Even admirers of Congressman David Cicilline can find him maddening.
He has all the makings of a progressive powerhouse: a sharp mind, a legendary work ethic, considerable rhetorical skills. And in the early stages of his Providence mayoralty, he seemed well on the way to realizing his potential.
But by the end of his City Hall tenure, Cicilline's managerial shortcomings and overweening ambition led to what could, ultimately, be his undoing: a Providence budget that ran into the red and his false declaration, during the 2010 Congressional campaign, that the city was in "excellent" fiscal condition.
It is that misrepresentation, laid bare after the election, that has him locked in a down-to-the-wire fight with Republican Brendan Doherty to hold onto his seat. But if voters have legitimate concerns about Cicilline, there are two reasons to put them aside in the voting booth.
First, if Cicilline proved a less-than-ideal fit for an executive position — for a mayor's nuts-and-bolts management — he is well-suited to the legislature; Congress is the place where Cicilline might finally realize his potential.
Cicilline is a man of considerable interpersonal skills; he's already impressed Washington's Democratic firmament. And he is a policy wonk who has staked out important territory in the push to revive domestic manufacturing — a sector of no small importance to Rhode Island's economy.
His "Make It in America" block grant proposal, part of a larger House Democratic "Make It in America" agenda, would provide funds for old-line manufacturers to retool and retrain workers. An analyst with the Brookings Institution, a respected Washington think tank, wrote that the idea "shows great promise."
The second reason: in an increasingly polarized Washington, Cicilline is a vote in line with Rhode Island's values. He is a strong advocate on women's issues. He supports gay marriage. He wants to invest in infrastructure and education, vital building blocks for an economic recovery.
Cicilline would restore Glass-Steagall, an important piece of financial regulation that was stripped away in 1999. And he would work to preserve Medicare and Social Security. Perhaps most important, he would serve as an obstacle to an increasingly extreme Republican Party determined to reverse the gains of President Obama's first term.
Doherty, the former superintendent of state police, has promised to keep his distance from the national GOP — to be his own man. The fact that he signed on to the Simpson-Bowles proposal to restore fiscal sanity to Washington, rather than conservative activist Grover Norquist's blanket no-tax pledge, is in itself a profile in courage for a modern Republican.
But Cicilline's basic argument — that Doherty's first vote would be to re-elect Speaker of the House John Boehner, keeping a cadre of very conservative legislators at the levers of power — is a powerful one. The problem isn't Doherty, it's the nasty and obstructionist GOP.
David Cicilline has made some mistakes. Serious ones. But the stakes are too high and his talents too great to turn him out. The Phoenix endorses Cicilline for Congress.
WHITEHOUSE FOR SENATE AND LANGEVIN FOR HOUSE
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, after just one term in Congress, has become one of Washington's most articulate spokesmen for a progressive agenda.