Gay Rep. David Cicilline won re-election to Congress on Tuesday from Rhode Island.
Cicilline, a former two-term mayor of Providence, should have had a relatively easy race for a second term in office in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 3 to 1 margin, according to most political observers in Rhode Island.
But the openly gay Democratic congressman became the target of intense criticism by both Republicans and many Democrats last year when news surfaced that he allegedly concealed a $110 million or greater budget deficit for Providence during his last year as mayor.
Earlier this year, Cicilline apologized for a remark he made while campaigning for his first term in the House in 2010 that Providence’s finances were in “excellent” shape, saying his choice of words was not accurate.
Anthony Gemma, his challenger in the Democratic primary, raised the Providence fiscal issue as a major part of his campaign. However, Cicilline won the primary with 60 percent of the vote, leading some to believe that voters might not hold the Providence budget shortfall against Cicilline, who argued that it was due mostly to the national recession and a large cutback in city funding by the state government.
Doherty, however, raised the issue in the general election campaign, saying Cicilline’s handling of the city’s fiscal issues raised serious questions about his character and credibility.
Ray Sullivan, campaign director for Marriage Equality Rhode Island, a statewide group advocating for a same-sex marriage law before the state legislature, said that while Doherty expressed opposition to same-sex marriage, neither he nor his campaign raised same-sex marriage or other LGBT issues to attack Cicilline.
Cicilline is a strong supporter of marriage equality and is a co-sponsor of a House bill to repeal the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act. He’s also a co-sponsor of all other LGBT supportive bills pending in Congress, including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA.
Sullivan and others supporting Cicilline said Doherty, while steering clear of gay rights issues, unleashed a barrage of negative TV ads attacking Cicilline on non-LGBT issues. One accused Cicilline of having ties to a child molester and murderer whom Cicilline represented in court more than 20 years ago when he worked as a defense lawyer.
“What do a child molester, a murder and a violent attacker all have in common? Defense attorney David Cicilline,” said the narrator of the ad, which was paid for by the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said the ad represented the worst form of “gutter politics.” Other Cicilline supporters denounced the ad for seeking to link Cicilline to the acts of criminals that lawyers have a duty to represent in court under the nation’s criminal justice system.
Six months ago, prior to the Democratic primary, polls showed Cicilline trailing Doherty by more than 10 points, but by early October Cicilline made what some called a remarkable recovery, gaining a six point lead over Doherty. But following the attack ads by Doherty in October, Cicilline’s lead narrowed to just one point less than a week before the election in what most pollsters called a statistical tie.
Former President Bill Clinton was among a long list of prominent Democrats who endorsed Cicilline. The Providence Journal, which endorsed Cicilline two years ago, endorsed Doherty this time.