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Gabe Amo becomes RI’s first black candidate elected to Congress

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“For Rhode Island, it’s been interesting to have an immigration story that everyone can relate to,” he said.

Rhode Island Democratic candidate for U.S. House of Representatives Gabe Amo, center, greets people during a campaign stop at a coffee shop, Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, in Providence, R.I. AP Photo/Steven Senne

Democrat Gabe Amo defeated Republican Gerry Leonard to win Rhode Island’s first congressional seat on Tuesday, becoming the state’s first Black candidate elected to Congress.

Amo, the son of Ghanaian and Liberian immigrants who worked as a White House aide, succeeds former Democratic Rep. David Cicilline, who resigned this summer to become president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation.

Moments after the race was called in his favor, Amo said he was grateful to be able to serve the district and state he loves.

“Without a doubt, I am humbled by the real and momentous opportunity to be the first person of color,” Amo told The Associated Press before stepping out to address supporters. “But I didn’t run to make history.”

Amo, 35, said he considers himself part of a long line of advocates who have come before him, whether people of color or those fighting for women’s rights or working class.

“For Rhode Island, it’s been interesting to have an immigration story that everyone can relate to,” he said.

Amo said one of his top priorities when he arrives in Washington will be to help ensure the federal government starts functioning again.

He said he would also work to combat gun violence and protect Social Security.

“I’m going to be a voice to ensure that we can restore trust despite the Republican Party being in chaos,” he said.

Amo, who grew up in Pawtucket, emerged victorious from a crowded Democratic field in the September primary, winning more than 32 percent of the vote.

He served in the Obama and Biden administrations, most recently as deputy director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. He also served at one point in the administration of then-Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo.

Amo, who attended Wheaton College and studied public policy at Oxford University, said he was inspired by his parents’ drive. Her mother studied nursing, and her father opened a liquor store in part so he could become his own boss.

“Just because my parents were born in two different West African countries doesn’t fit this narrative that Rhode Island has been a haven for so many people from so many places different people to prosper and build their families,” Amo said after his victory in the primaries.

During the primary, Amo gained the support of former Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who represented the district from 1995 to 2011.

Amo said he would fight what he described as extremist Republican attempts to cut funding for Social Security and Medicare. He also said he would work to re-legalize abortion rights nationwide and fight for more legislation at the federal level to combat climate change.

He said he would also fight to ban assault-style firearms, support funding for gun violence prevention research at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and implement a universal background checks.

His victory marks a continuing shift away from the state’s Italian-American political hierarchy, embodied by the late Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, the charismatic longtime Providence mayor who was imprisoned for corruption.

“I certainly believe that I am part of a generational shift that happened before me,” Amo said.

Amo defeated Leonard, a U.S. Marine veteran who won the two-candidate GOP primary.

The Republican had criticized “bidenomics,” saying Biden’s economic plan had failed to help ordinary citizens. He also said he supported U.S. efforts to help Ukraine in its war against Russia.

The last Republican to represent the 1st Congressional District was Ron Machtley, who served from 1989 to 1995.



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