In Tuesday’s (November 7, 2023) elections, Democrat Gabe Amo defeated Republican Gerry Leonard to take the seat in Rhode Island’s (RI) First Congressional District, making history as the state’s first Black representative to Congress in the State of RI in the United States (US).
Amo, the son of immigrants from Ghana and Liberia who formerly held a position as aide in the White House, takes over from former Democratic Representative David Cicilline, who resigned this summer to take a position as president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation.
Shortly after the results were announced, Amo expressed his gratitude for being able to represent the district and state he truly loves. Whether people of colour, women’s rights activists, or working class activists, 36-year-old Amo said he sees himself as a continuation of a long line of advocates who came before him.
Helping to ensure that the federal government starts operating again will be one of Amo’s top priorities upon arriving in Washington. He declared that would also fight gun violence, along with defending Social Security and Medicare.
In the September primary, Amo—a Pawtucket native—came out on top of a crowded Democratic field with over 32% of the vote.
He worked in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs as the deputy director most recently, having previously served in the Obama and Biden administrations. Additionally, he briefly worked for Gina Raimondo, the Democratic governor of Rhode Island at the time.
Amo attended Wheaton College and Oxford University to study public policy. He has stated that his parents’ perseverance served as an inspiration to him. His father opened a liquor store partly to be his own boss, while his mother studied nursing.
Amo has declared that he will support legislation to address climate change and work to legalise abortion on a national level once more. In addition, he declared that he would work to enact universal background checks, support research on preventing gun violence at the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and outlaw assault-style firearms.
With his victory, the state’s Italian American political elite—embodied by the late Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, the gregarious, longtime mayor of Providence who was imprisoned for corruption—is continuing to shift away.
Republican Leonard who is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps was the winner of the GOP primary between two candidates, but Democratic Amo defeated him. Ron Machtley, a Republican, represented the 1st Congressional District for the final time, serving from 1989 to 1995.
Leonard had denounced “Bidenomics,” claiming that the average person has not benefited from Biden’s economic strategy. He declared his support for American efforts to assist Ukraine in its conflict with Russia.
“For Rhode Island, it’s been interesting to have an immigrant story that everyone can relate to,” explained Amo. “Just because my parents were born in two different West African countries, (it) doesn’t mean it doesn’t fit that narrative of how Rhode Island has been a haven for so many people from so many different places to thrive and build their families.”
Former Democratic U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy, who served the district from 1995 to 2011, endorsed Amo during the primary.
“Undoubtedly, I’m humbled by the real momentous opportunity to serve as the first person of color,” he said to the Associated Press. “I certainly believe I am part of a generational shift that has been underway before me.”