WOONSOCKET — When someone called U.S. Rep. David Cicilline’s constituent services office exactly one minute after the freshman Democrat officially christened the site Monday, it seemed like a good omen.
“At 10:01 a.m. the phone rang and it was someone with a VA question,” Cicilline’s District Director, Christopher Fierro, said as the congressman arrived. “They know we’re here.”
Cicilline is renting a cubbyhole-size space on the ground floor of City Hall to staff the first federal constituent services office in this city of 43,000 since the mid-1990s, when former Congressman Patrick Kennedy did so at the post office on Social Street.
There was no ribbon-cutting, but Cicilline ceremoniously marked the occasion by affixing the congressional seal to the window of the office, unused since a former city solicitor cleared out in 2009. These days, with municipal staffing levels cut deep due to choke-hold budget restraints, there’s no dearth of empty spaces like this in City Hall.
For now it’s a rather spartan affair – just a single desk, some bare paneling and a shelf with no books, but Cicilline promised to spruce it up a bit with some Woonsocket-flavored pictorials for the walls.
A small throng of city officials and city residents joined Cicilline in celebrating the opening of the office, including Mayor Leo T. Fontaine, Councilmen Christopher Beauchamp and Daniel Gendron, and Police Chief Tom Carey. They praised Cicilline for adding a Woonsocket office to other constituent service locales in Pawtucket and Newport, saying local residents will find it easier to address issues with Medicare, Social Security, veterans benefits and other federal programs if they can talk with a representative of the congressman somewhere close to home.
“Woonsocket’s an important place and it shows you recognize it’s an important place by putting some roots here,” said Gendron.
Fontaine called Cicilline’s satellite office “a great addition to Woonsocket City Hall” and extended a hearty welcome to the congressman and his staff.
“The opening of Congressman Cicilline’s office was a perfect opportunity to expand services for Woonsocket residents as well as utilize some of the empty space at City Hall,” he said.
The office will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Mondays. Fierro, a Woonsocket resident and former state representative, said he and other members of the congressman’s staff, would run the office on a rotating basis. The office can also be reached by telephone at 597-6611.
Cicilline said constituents shouldn’t be surprised to find him in the office from time to time as well. When he’s not in Washington, D.C., he said, he generally splits his time between the district satellites. Newport is temporarily closed, but is expected to reopen soon.
The idea, said Cicilline, is to put his staff where his constituents need them most – close to where they live.
“For the people of Woonsocket it will be an opportunity for them to meet with me or a member of my staff,” the congressman said. “Constituent services is really one of the most important things we do, helping them shake loose a check they have coming from the federal government in this kind of economy can be really important.”
Cicilline had announced earlier that he intended to hold yesterday’s event last month, but he was forced to reschedule because of protracted debate in Congress over the extension of unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut.