What now?

Kennedy's exit rewrites the political game book.
By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  February 17, 2010


Representative Patrick J. Kennedy's campaigns were always about something far larger than Rhode Island's First Congressional District, which snakes from Burrillville down through the Blackstone Valley and into Newport.

Kennedy voters were casting a ballot not just for the Congressman, but for Camelot. And the conservative donors from Ohio and Texas who funded the opposition were taking a shot not just at a liberal representative, but at liberalism itself.

The race to succeed the Congressman, who stunned the political class with the recent announcement that he is not seeking re-election, will take on some of the national cast of recent First Congressional District contests.

Indeed, the mere fact that a Kennedy is vacating the seat is sure to attract some attention from out-of-town reporters, particularly if the GOP somehow mounts a credible challenge and produces the inevitable comparisons to Republican Scott Brown's capture of the late Ted Kennedy's Senate seat.

But the nascent race is shaping up like something far more conventional and, for the political junky, far more intriguing: an old-fashioned Democratic scrum that will ripple across the state's political firmament.

Indeed, with Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline declaring for Kennedy's seat, an intense battle to seize City Hall is already under way, with would-be candidates like former State Senator Myrth York and Harvard-educated Latino lawyer Angel Taveras jockeying for support.

Bill Lynch's decision to step down as Democratic Party chairman and run for Congress has set off a second fight for control of the party apparatus — a fight that could provide an early glimpse at where new kingmaker, Speaker of the House Gordon Fox, would like to take the Democrats.

The Providence City Council and the General Assembly are sure to feel the effects, too. And the race could even change the dynamics of Rhode Island's closely fought gubernatorial contest.

Kennedy's retirement is, in short, a feast for a state that has always had a hearty appetite for politics. Let's dig in.

Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline


Until recently, Cicilline was concentrating on the repair of a frayed political operation in the run-up to a third mayoral bid. But he has eyed Congress for years. And Kennedy's surprise retirement presented an opportunity he had to seize.

With Representative James Langevin expected to survive this year's anti-incumbent fever and Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse firmly ensconced in Washington, there was no other obvious vacancy in the making.

But this moment, suddenly thrust upon him, is not ideal. Cicilline is running in the midst of a major recession and, like many elected officials, is saddled with low approval ratings.

Moreover, eight years in the mayor's office have brought their share of trouble: a brother who tried to pass a bad check with the city, a drawn-out contract fight with city firefighters, a snowstorm that stranded school children on buses.

But Cicilline, at this point, has to be considered the man to beat. The candidate, who has built a national profile as the openly gay pol who cleaned up a sullied City Hall, has proven that he can raise large sums of money from in-state and out-of-state backers.

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Related: What’s next for Cicilline?, Mayor-Select Marie?, Murph’s Last Grasp?, More more >
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