Amo wins CD-1, becomes R.I.’s first Black congressman

After nearly 67,000 votes were cast in Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District special election, a winner has been declared — Democrat Gabe Amo, former deputy director of intergovernmental affairs for the Biden Administration.

Amo defeated Republican challenger Gerry Leonard Jr., making him the first person of color in Rhode Island history to represent the state in Congress.

Amo, 35, has an extensive political resume despite this being his first time running for public office, having previously served under former Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and former President Barack Obama, and most recently for President Joe Biden and the White House.

According to Emily Lynch, associate professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island, this experience was key to getting name recognition and ultimately clinching the election.

“This was definitely a big part of his campaign, in order to get the rest of the Democratic Party on board with him,” Lynch said. “His direct experience in Washington knowing the key players was very important to that.”

Amo replaces current congressman David Cicilline, who announced in June he would be stepping down after serving for 12 years in the House of Representatives, in order to lead the Rhode Island Foundation.

This marks the second consecutive year that a special election has occurred with Rhode Island’s representatives — longtime congressman Jim Langevin, who served Rhode Island’s 2nd congressional district for over two decades, announced last year he would be retiring.

Rhode Island former treasurer Seth Magaziner won the general election to replace him, and now paired with the election of Amo leaves the state with two newly elected representatives. The last time two Rhode Island delegates to the House were elected this close together was in 1941, when Democrats Aime Forand and John Fogarty were elected to office in the same year.

URI students have also celebrated Amo’s victory, including Talia Scott, a third-year double major in wildlife and conservation biology and Africana studies from Newport.

“As not only a Rhode Islander, but a Rhode Islander of color, Gabe Amo’s win made a huge impact on myself and my community,” Scott said. “Amo serves as an example to many young minds looking to explore the world of policy and even for adults or individuals not looking to create a career in politics.”

Scott also cites Amo’s background, having grown up in Pawtucket and worked his way up the political ladder, as evidence that success can be achieved by people of color in Rhode Island, including those with political aspirations.

“It makes the idea of success tangible for many as it can be quite easy to get discouraged, seeing the negative portrayal of people of color in the media and the lack of representation,” Scott said.

Overall, Amo’s election to Congress marks a new era of Rhode Island representation: both a changing of the guard for two new House members and bringing diversity in the state’s elected body.

“This win speaks volumes and has paved the way for African Americans to make real change that impacts the everyday citizen and creates a better life for all,” Scott said.

Amo will serve for the next year to fulfill Cicilline’s term.