Rhode Island Democrat seeks congressional seat with high-profile ties 2023

Politicians and activists from his predominantly blue district pounced when seven-time Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) revealed he was departing from Congress in the midst of his term to manage the Rhode Island Foundation last week.

Local elected people can run for Congress in an odd-year special election. More than a dozen Ocean State Democrats are eager to energize voters before the September primary.

“There’s just a tremendous amount of pent-up political ambition in the state,” said Providence College political science assistant professor Adam Myers. “Many state legislators and other officeholders believe there’s no harm in entering the race.”

Seven of the 15 announced candidates hold Rhode Island office, while three have run for office before. Rhode Island political insiders say to watch Gabe Amo, a first-time candidate who left the Biden White House to run for Congress.

David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, said Amo lacked a constituency of voters who would recall his name from previous elections.

“Working in the White House has its benefits, and if those benefits are, ‘Well, I have White House power contacts, and I can raise a ton of money,’ well, that’s one way to separate yourself from the others,” he said.

Former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot hosted Amo for a fundraiser this week.

Lt. Gov. Sabina Mato and former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, a progressive backed by the Rhode Island Working Families Party and Our Revolution, are also prospective 1st Congressional District candidates.

Amo, 35, hails from working-class Pawtucket and has worked in Rhode Island and Washington politics his whole life. He became interested in civics while assisting his Ghanaian and Liberian parents study for their citizenship tests. From high school student government to campaign staffer to White House adviser to congressional candidate, the path seemed clear.

“That’s all part of my commitment to helping people,” Amo told Jewish Insider. “Politics and government can help people at their core.”

In 2006, Amo returned to Rhode Island to assist on now-Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s (D-RI) first Senate campaign. Since then, he’s worked for governor Gina Raimondo, now Commerce Secretary, and the White House. As White House deputy director of intergovernmental relations, he dealt with mayors.

Amo’s campaign emphasizes his Biden administration links. He is claiming that President Joe Biden has solid ideas and a successful track record, that Amo was part of that accomplishment as a special assistant to the president, and that he can bring comparable results to Rhode Island.

“When I look at President Biden’s approach to politics, I look at someone who leads with compassion, but ultimately wants effectiveness and wants people of this country to know that we’ve worked as hard as we can to solve actual problems,” said Amo, listing the American Rescue Plan, the Inflation Reduction Act, and others.

“I want to use that experience, both at the state level and at the White House, to be an effective congressperson for the people of Rhode Island from day one,” he said.

Amo’s foreign policy message: Let the Biden administration lead.

“We should speak with one voice and support the president and the administration as they lead our engagement in the region,” Amo replied when asked what role Congress should have in the U.S.-Israel relationship. As tensions rise, “I think it’s especially important that we, as Americans, in our actions in the region come through with a united voice.”

He cited Middle East “rocket attacks” and “general instability” as tensions.

“I think we have a role in this country, but certainly, as I look at Congress, I am deferential to the administration’s leadership,” Amo said.

Amo said he supported U.S. military funding to Israel but did not explain on how Congress should handle Israel. He also claimed he opposes the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel. A Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies-sponsored tour for Truman and Marshall Scholarship alumni took Amo to Israel some years ago.

“It was incredibly moving, and I look forward to going back,” remarked Amo. “The one thing that was particularly notable was just the context of safety being in the backdrop,” which “colors some of my thinking about the region as a whole.”

The Summit for Democracy, sponsored by the Biden administration in 2022 and 2023, and domestic violent extremism are his top national security concerns.

We’ve witnessed more antisemitism, white supremacy, and anti-LGBT violence. “All of those pose significant risks to our country,” Amo added.

Amo said he would want to lead Congress in “the role of advocate, and communicate out the fact that the country cannot stand for antisemitism broadly” to combat antisemitism. Amo worked with over 150 mayors to tackle hatred and extremism before last fall’s White House-hosted United Against hatred meeting.

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