November 3, 2010 at 8:36 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Cicilline victory gives Congress 4th gay member

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin and Rhode Island Mayor David Cicilline who won a Congressional seat Tuesday. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The election of an openly gay Rhode Island politician to the U.S. House proved one of the few bright spots on Election Day for the LGBT community.

David Cicilline, who’s gay and the mayor of Providence, R.I., defeated his Republican opponent, John Loughlin, a Rhode Island State Assembly member.

According to the Rhode Island Board of Elections, Cicilline won by taking 50.6 percent of vote in the state’s 1st congressional district while Loughlin earned 44.6 percent.

“I am thrilled to be the next Congressman from Rhode Island’s First District and so grateful to the members of the LGBT community who supported my campaign,” Cicilline said. “I look forward to going to Washington and fighting for the issues important to all of us — creating good jobs, protecting Social Security, working to fight global climate change and, of course, fighting for full equality for our community.”

Chuck Wolfe, CEO for the Victory Fund, commended Cicilline for his victory in a statement.

“Mayor Cicilline will be a strong advocate for all Rhode Islanders, but he will also be an authentic voice for the millions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans who long for the day when we will be treated equally under law,” Wolfe said. ”We are enormously proud of him and grateful to Rhode Island voters.”

Cicilline’s election positions him to become the fourth sitting openly gay member of the U.S. House when the 112th Congress begins in January. He’ll succeed Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), who’s retiring from Congress at the end of this year. Gay Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) all won re-election Tuesday.

The Providence mayor was favored to win because he was running in a Democratic stronghold and was a powerhouse fundraiser. According to Federal Election Commission reports, Cicilline raked in nearly $1.7 million over the course of his campaign.

Cicilline earned the endorsement of many national LGBT organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign and the Victory Fund.

In a statement, Michael Cole, an HRC spokesperson, said he’s “thrilled” that Cicilline will join the members of Congress who are openly gay.

“No doubt he will carry on the record of retiring Rep. Patrick Kennedy in ensuring Rhode Island’s first district is represented by an effective congressman in promoting equality for all people,” Cole said.

Signs showed the race was tightening in the week before the election. While earlier polls showed Cicilline ahead of Loughlin by double-digit numbers, the lead dropped to single digits in some polls the week before the campaign.

The Loughlin campaign also engaged in what could be seen as gay-baiting in the weeks before the election. Loughlin ran ads emphasizing that he’s a husband and a father — possibly a reference to the fact that Cicilline is gay and single — and defended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during a debate.

The news wasn’t as good for other openly gay candidates seeking election to Congress. Both were Democratic candidates who faced the challenge of unseating incumbent Republicans in traditionally GOP districts during an election that was seen as a Republican wave.

Steve Pougnet, who’s gay and mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., lost his bid to unseat six-term incumbent Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.).

According to the California secretary of state’s website, with 445 of 624 precincts reporting, Bono Mack claimed 51.5 percent of the vote compared to the 42.1 percent of the vote earned by Pougnet. A third-party conservative candidate, Bill Lussenheide, won 6.4 percent of the vote.

Prior to the start of this Congress, Bono Mack had the support of many in the LGBT community for voting twice against the Federal Marriage Amendment. She also supported hate crimes legislation as well as a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

But the Republican lawmaker’s vote this year against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal earned the rancor of many LGBT people. Others in the LGBT community also flocked to Pougnet because his election would have made him the first person in a same-sex marriage and the first gay father elected to Congress.

Pougnet lost the race even though he managed to be on par with Bono Mack in terms of fundraising throughout much of the campaign. According to the FEC, the Democratic candidate raised nearly $1.7 million while Bono Mack raked in more than $2.2 million.

Both HRC and the Victory Fund had endorsed Pougnet in his bid and expressed disappointment in his loss on Election Day.

Cole said Pougnet’s loss is sad not just for his district, but for Congress because the body “needs more voices like him.”

“Pougnet would have been the first gay parent to serve in Congress but remains a leader in our community and a powerful force for equality,” Cole said.

On the other side of the country, Ed Potosnak, a schoolteacher and former staffer for Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), lost his bid to unseat Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.), a one-term incumbent.

According to the Westfield Ledger newspaper, with all but one precinct reporting, Lance claimed 59 percent of votes to defeat the gay Democratic challenger.

Potosnak’s chances of winning were widely seen as slim. Neither HRC nor the Victory Fund endorsed him in the race. Still, the candidate received an endorsement from the National Stonewall Democrats.

Michael Mitchell, Stonewall’s executive director, said Potosnak ran a “solid, clean campaign” that focused on education and business growth.

“As a teacher and small business owner, Ed knows firsthand the struggles of the constituents of the district, something that his opponent Leo Lance has forgotten, given that he spoke about jobs on the House floor for under two minutes during the entire 110th Congress,” Mitchell said.

In addition to Cicilline, the Victory Fund announced that more openly LGBT candidates won election to public office than in any other year. The group, which works to elect openly LGBT candidates, said at least 106 of its 164 endorsed candidates won their races.

Specifically, Victory Fund celebrated wins by Jim Gray as mayor of Lexington, Ken.; Nickie Antonio as the first openly gay member of the Ohio House; Marcus Brandon as the only out gay state lawmaker in North Carolina; and three newcomers in Maryland who boosted the state’s openly gay and lesbian delegation to seven.

Iowa justices ousted

While celebrating the victories of openly gay candidates around the country, LGBT advocates expressed disappointment and concern after three state Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of same-sex marriage rights in Iowa were ousted by voters.

The anti-gay group National Organization for Marriage spent $600,000 on TV ads and a statewide bus tour in an effort to remove the justices, an effort decried as an attempt to intimidate justices across the country.

“By their own admission, NOM’s Iowa strategy was about sending a warning shot to judges nationwide,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “NOM and its secret donors will continue to target judges around the country if they rule in favor of marriage equality and will foster an anti-gay, hostile environment in the process.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

1 Comment
  • Cicilline’s victory was one of a handful of good things that came out of the last election. I am still a little ticked-off at HRC and the Task Force for not endorsing Ed Potosnak in New Jersey, when he really had a decent chance of picking up a seat the way Steve Pougnet did in California. In fact, the vote totals were almost the same for both candidates, so it begs the question as to what HRC & the Task Force were thinking. I guess they just dropped the ball again, the way they have been dropping it for the last two years by not pressuring Obama and the Dems enough to pass our legislation. At this point the only bill that is far enough along the process to pass is the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act. The bill is out of committee in both chambers and is just waiting for Pelosi & Reid to call for a floor vote so it can be passed.

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