PROVIDENCE — After months of hinting that he would reprise his 2010 Democratic primary challenge to David Cicilline, Lincoln businessman Anthony Gemma made it official Sunday evening: he is in the hunt for the Democratic nomination in the 1st Congressional District.
Gemma drew about 100 supporters to Prospect Terrace Park and made his announcement with his back to the statue of Roger Williams that overlooks Downtown Providence. He gave a speech in which he called himself “a confident man, a humble man, a common man who will lead with common sense, with uncommon vision, with unconventional wisdom,” then abruptly left the event and headed to a waiting vehicle, leaving behind a pack of reporters looking to ask him questions.
His press aide, Ann Santos, said Gemma will schedule interviews with individual reporters in the coming week.
This year it looks like Gemma will go head-to-head in the primary with Cicilline, the freshman Democrat who is struggling to overcome the fiscal wreckage he left behind when he left the Providence mayor’s office and the perception that he was untruthful when he characterized the city’s financial condition during his congressional campaign. Last year, the seat was open after Rep. Patrick Kennedy announced he would not seek re-election and four Democrats vied for the nomination. Cicilline won with 37 percent of the vote, Gemma was a distant second with 23, David Segal garnered 20 and Pawtucket’s Bill Lynch 19.
Cicilline went on to beat Republican John Loughlin.
Gemma opened his campaign pledging to do no less than “redefine the job of Member of Congress and re-invent and reinvigorate public service for the 21st century.”
That is the essence of what he asserts is “The New Idea,” a governing concept he says will stand among Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” and John F. Kennedy’s “New Frontier” as an “immense, lasting, nation-building social program and political vision.
“The New Idea is simply this,” Gemma declared, “Change America for the better by changing the very definition of how a member of Congress does the people’s business.” He gave few specifics about what that definition would change to, but he said he would “Change America by redefining the political processes required to effect positive change. And in the process, create jobs!”
“My campaign will be one of new ideas,” Gemma asserted, “new ideas confidently brought forth, new ideas replacing old, failed, debilitating and destructive ideas and the unworkable processes they preserve.” He added that his campaign will be successful, “because I alone among all other candidates for Congress from the Rhode Island 1st will offer the leadership, the vision, the plans, and the passion that, applied confidently, wisely and with the courage of noble convictions, dramatically enhance the likelihood of success in all walks of life.”
He said one of the goals of the campaign is to “make a commitment to restoring the core values of the Democratic Party – the values of FDR and JFK and RFK and John Pastore and Claiborne Pell and, yes, John Fogarty.”
Gemma never mentioned Cicilline by name in the speech, but he did say, “I can tell you what I won’t do in Congress. I won’t have to apologize to you for putting my best interests ahead of your best interests. I won’t have to apologize to you for evading responsibility for my failures. I won’t have to apologize to you for breaking the sacred trust between the people and their elected representatives. And I won’t have to apologize to you for lying to you so that I could win your vote on false pretenses.”
Cicilline spent the past week doing press interviews in which he apologized for leaving Providence on the financial skids and then saying when he ran for Congress that it was in “excellent financial condition.”
Gemma did lambaste Republican candidate Brendan Doherty by name, saying, “Brendan Doherty is the last person we can afford to send to Congress. He has zero understanding of the basic policies required to bring about an economic recovery in Rhode Island and, by extension, America. To say that his grasp of economic realities is weak would be to commit the understatement of the century.”
In a year where Gemma says there is “a very real chance that the Democratic Party will retake the U.S. House of Representatives…Let every Democrat in a position of political leadership, whether in Rhode Island or Washington understand this basic truth: The numbers don’t lie. In the general election, I am the only candidate who can and will beat Brendan Doherty.
He said Doherty “lives in a public sector bubble. He doesn’t have a clue about the problems face by Rhode Islanders, let alone the solutions to those problems.” Gemma said of Doherty, “the next job he creates will be the first job he creates.” He then added: “Actually, that’s not fair. Brendan Doherty does indeed know how to create jobs – for himself. Let’s not forget how he left public service as soon as he became eligible for his state pension. And now he wants more.”
Doherty’s campaign issued a statement that takes pokes at both Gemma and Cicilline.
“Mr. Gemma has been hinting for some time that he might enter the race for Congress, so despite his apparent indecision, today's announcement comes as no real surprise,” the release said. “Obviously, Gemma shares the frustration felt by many Rhode Islanders with David Cicilline's mismanagement of the City of Providence and his attempts to hide the City's fiscal crisis.”
A message to the Cicilline campaign seeking comment drew no response.