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Candidates of color join large field in R.I. congressional race

Tanisha Bhat
Candidates of color join large field in R.I. congressional race
(clockwise from top left) Sandra Cano, Gabe Amo, Sabina Matos, Ana Quezada COURTESY PHOTOS

More than a dozen Democratic candidates have entered the special election race for the Rhode Island congressional seat vacated by Rep. David Cicilline. who announced his resignation June 1 to run the Rhode Island Foundation. 

Out of at least 16 candidates running, more than half are persons of color, ranging from the lieutenant governor to a former public transit bus driver. Any of the 11 would be the first person of color to represent the state in Congress. Currently, no Republican candidates are running for the second congressional seat. The deadline to file with the state is June 30.

Harrison Tuttle, the president of the Black Lives Matter Rhode Island PAC, said while there have been many notable candidates of color in the past, this is the first time so many are running in the same race.

“It’s a really exciting moment in Rhode Island. It’s a historical moment,” he said. “Of course, there’s no guarantee that we will have a person of color elected, but I think specifically in the [1st] Congressional District and the demographics and politics in that district, there certainly is an amazing opportunity to elect someone that represents a diverse group of opinions and cultures.”

The district includes all of Bristol and Newport counties, along with a majority of the city of Providence. As of 2020, the district’s total population was 532,603, with about 66% being white, 18.6% Hispanic or Latino, 7.3% Black and 3.5% Asian, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The primary election is scheduled Sept. 5 and the general election Nov. 7.

Tuttle said fundraising and getting to know constituents will be important in the special election campaign, since some candidates might have more name recognition than others.

“Realistically, they just need a little bit under 20% of the voters in the primary. I think we have plenty of candidates in this race that are qualified to do the job,” Tuttle said. “I think it’s going to come down to messaging, and I think it’s going to come down to how voters feel their messaging is hitting with them.”

The Banner interviewed four of the 11 candidates of color competing for the open seat.

Sabina Matos

Sabina Matos is the lieutenant governor of Rhode Island. She was first appointed to the office in 2021 and then elected to a full four-year term in 2022. Matos previously served on the Providence City Council from 2011 to 2021 and worked for nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Originally from the Dominican Republic, she immigrated to the state in 1994.

“I was thinking about what is the best way in which I can serve the people of the state of Rhode Island,” Matos said. “I believe that going to Washington, I’m able to continue advocating for the things that I care about, things that I’ve been working on since I was in the local government in Providence at the City Council, and now at the state government.”

Matos said her main issues are addressing the housing crisis, restoring democratic values, strengthening gun control regulations and protecting reproductive rights. She added that being the first woman and woman of color to represent the district would be a “big honor and responsibility.”

“When you’re the first one of something, there’s a lot of expectations. Expectation of how you’re going to perform. Expectation you put on yourself like I put on myself. I know that if I do something that is bad, unfortunately, my whole community is going to be paying the consequences of all of those things,” she said.

Gabe Amo

A native Rhode Islander, Gabe Amo is the son of Ghanaian and Liberian immigrants. He previously worked in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs as a liaison to governors and state elected officials under President Barack Obama and as deputy director and special assistant to President Joe Biden. Amo also previously served as an outreach advisor to Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo.

“I want to take the experience that I gained to be an effective member of Congress for Rhode Islanders from day one and fight for working families and their priorities,” Amo said.

He said his main issues are protecting Medicare and Social Security, expanding access to reproductive care, fighting climate change and expanding gun control.

“Now I want to use the experience and the energy and the frustration with the status quo to not just offer thoughts and prayers to a community when something bad happens, but to go fight vigorously and see what we can do to get our Republican House members to see the light and ensure that we make sure that no families have to continue experiencing great loss,” he said.

Sandra Cano

Sandra Cano has been a state senator since 2018 after serving as an at-large city councilor and on the school board in Pawtucket. She is originally from Medellín, Colombia and immigrated to Rhode Island in 2000 when she was 16.

“I do love to help people,” Cano said. “Ever since I got elected into local public office, I’ve been driven by residents, the district and the people of Rhode Island to advocate for them and being the voice of those that don’t have a voice. So it will be the honor of my life to represent them in different levels of government.”

Cano’s platform consists of fighting to protect Medicare, Social Security, access to high-quality education and economic opportunities for all.

“I believe that having been a mom and experiencing the struggles of many families in the district, access to child care is and will continue to be a priority and also making sure that we protect our environment,” she said.

Ana Quezada

Ana Quezada has been a state senator since 2017 and previously worked as a social service coordinator at John Hope Settlement House and code enforcement inspector for the city of Providence. She was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and moved to New York City in 1982 before moving to Providence in 1990.

“The most important thing is to represent my state in Washington,” Quezada said. “I know through my years in the Senate, I have skills to be able to do that and to be the strong voice for Rhode Island, to fight for Rhode Island and bring the resources that we need for our community.”

Her main issues are addressing the housing crisis, improving education, increasing access for reproductive care and protecting Medicare and Social Security. She said the state changed a lot after the pandemic, with many people moving in from big cities like New York and Boston for a slower pace of life.

I think after COVID, so many people changed their way of life, and they look at our state like a possibility to grow their family, because they can buy family houses, maybe near areas that are more natural. And that was good for us,” she said.

The other seven candidates of color in the race are state Rep. Marvin Abney of Newport, who is African American; Mickeda Barnes, the former bus driver, who is African American; Stephanie Beauté, a former candidate for Rhode Island secretary of state who is Black; State Rep. Nathan Biah of Providence, an immigrant from Liberia; Providence City Councilor John Goncalves, who has Cape Verdean ancestry; Allen Waters, a Black conservative who previously ran for the seat as a Republican; and Bella Machado Noka, a Narragansett tribal elder.

The five white candidates definitely in the race are former state official Nicholas Autiello, state Rep. Stephen Casey of Woonsocket, former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, former Navy intelligence officer Walter Berbrick and Jamestown businessman Don Carlson.

candidates of color, Congress, politics, Rhode Island