Six years ago, when David Cicilline first decided to swap Providence City Hall for a House in DC, his path was an arduous one. He managed to carve out a narrow victory in a hard fought and sometimes downright nasty four-person primary race as he got 37% of the vote to defeat businessman Anthony Gemma (23%), State Representative David Segal (20%) and State Party Chairman Bill Lynch (20%). He then won a nail biter against Republican State Representative John Laughlin (51% to 49%). Gemma and Cicilline opposed each other again in the primary in 2012 (and again it got nasty) but this time Cicilline won more convincingly by a 62% to 30% margin and went on to defeat the Republican and former State Police Colonel Brendan Doherty (53% to 41%). Two years ago, he faced former US Army Captain Matthew Fecteau and prevailed convincingly (62% to 38%). This year, Republican Russell Taub, a 28-year-old making his first try for public office, is stepping into the ring. Though he has raised over $100,000, it pales in comparison to the one million dollar plus war chest that Cicilline has amassed.
A lot of the outcome will be dependent on how well Hillary Clinton runs at the head of the ticket. A strong performance will likely spill over to help Cicilline and other Democrats. Couple this with the expected infusion of students voting in their first presidential election, who generally support liberal candidates most often of the Democratic persuasion. But whether the passion that the Sanders campaign managed to generate among millennials will transfer over to other members of the party remains to be seen. Traditionally some students cast a vote for president and move on, a one and done vote if you will. It’s a race that has been quite quiet so far.
Dressed in a natty suit, confident in stride, Russell Taub presents well, looking far more seasoned than his 28 years suggest. The New Jersey native came to Providence to attend Johnson & Wales University eight years ago and had gotten involved in a variety of activities here since, including working for the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council and with a group of Ukrainian businessmen looking to do business in the US. He also got his political feet wet by working on the Doherty campaign four years ago.
So why is he running? “Well I’m obviously not a Rhode Island native so it won’t be easy. But the reality is I believe in the message the Republican Party is putting forward and quite frankly no one else really came forward to run,” he says. “And once I decided to go for it, I’m the kind of guy who puts my full effort into anything I do.” Taub admits much of his fundraising has been out of state and he’s enjoying meeting constituents around the district. “The one other thing I promise is that this will be a clean campaign – no talk of conspiracies or misdeeds.”
Taub stops just short of a full-throated endorsement of Trump. “I personally supported and contributed to the Kasich campaign and was disappointed when he dropped out. I consider myself a moderate conservative and support most of the Republican positions that emerged from the convention. There are plenty of differences between my view of things and that of the Congressman.”
One of the more interesting ones, he feels, is their contrasting views of the recent nuclear deal with Iran. “While the Congressman is excited about the deal that was struck, I am totally against the deal which I feel will jeopardize Israel,” Taub states. “I’m against the divestiture groups calling for a boycott of Israeli products as well and against Brown students who protest anyone not in favor of Palestine. In short I stand more aggressively for Israel than the Democrats do.”
While he’s against Obamacare and would like to see it repealed, he would also accept what he calls “a hearty retooling” of the program because he admits Rhode Island does get some benefits from the plan. He is solidly in support of the second amendment though. He thinks the answer is in enforcing gun laws and not selling them to crazy people. While he doesn’t think “the wall” is the way to deal with immigration, he feels a common sense program and more vetting of newcomers is essential. He considers himself a “law and order” man, though is undecided on the stop and frisk issue, feeling it should be a state not federal initiative. And as for the Supreme Court, he supports anyone who would be pro-constitution and does believe Citizen’s United is now the law of the land and should be followed until it isn’t.
In short, Taub is a real Republican, though he stops short of swallowing the entire Trump Kool-Aid package and believes it would be useful for Rhode Island to have one of its four congressmen be a Republican. More bites of the apple, he argues.
And if not elected, Taub says he working on a lot of Plan Bs. “I believe in capitalism and don’t want to abandon Rhode Island quite yet,” Taub says. “I’ve enjoyed meeting the people in the district and appreciate their differences, be they artists, restaurants owners, ordinary citizens. The breadth of different kinds of people in our state is quite impressive.”
Taub lives on Adelphi Avenue and is 28.
Congressman Cicilline looks the part of a hard working Washington politician who loves what he does. Ask him a question about policy and then step back as he rattles off the details in the rapid-fire presentation style that has been the hallmark of his long career, first as a state representative from the East Side and then as a two-term mayor of Providence.
Always a bit of a policy wonk, he clearly also loves mixing it up as he aggressively pursues many of the progressive issues that have been so important to him over the years. Yet in terms of singling out what he feels have been his major successes as a representative in Washington, he points to the efficiency with which he and his staff address constituent problems. “We’ve handled over 1,500 requests for constituent assistance and responded to over 20,000 letters,” Cicilline says. And back home, he notes he has held over 34 constituent gatherings throughout the district. “We get things done.”
In looking back over his first three terms in office, he also feels he has done a good job of securing millions in federal funds for the state, some of it direct but most as part of a broad-based legislation. In his most recent term, he puts that figure at $335 million and is proud to be part of Democratic legislative team that works well together.
He also takes credit for introducing 26 bills and being co-sponsor for another 316. Some of the bills were local in nature, like a post office named for Sister Ann Keefe (the first post office ever named for a nun by the way) or the creation of Blackstone Valley National Park. He also introduced what he calls the Brickle Amendment, at the urging of East Sider Sam Brickle, that was added to National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 and requires greater transparency and documentation requirements by the government to help engage American manufacturers on military procurement requests. Other bills include the implementation of programs modeled after the successful PASA after school programs he initiated while mayor of Providence, the mandating of baby changing stations in federal buildings (“It used to be that in some cases mothers had to change their babies on restroom floors,” he says) and adjusting a bill that brought in money for Bradley Hospital because it had been mislabeled as a facility and would have been excluded.
There has never been any doubt where the three term Congressman stands on the issues. There is no ambiguity on his commitment to anti-gun legislation, the importance of changing current campaign finance laws, protecting social security, Roe vs. Wade and the like. This past June, he drew attention to one of his most frustrating disappointments by getting involved as one of the leaders of the one-day sit-in in the House to protest the lack of movement over gun control legislation.
As with the presidential election, Cicilline believes the differences between Republicans and Democrats couldn’t be clearer. “Some of these are pretty obvious,” he explains. “The Republicans are still committed to protecting coal and denying the existence of climate change. We want to create jobs and expand alternative energy options. We want to insure every person’s right to vote. The Republicans tend to be more restrictive.”
When asked if he feels the Democrats have a chance to win back the House, he believes it’s possible, but everything will have to break just right. “First off, Hillary will need to win by at least ten points,” he states. “Secondly about 2-3% of traditional Republicans need to not vote. It’s not going to be easy but it’s no longer out of the question.”
Cicilline lives on Barberry Hill in Providence and is 55.