PROVIDENCE, R. I. — The openly gay mayor of Providence and the former head of Rhode Island’s Democratic Party announced last Saturday that they would run for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Patrick Kennedy, a son of one of the nation’s most storied political families.
Mayor David Cicilline and William Lynch, both Democrats, officially declared their candidacies less than two hours apart. Kennedy’s decision not to seek re-election has set off frenzied competition among politicians interested in a post once viewed as unassailable because of his political clout and fundraising ability.
Cicilline and Lynch promised to focus on job creation and fixing the dismal economy, important issues in a state where the unemployment rate is nearly 13 percent, among the nation’s highest.
Cicilline, who announced his candidacy at a H1N1-immunization clinic, said there is a “dangerous disconnect” between what Washington thinks will help Americans and what will actually work. He said a key difference between him and Lynch is that, as chief executive of the state’s largest city, he’s witnessed firsthand the effects of the recession.
“What we need in Washington is someone who understands what’s happening to families in our cities and towns in this country,” he said.
Lynch said the stimulus program passed by Congress helped stop what he called economic bleeding, but he wants to force financial institutions getting government help to increase their lending locally.
“What I will not accept and what I will not endorse and what I will not support is the ... continuation of making money available to Wall Street and to bankers in New York that never gets to Main Street in Woonsocket, or Pawtucket or Middletown,” he said.
Kennedy announced last Thursday he would finish out his eighth term and then leave office because he wants to focus on building a personal life, especially after the death of his father, Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy. He’s had troubles with alcoholism, depression and drug addiction.
Saturday’s announcements could lead to an intense Democratic primary.
Cicilline, 48, is an attorney and in 2002 became the first openly gay man elected mayor of Providence. He promised to clean up city government after former Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci was convicted and imprisoned during a federal probe into City Hall corruption.
Cicilline won a second term in 2006, and he announced last year he would seek re-election as mayor instead of running for governor. He said he wanted to see the city through the recession, but he had been embarrassed by the conviction of his brother for a courthouse corruption plot and been criticized for the city’s reaction to a snowstorm that left school buses stranded for hours.
Cicilline cited his experience in the mayor’s office as a strength.
People “want someone in Washington who’s going to find practical solutions to the hard issues we face,” he said. “I’ve had to do that every single day as mayor of this city.”
Lynch, 52, also an attorney, lives in Pawtucket, where he served as a city councilman from 1986-92 and his father was mayor. His family has longtime political connections to the Blackstone Valley, which is a major part of Kennedy’s district.
“I think that I know the people and what’s important to them,” Lynch said.
He resigned as chairman of the state Democratic Party to run for office.
Lynch described himself as a political outsider, despite running the state Democratic Party since 1998 and serving as its partisan spokesperson until resigning Saturday. He earlier considered running for attorney general.
“What people are seeing now is that they’re looking for people who maybe are not lifelong elected officials or held incumbent positions,” Lynch said. “I share the sentiments of the people that I live with, grew up with, who are angry and upset with what they see in Washington. And they want to see something new.”
Lynch is the brother of Attorney General Patrick Lynch, one of two Democrats running to succeed Republican Gov. Don Carcieri, who by law must leave office after finishing his second term early next year.
The other declared or potential candidates include former congressman Robert Weygand, Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis, Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee and state Reps. Jon Brien, John Loughlin and Edwin Pacheco.