January will see Mayor David Cicilline '83 sworn in as Rhode Island's first openly gay congressman. Despite a late surge in the polls, Republican John Loughlin was unable to trump the Democrat in yesterday's midterm election for the first district congressional seat.
Cicilline garnered 50.6 percent of votes to Loughlin's 44.6 percent in the race to replace retiring Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I.
"I ran for Congress because, like so many of you, I believe Washington is really broken," he said to applause last night at the victory celebration, held at the Providence Biltmore Hotel downtown. Audience cheers mixed with U2's "Beautiful Day," blaring triumphantly from the speakers.
Cicilline's campaign centered on providing jobs to Rhode Islanders, which he said will remain his prime focus in the Capitol.
Candidates traded allegations throughout the race amidst declining confidence in Democratic leadership nationwide. Cicilline boasted a fundraising advantage, a nod from Obama during his visit last week and high visibility as a top Rhode Island politician. But Loughlin made significant gains in polls during the last weeks of the campaign, running neck-and-neck with Cicilline and threatening to take the lead in the historically blue district.
"We all talked about how we get Rhode Island back on track," Cicilline told The Herald after his victory speech. "I'm doing all I can."
Referencing expected Republican Party gains in the House, he said he would favor cooperation over partisan politics. "This is going to be an important time for us to work together," he added. "Americans want us to find common ground."
Cicilline's charismatic personality will allow him to overcome a polarized Congress, according to Katerina Wright '11, president of Brown Democrats. "We are ecstatic about Cicilline," she said. "He's certainly going to face some difficulties ... but he's going to bring people together."
He supports large-scale infrastructure investments as well as a $2 billion loan program to aid Rhode Island manufacturers.
Loughlin, endorsed by Sen. John McCain, ran under a platform of "less spending, lower taxes and smaller government." He supported repealing the health care reform law and has criticized Social Security. His message appealed to voters in a state bearing the weight of budget deficits and continuing fiscal woes.
He focused on thanking his supporters and other national political figures — including Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. — in his concession speech to a crowd of nearly 60 people at the Providence Marriott Hotel. He did not mention Cicilline in his remarks.
"We may have lost tonight, but I hope that the energy and enthusiasm that you showed during my campaign can be continued to be nurtured. Our state and nation faces great challenges and will only move forward with the continued dedication and service of the good people in this room," Loughlin said to cheers from his supporters, many of which urged him to run in 2012.
Supporters — some dissatisfied with Cicilline's performance as mayor — expressed frustration with the loss.
"Rhode Islanders need to start voting for the person not the party," said Thomas Glenn, who attended the event.
Cicilline "has not balanced the budget and not done anything productive," said Kendra Furman, a registered independent.
But at the Democratic celebration, Cicilline had one particularly staunch supporter — his mentee, Alex Morse '11. Since 2008, Morse has been mentored by Cicilline through the Point Foundation, a nonprofit that pairs LGBTQ youth with an adult in a similar field of study. The two have coffee at Starbucks and chat on the phone when Cicilline is busy campaigning, according to Morse.
"We're both LGBTQ and I also want to be mayor of my hometown," said Morse. "This is a really special moment, he's breaking a lot of national barriers."
— With additional reporting by Chip Lebovitz