How high can Gordon Fox go?

The progressive practices a balancing act in the socially conservative RI legislature
By IAN DONNIS  |  May 9, 2007
INISDE_FOX
MAN OF THE HOUSE: Time will tell whether Fox realizes his aspiration of succeeding Speaker Murphy.

Although House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox considers himself a Red Sox fan, he hopes the Yankees win the World Series this year, so that his favorite player, the talented Stanford-educated pitcher Mike Mussina, can get a championship ring.
 
For many baseball fans, this sort of divided loyalty — in the sport’s most intense rivalry, no less — would be considered blasphemy. Fox, whose third-floor State House office features a Mussina jersey and some related memorabilia, explains it by citing his appreciation for the New York hurler’s intelligence, consistency, and humble approach to the game. Yet the juxtaposition also reflects the kind of balancing act that Fox has had to handle while pursuing and holding one of the General Assembly’s top posts.
 
While Fox’s profession as a lawyer puts him in the legislative mainstream, his identity as an openly gay liberal black man in a socially conservative institution makes him a singular figure in Rhode Island.
 
Not surprisingly, the 45-year-old Providence Democrat has found himself backing some measures — like last year’s tax cut for wealthy Rhode Islanders — that would have been staunchly opposed by his younger self. Similarly, while he appears well-liked by his legislative colleagues, Fox’s place near the top hasn’t been enough to propel gay marriage legislation beyond the House Judiciary Committee.
 
Yet Fox, who generally wins plaudits for representing a progressive voice on Smith Hill, asserts that his presence helps to moderate the House chamber “just by being here and being a person — not so much that gay guy or that black-white guy,” he says, in reference to his light-skinned complexion. “I think it helps progress issues.”
 
This much is clear: after overcoming challenges as a young man to become a political insider, Fox remains in play to pursue the equivalent of his own championship ring — to one day succeed, as he describes his current aspiration, House Speaker William J. Murphy.

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