Chafee endorses Cicilline, defends him as mayor (with caveat)

The Rhode Island political establishment continues to close ranks around Congressman David Cicilline.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee said Friday he’s endorsing the freshman Democrat for reelection. On Thursday evening, Chafee attended a Cicilline fundraiser in Providence whose host committee included Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Treasurer Gina Raimondo.

“A lot of the criticism leveled against Congressman Cicilline’s time as mayor I think is unfounded, because he suffered $30 million in [state aid] cuts, and that’s what we’re talking about,” Chafee, an independent who left the Republican Party in 2007, said during a taping of WPRI 12’s “Newsmakers” this morning.

“No mayor can take $30 million in cuts just like that. No organization – ‘Newsmakers’ or Channel 12 couldn’t take these kind of cuts without ramifications,” he said. “So I think some of the criticism has been unfair.”

However, the governor said Cicilline may have erred in the way he described Providence’s financial situation to voters while campaigning for Congress in 2010.

“Once you’re running for office you get focused on that, and maybe there’s some legitimate criticism there – he should have been more forthright in the depth, the devastation of these cuts,” Chafee said. “I would have preferred to hear, ‘We just can’t survive.’ But everybody was trying. Everybody knew the state was in trouble – Woonsocket, West Warwick, Central Falls – they took the weight of the cuts that came and tried to survive and it just wasn’t possible.”

Surveys show Cicilline and Chafee are Rhode Island’s least popular leading politicians, in some ways a mirror image of Taveras, Cicilline’s successor, and Raimondo, whom many speculate could be Chafee’s. A February WPRI 12 poll put their job ratings at 21% favorable for Chafee and 20% favorable for Cicilline.

Cicilline is running against Republican Brendan Doherty, who retired as superintendent of the state police just weeks after the newly elected Chafee asked him to stay on. Businessman Anthony Gemma, who came in second to Cicilline in the 2010 Democratic primary, is also expected to jump into the race next month.

Despite his family’s long association with the GOP, Chafee’s endorsement of Cicilline isn’t a huge surprise.

The governor endorsed President Obama in 2008 and is a co-chair of Obama’s reelection campaign this year. Chafee has also endorsed U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, the Democrat who defeated him in 2006, and attended a high-profile Feb. 23 fundraiser in Providence for Whitehouse headlined by Vice President Biden.

Still, Chafee has repeatedly demurred when asked if he plans to join the Democratic Party before running for reelection in 2014.

Also on “Newsmakers,” Chafee discussed his municipal-relief package, charging tax-exempts, the state’s jobs crisis, his sway with lawmakers, his fiscal philosophy, Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, Mitt Romney and more. The full episode will air at 10 a.m. Sunday on Fox Providence and be posted online.

Update: Chafee’s office released this statement from the governor formalizing the endorsement:

Congressman Cicilline is hardworking and honest and has a proven track record of supporting the social policies and programs that I voted for as a U.S. Senator. Returning Congressman Cicilline to Washington will help to ensure that my former political party, which has abandoned fiscal responsibility and is focused too closely on social issues, does not solidify its power.

Tim White contributed to this report.

blog comments powered by Disqus