing a Democratic primary challenge by William McKenna, a social conservative who opposes same-sex marriage.
Fight Back RI has endorsed a slate of pro-marriage equality candidates, including Chris Blazejewski (D) in House District 2, Libby Kimzey in House District 8, Grace Diaz in House District 11 and Joseph Almeida in House District 12. Other endorsements include Handy, Jon Restivo (Coventry), Peter Petrarca (Smithfield), Michael Morin (Woonsocket), J. Patrick O’Neill (Pawtucket), Charles Tsonos (East Providence), Gregg Amore (East Providence), and Marvin Abney (District 73 - Newport, Middletown).
State Senate candidates endorsed by Fight Back RI include Adam Satchell (West Warwick), Bob DaSilva (East Providence), Ryan Pearson (Cumberland), Lew Pryeor (Woonsocket), Dyszlewski, Pisaturo, and Dave Gorman (West Greenwich).