This week, Providence mayor-turned-Congressman David Cicilline appeared on WPRI-TV to apologize.
HE’S SORRY Cicilline.
Cicilline, of course, assured voters during his 2010 Congressional run that he was leaving Providence in "excellent" fiscal condition.
The statement came back to bite him — to put it mildly — when his City Hall successor, Angel Taveras, declared a "Category 5" hurricane on the city's books. Voters felt lied to and Cicilline's approval ratings plunged.
The Congressman's initial reaction was defensive: the state had cut aid, he said, the economy was historically bad. But he took a different tack in this week's television interview.
"I should not have used that word [excellent]," he said. "It obviously doesn't describe the condition the city is in [and] it was never my intention to mislead people intentionally."
It had become clear, by the time the Cicilline camp called WPRI to set up the interview, that this sort of shift was required
After the initial spate of bad press and poll numbers in early 2011, a GoLocalProv-commissioned public opinion survey last fall showed the Congressman on the rebound. But a WPRI poll conducted in February, in the wake of more bad news around Providence's finances, suggested the issue wasn't going away.
If the Congressman was to get to the re-election campaign he wanted — focused on issues like Medicare and Social Security that favor Democrats, particularly in an aging, deep blue state like Rhode Island — he had to dull the impact of the Providence issue.
The WPRI interview, Democratic sources say, is the opening salvo in an apology tour. And most political observers say the tour is a smart move for the Congressman, however painful it might be. But will it work?
The incumbent's Republican rival, Brendan Doherty, issued a statement the day after the WPRI interview arguing that it smacked of the political manipulation that has come to define Cicilline's career.
The statement got at the central question surrounding Cicilline's apology strategy: can it push the Providence issue aside, or will it just add to the Congressman's reputation for cynical politics?
My guess: a little of both.