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State of the race: 12 candidates running in crowded field for CD1 special election

Democratic field ranges from seasoned politicians to first-time candidates for public office

The congressional seat will be vacated in June after the resignation of U.S. Rep. David Cicilline ’83 in February. Twelve Democrats have already announced their candidacy.

Photos courtesy of Aaron Regunberg, Office of the Lieutenant Governor and Providence City Council.
The congressional seat will be vacated in June after the resignation of U.S. Rep. David Cicilline ’83 in February. Twelve Democrats have already announced their candidacy. Photos courtesy of Aaron Regunberg, Office of the Lieutenant Governor and Providence City Council.

The race to fill the 1st Congressional District seat to be vacated by Rep. David Cicilline ’83, D-R.I., has attracted 12 Democratic candidates — ranging from seasoned politicians to newcomers — with more likely to jump in.

Cicilline announced his resignation in February and will step down in June to lead the Rhode Island Foundation. A special election will be held to fill his overwhelmingly Democratic seat, with a primary slated for Sept. 5 and a general election on Nov. 7.

Three candidates — Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, State Sen. Ana Quezada and State Sen. Sandra Cano — would be the first woman of color to represent Rhode Island in the House. And all four women running would be the first Democratic woman to ever represent the state.

Here’s a brief breakdown of the declared candidates.


Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos

Matos said in a statement that she is running for Congress because “Rhode Islanders deserve a champion who has a deep connection and commitment to the vibrant communities that make up our state.”

Her priorities include affordable housing, reproductive freedom, addressing climate change and “standing up to threats to our democracy.”She previously served as president of the Providence City Council and was named lieutenant governor in 2021 when Gov. Dan McKee replaced former Gov. Gina Raimondo.

Ward 1 Providence Councilor John Goncalves ’13 MA’15 

In a video announcing his candidacy, Goncalves shared how his background as the son of immigrants motivated his Congressional run.

“I see the world through the eyes of the most vulnerable people in Rhode Island — because I’ve lived it,” he said in the video.

According to his campaign website, Goncalves’s legislative priorities include bringing federal funding back to Rhode Island, education policy, climate and environmental justice, affordable housing and women’s and reproductive rights.

Goncalves is a Brown alum and works as a fourth-grade teacher and diversity coordinator at the Wheeler School.

Former State Rep. Aaron Regunberg ’12

Regunberg is a former state representative for Rhode Island’s 4th district and a progressive politician.


“I’m running because I believe we need more strong, progressive leaders in Congress,” Regunberg said in an interview. “We’ve got Republican extremists who are coming after our democracy, our rights, our future, and to take that on I think we need leaders who know how to … bring people together and build strong coalitions.”

Regunberg said that’s precisely his record — he came within 2,466 votes of unseating then-Lt. Gov. Dan McKee in 2018 and got his start as a community organizer in Providence public high schools.

As a state representative, he said he repeatedly heard one phrase: “That’ll never happen.”

“So many people said we would never pass paid sick days, (that) there were too many corporate interests lined up against it,” he said. “But I organized, and we brought workers and unions and small businesses together, and in 2017 paid sick leave became the law.” 

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His campaign priorities include reproductive justice, combating climate change, passing Medicare for All, tackling inflation and supporting working Rhode Islanders and unions.

Regunberg also signed a pledge immediately after declaring his candidacy announcing that he would not take money from the fossil fuel industry.

State Rep. Marvin Abney (D-Newport)

Abney announced his candidacy on Tuesday. The current Rhode Island House Finance Committee chairman and 20-year Army veteran said he plans to finish out the current legislative session, which usually ends in June, before officially joining the race, according to WPRI. His primary responsibility, he told WPRI, is preparing the state’s annual budget prior to beginning campaign efforts.

“During our campaign, we will focus on the positive aspects of Rhode Island society, the things that will make us stronger as a state in which to live and raise a family, not just a laundry list of problems that do little to unite us or make our lives better,” he said in a press release.

Abney was first elected to the state House in 2012.

State Sen. Ana Quezada (D-Providence)

Quezada announced her campaign on Tuesday, citing deep political divisions in the U.S. as the motivation behind her Congressional run in a statement.

“I’m independent-thinking,” Quezada said in an interview with WPRI. “I think our country is very divided at this time. We need someone who is going to work with both sides, with Republicans and Democrats.”

Quezada, who also serves as a Providence code enforcement inspector, is one of three Latina women running for the seat.

State Rep. Stephen Casey (D-Woonsocket)

Casey filed paperwork to run for Congress on April 10 but hasn’t yet formally announced his candidacy.

Casey, who was first elected to office in November 2012, also serves as a firefighter in Woonsocket and leads the House Municipal Government and Housing Committee.

State Sen. Sandra Cano (D-Pawtucket)

Cano was elected to the Rhode Island Senate in 2018 and chairs the Senate Education Committee. She is also a member of the Senate’s finance committee and the Joint Legislative Commission on Child Care, and previously served on the Pawtucket City Council and the Pawtucket School Committee. 

Her legislative priorities include protecting workers’ rights, expanding access to health care and passing a national assault weapons ban, according to her website. Cano cited her advocacy for the passage of the Reproductive Privacy Act and co-sponsorship of the Act on Climate as experiences that prove her readiness for Washington.

State Rep. Nathan Biah (D-Providence)

Biah was first elected as a state representative in 2020. His day job as principal of Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School motivated his run for Congress, according to a press release.

“I have students trying to learn while coping with housing and food insecurity,” he said in the release. “Other students are struggling with ongoing mental health, trauma of gun violence or are terrified of deportation because they’re an undocumented immigrant.” 

Biah has previously supported legislation that would increase awareness about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and the Rhode Island alternative financial aid form and has sponsored bills aimed at improving English language learning.

Nicholas Autiello

Autiello, a former Rhode Island Commerce Corporation official who served under Raimondo, said he “got into public service almost a decade ago to help rebuild Rhode Island after decades of decline that hurt families like (his),” the Providence Journal reported.

“My first real transformative experience was my dad losing his jewelry store in the lead-up to the financial crisis,” Autiello told The Herald. The experience showed him “just how fragile the middle class and our economy are and can be.”

During his time in state government, Autiello worked on efforts to invest in Rhode Island’s manufacturing industry and innovation with local universities and small businesses. Since then, he has worked on various global efforts to combat climate change.

Autiello added his candidacy was partly motivated by a fear of what he says is an “upcoming” democratic crisis. “The Republican party is lobbying daily (against) the rights of my community — the LGBTQ+ community — of women across this country, of people of color across this country.”

If elected, he said he would prioritize addressing the rising cost of living, which includes housing, food and health care, as well as climate change and civil rights.

Stephanie Beauté

Beauté is a relative newcomer to the Ocean State’s political scene — she made a bid for secretary of state in 2022, ultimately losing to then-state Rep. Gregg Amore in the Democratic primary.

Originally born in Brooklyn, Beauté moved to Rhode Island around seventh grade and worked in social work after graduating from the University of Rhode Island, she told The Herald. 

Beauté said that she has grown tired of watching the same people hold office, claiming to serve constituents without making any tangible progress on pressing issues. 

If elected, Beauté intends to complete three terms and then step down, in contrast to what she called “career politicians.” Her priorities include creating affordable, income-based housing, criminal justice reform, protecting small businesses, combating gun violence and Medicare for All.

Allen Waters

Waters is no stranger to the world of politics. To date, he has launched four bids for public office, all as a Republican. But now, he’s choosing to run as a Democrat.

“I would rather be independent than be in a political party,” Waters wrote in an email to The Herald. “But if you really want to win, you have to be part of a political party.”

A fourth-generation Rhode Islander who attended Providence public schools, Waters spent the bulk of his career as a financial consultant.

“I am one of the most dangerous politicians in Rhode Island because I do not belong to any clique or clan,” he wrote.

“Black conservatism is not (historically) some right-wing, Trump-ish sort of thing,” Waters said. “I’m worried about the fact that a lot of our relationship with the liberals and the Democratic party has been a negative one.”

Waters noted that he believes in capitalism, the right to bear arms, the need to reduce “unnecessary” government spending and a strong national defense.

In terms of legislative priorities, he hopes to tackle fiscal responsibility and impose term limits for representatives.

Mickeda Barnes

A former RIPTA bus driver, Barnes said in an interview with NBC 10 that she is tired of Rhode Island politics.

Barnes highlighted safety in schools, pensions and job security as key issues. She said that despite her lack of political experience, her life experience sets her apart from other candidates.

“I understand what the people need,” Barnes told NBC 10. “I understand what the people are crying out for.”

Yael Sarig

Yael is a senior staff writer covering city and state politics. She is junior, and hails from the Bay Area.


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