U.S. Rep. David Cicilline ’83, D-R.I., announced he would leave the House of Representatives in June to join the Rhode Island Foundation as president and CEO, according to a Feb. 21 press release.
In a letter to his constituents, Cicilline expressed gratitude for his 12 years in the House and excitement about his new position. “I look forward to continuing to engage with you in this new role and expanding on the work I have led for nearly 30 years in helping to improve the lives of all Rhode Islanders,” he wrote.
In an email to The Herald, Cicilline reflected on his time as a member of the House, during which he strived “to create a more just and equitable community for all Rhode Islanders and to fight for those who are suffering and too often overlooked.”
Cicilline, the first openly gay mayor of a U.S. state capital, listed his work to defend marriage equality as a major accomplishment during his Congressional tenure. “We finally repealed the Defense of Marriage Act and secured the right for everyone to marry the person they love when President Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law,” he wrote.
In 2021, Cicilline was named impeachment manager in former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial. In 2022, he — along with 40 other representatives — introduced legislation to bar the former President from holding federal office.
Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Cicilline worked with both the House and Senate to “ensure that alleged war criminals cannot find safe harbor in the United States through the Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act,” he wrote.
Cicilline cited the Advancing Mutual Interests and Growing Our Success Act as one of a number of his proudest accomplishments as a member of the House. The act “extends trade and investor visas to Portuguese citizens to increase international business between the United States and Portugal,” he wrote.
Cicilline’s new job at the Rhode Island Foundation will place him at the helm of “the largest funder of nonprofits in Rhode Island,” according to Chris Barnett, a spokesperson for the organization. In 2021, the Foundation awarded $76 million to over 2,000 nonprofit organizations, he wrote in an email.
According to the Foundation’s press release, Cicilline’s experience “align(s) squarely with the Rhode Island Foundation’s values and strategic priorities.” The release highlighted his work to “promote equality for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity … (and) human rights around the world.”
In an email to The Herald, Neil D. Steinberg ’75, outgoing president and CEO of the Foundation, addressed how Cicilline’s skills might help the Foundation achieve its future goals. “The Rhode Island Foundation’s strategic initiatives now and in the near future are focused on helping Rhode Islanders achieve educational success, live healthy lives and attain economic success,” he wrote. “David’s experience and network will enhance our efforts in these areas.”
Cicilline will remain in the House of Representatives until June 1. After he steps down, members of his staff will continue to operate both Rhode Island and Washington, D.C., offices until a new member is selected to fill the position, according to the press release. Under R.I. law, an election to fill the vacancy must “be held in that district at least 70 but not more than 90 days from the occurrence of the vacancy.”
Cicilline was selected by the Foundation’s board of directors following a “national search that included significant community input,” according to the organization’s press release.
Cicilline is also a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. He is currently teaching the graduate-level seminar Public Policy and Partisanship in Partisan Times with Assistant Professor of Political Science, Education and International and Public Affairs Jonathan Collins.
“He can go into the depth of law and policymaking, while also working through what it all means theoretically and empirically,” Collins wrote in an email to The Herald. “As a co-worker, he has no ego. He's one of the nicest people you'll ever meet.”
Since Cicilline’s retirement, many R.I. political figures have expressed interest in running to fill the seat, including former CVS executive Helena Foulkes and Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, both Democrats.
Providence Ward 1 Councilman John Goncalves ’13 MA’15 also announced his decision to pursue an “exploratory campaign” in a Feb. 24 press release. If elected, Goncalves, a Democrat, would be the first African American to represent Rhode Island in Congress.
Collins thinks Cicilline is the right person to lead the Foundation. “You can tell that what gets him out of bed in the morning is the possibility of making Rhode Island a better place” he wrote. “You can't ask for a better mindset in the position he's set to take on.”
“It has been a busy 12 years in the House,” Cicilline wrote. “I am proud to have delivered for all Rhode Islanders.”
Julia Vaz is a Metro editor covering the environment and crime and justice beats. She is a sophomore from Brazil studying Political Science and Literary Arts.