Rhode Island voters could make history Tuesday by electing the state’s first Black representative to Congress or returning the seat last held by Republicans in the 1990s to a GOP candidate.
Democrat Gabe Amo and Republican Gerry Leonard are vying for Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District seat. The winner will fill the vacancy vacated by former Democratic Rep. David Cicilline resigned this summer To become President and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation.
Amo, 35, grew up in Pawtucket as the son of Ghanaian and Liberian immigrants. He emerged victorious from one crowded Democratic field in the September primary election with more than 32% of the vote.
The former White House adviser served in the Obama and Biden administrations, most recently as deputy director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. He also served in the administration of former Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo.
Amo, who attended Wheaton College and studied public policy at Oxford University, said he was inspired by his parents. His mother studied nursing and his father opened a liquor store, partly to be his own boss.
Amo said he would fight what he called Republicans’ “extremist” attempts to cut funding for Social Security and Medicare, advocate for the nationwide legalization of abortion rights and support federal legislation to combat climate change. He also said he would support a ban on assault weapons, support funding for gun violence prevention research at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and implement universal background checks.
His victory would mark a continuing transition from the state’s Italian-American political hierarchy that the late president embodied Vincent “Buddy” Ciancithe charismatic longtime mayor of Providence who went to prison for corruption.
Leonard, a Marine veteran and political newcomer, is hoping to retake the GOP seat in the heavily Democratic state. The last Republican to represent the district was Ron Machtley, who served from 1989 to 1995.
Leonard said he believes Americans know how to live their lives better than bureaucrats and career politicians.
He criticized “Bidenomics,” saying Democratic President Joe Biden’s economic plan had not helped citizens and said he favored more limited government. He has also said he will support U.S. relief efforts Ukraine at war with Russia However, he believes there should be clear goals and an exit strategy.
Leonard describes himself as a 13th generation Rhode Islander whose ancestors fled England to avoid religious persecution. He attended public schools and graduated from North Kingstown High in 1983.
He began a 30-year career in the Marine Corps that included multiple overseas deployments – including combat tours in Kuwait, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan – as an infantry and reconnaissance officer, Leonard said. He lives in Jamestown and graduated from the Naval War College.
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