Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Leading Providence: David Cicilline Becomes the First Openly Gay Mayor of a U.S. State Capital. (Politics)

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Leading Providence: David Cicilline Becomes the First Openly Gay Mayor of a U.S. State Capital. (Politics)

Article excerpt

David Cicilline remembers being at the headquarters for his Providence, R.I., mayoral campaign this fall when a prospective volunteer and voter walked in. "I was thinking of supporting your campaign," the man--a senior citizen and devout Catholic--told Cicilline. "But first, I want to know what your gay agenda is."

"That's easy," Cicilline responded. "My gay agenda is for government reform, improving neighborhoods, and strengthening schools."

On November 5, 84% of the city's voters endorsed Cicilline's "gay agenda," making Providence the largest American city and first state capital with an openly gay mayor.

For Cicilline, the encounter with the volunteer that afternoon "was a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate that gay people have the same dreams and desires as other citizens," he says. "That's why I always ran as a candidate who happens to be gay rather than a gay candidate. During my campaign the gay issue was irrelevant."

Though a few supporters of his Republican opponent made what Cicilline calls "vague hints" at his sexual orientation "by trumpeting the `family values' phrase," his competitors left the issue alone.

"It really hasn't been much of a topic of conversation or controversy, except for out-of-town reporters," says Darrell West, a professor of political science at Brown University in Providence and director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions there.

But West believes the lack of controversy was "probably a historical fluke. I think it would have been a much bigger issue if not for the unique circumstances surrounding this election. Providence is generally a very traditional city with traditional voters," he says. This year, though, "the backdrop for the election liberated voters to think of radical alternatives to theft typical choices."

The unique situation West is referring to is the April 2001 indictment of then-mayor Vincent Cianci Jr. on charges of racketeering, conspiracy, extortion, bribery, mail fraud, and witness tampering. A Republican-turned-independent who had been in office off and on for four decades, Cianci was the epitome of old-boy-network politics. His sentencing in June to five years in prison on corruption charges seemed to doom the Republican Party.

Indeed, September's four-way Democratic primary was considered the election that would determine Providence's next mayor. But even in that race Cicilline beat his closest competitor, former Providence mayor Joseph Paolino, by 20 percentage points.

Sexual orientation was more of an issue during the primary than it was during the general election because some gay residents worried that Cicilline was avoiding taking a public stand on gay issues. This led a gay group called Voices 4 Equality to back Paolino in the primary. The regional gay paper, In Newsweekly, also endorsed Paolino.

"We were aggravated and frustrated because we didn't hear [Cicilline] talking about our issues," explains Garith Fulham, one of the organizers of Voices 4 Equality. …

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