I’m not entirely convinced that Rep. David Cicilline won’t get away with it.
Unlike many political commentators and observers around these parts, who consider the former Providence mayor to be political roadkill, I think he has a fair to decent chance of being re-elected to a second term in Congress, despite his 14 percent approval rating in the last Brown University poll. In this case, “fair to decent” probably means a 50 to 65 percent likelihood.
Cicilline was all over the state last week, doing a Mea Culpa Media Tour, seeming to apologize for saying Providence was in “excellent financial condition” while he was running for Congress in 2010 when the truth was the city was being held together with bubblegum and paperclips just long enough for him to get elected to Congress and make the whole rickety, doomed mess Angel Tavares’ problem: Après moi, le deluge.
Cicilline did not apologize for putting Providence in an un-excellent financial condition. No, no, no! Other people — several other people, in fact — were to blame for that. It was former Gov. Donald Carcieri’s state aid cuts. It was his predecessor, Buddy Cianci, whose name Cicilline ostentatiously will still not say out loud. It was that darned recession. It was… well, you get the picture,
Like everything else in Cicilline’s political career, none of it was his fault. After all, this contrition thing can only go so far.
But people actually weren’t angry about the financial situation Cicilline left Providence in. Things really were tough all over. People were angry that he lied about it to get himself elected to Congress.
That is what he went around pretending to apologize for last week.
Asked by Channel 12’s Tim White about his infamous “excellent financial condition” boast, Cicilline courageously acknowledged that “I shouldn’t have used that word,” as though everything would have been all right if he had only had a thesaurus handy.
Then, almost immediately afterward, he followed up with, “It was never my intention to mislead people.” Bull(bleep)! That is precisely the reason why a person lies, to mislead people. For example, so that they will think that Providence is in excellent financial condition and they will elect the mayor to a congressional seat.
It is as though he can’t help it, that Cicilline obsessively, compulsively, must deny the blame for everything, even if he has to lie to do it.
There is an old saying that goes: “The secret to success is sincerity; once you can fake that you’ve got it made.” David Cicilline fakes that better than anyone I have ever seen, anywhere. It is by far his greatest political talent. You can hear it in the way he makes his voice go low and slow at the end of sentences, oozing empathy and compassion. It’s in the way he says “absolutely” and “of courrrrse” at the start of some sentences, stressing an opinion or position that has never been as clear as he now wants to make it sound.
Cicilline has his own brand of untruthfulness. It’s not unctuous or oily like a used car salesman or TV preacher, and it’s not smarmy like Eddie Haskell, it’s a wholesome-seeming, boy-next-door phoniness. The closest example I can think of is Bill Clinton, and in politics, that amounts to high praise.
Cicilline told White he mischaracterized Providence’s finances because he was “too optimistic” and too “hopeful.” Heck, you can’t get mad at a guy for being too optimistic and too hopeful, now can you? That would be like kicking a puppy dog.
Why did Cicilline choose now to “come clean” about his excellent fib? Because he had to, that’s why. Donald Regan, chief of staff and treasury secretary under President Ronald Reagan, famously said, “when all else fails, tell the truth.” Cicilline did not quite do anything that drastic, but he came close because there is an election coming up in a few months and if you gave 100 voters a word association test using the prompt “Cicilline,” probably 75 percent or more would have responded with some form of the word “lie” or “liar.”
It was going to be the ONLY issue in the upcoming campaign, especially if he runs against Republican Brendan Doherty, who is Mr. Integrity.
You could almost read the bumper sticker his opponents would put on their cars, especially if the capital city’s finances deteriorated any further:”Cicilline lied and Providence died.”
So not only does Cicilline kinda-sorta apologize for his prevarication, but by doing it now, he makes it “old news.” He made the effort to get that behind him a few days before Anthony Gemma (finally!) officially announced his primary challenge. Gemma is going to shove “excellent financial condition” down Cicilline’s throat at every opportunity. Now Cicilline can say, “hey, I apologized for that already, it’s old news.”
I think a lot of voters are going to buy that. They will shrug and say, “Hey, he apologized. Let’s go on.” Voters don’t generally have long memories, and have a tendency to forgive.
It remains to be seen how strong a primary opponent Gemma is going to be. Democrats never really embraced him as one of their own. He got just 23 percent of the Democratic vote in 2010, to Cicilline’s 37 percent, David Segal’s 20 percent and Bill Lynch’s 19.
Gemma has to demonstrate progressive bona fides to Democratic primary voters who might not rush to throw their support his way, who may instead opt to hold their noses and vote for Cicilline again. Gemma is seen as the Republicans’ favorite Democrat.
As Gov. Lincoln Chafee saw when he was a Republican running for re-election to the U.S. Senate, voters can make the calculus about what party is in charge in Congress and the deep blue Ocean State is going to be hesitant about giving House Speaker John Boehner another vote to add to his GOP majority. It is also a presidential election year and that works in the Democrats’ favor in Rhode Island. Table games at Twin River and Newport Grand will also be on the ballot, which might further increase Democratic turnout.
Put all those factors together and it becomes clear that Cicilline has a fair to decent chance of winning a second term. And that’s no lie.