On the rebound

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  November 2, 2011

But on the day we spoke in his district headquarters in Pawtucket, he was shipping a favorite painting by Rhode Island artist Anthony Tomaselli — a flag hanging over the back of a boat — down to Washington.

The Congressman is finally settling in to the capital.

There have been a couple of stories in the trade press about Cicilline's vulnerability. But Washington has never been as panicked about his seat as some in Rhode Island.

Part of that, no doubt, is the ignorance that comes with distance; the anger directed at the Congressman in Rhode Island is real — and probably underestimated in the capital.

But Cicilline, an openly gay politician skilled in the arts of fundraising, had already developed a national reputation when Congressman Patrick Kennedy announced that he would retire at the end of the 2009-2010 term, freeing up a seat in the Rhode Island delegation.

Indeed, one Congressional aide with ties to the House Democrats' fundraising arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), remembers some of the party's most prominent, New York-based donors talking up then-Providence Mayor Cicilline as soon as the Kennedy news broke.

The freshman Congressman had a longstanding relationship with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, whom he got to know while serving as president of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors. And when he arrived in Washington, he won a choice spot on the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, which determined the party's appointments for House committees.

His own long-shot bids for seats on the powerful Appropriations Committee and, later, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, fell short; instead, he wound up with less-than-desirable posts on the Foreign Affairs and Small Business committees.

But analysts, lobbyists, and Congressional aides say Cicilline, however limited his portfolio, has made a strong first impression. He's been energetic and personable. He's worked hard. He's been a loyal vote for the Democratic leadership.

And he's found an able adviser in Connecticut Representative Rosa DeLauro, a liberal stalwart who is married to prominent Democratic strategist Stanley Greenberg; Cicilline is a regular at the Wednesday night dinners she hosts in the couple's Washington home.

"He's building his DC political foundation the right way," says Sean Richardson, a former chief of staff for Patrick Kennedy who now works as a lobbyist at Peck, Madigan, Jones & Stewart.

Of course, nothing endears a politician to his colleagues like filling their campaign coffers; Kennedy made his way in the party via a successful run atop the DCCC.

And Cicilline, as a first-term Congressman with some trouble at home, has only done limited work in this regard — a few events in Washington for the DCCC and one in New York. The political action committee he inherited from Kennedy has sat dormant, thus far.

But there is an air of expectation around him. Minority Whip Hoyer, who recently hosted a small fundraiser for Cicilline at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Washington, says the Congressman's personality, background as mayor, and connection to a national network of gay and lesbian donors means potential.

"He's going to play an increasing role in our caucus," Hoyer says.


First, though, he has to get re-elected.

And Cicilline's numbers, though much improved, are still shaky. His favorability rating in the September poll was upside-down – 42 percent gave him a favorable rating and 51 percent an unfavorable rating.

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