After seven terms in Congress and a rise into the ranks of Democratic leadership, David Cicilline is calling it quits.
Cicilline announced in a press release Tuesday that he would leave Congress effective June 1 to lead the Rhode Island Foundation as its president and CEO.
“For more than a decade, the people of Rhode Island entrusted me with a sacred duty to represent them in Congress, and it is a responsibility I put my heart and soul into every day to make life better for the residents and families of our state,” Cicilline said. “The chance to lead the Rhode Island Foundation was unexpected, but it is an extraordinary opportunity to have an even more direct and meaningful impact on the lives of residents of our state.”
State law empowers Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee, a Democrat, to set a date for a special election.
“The governor cannot issue the formal writ of election until there is a vacancy for that seat,” said his spokeswoman, Olivia Darocha. “We will have more to say on the timing of the special election in the coming weeks.”
Cicilline’s 1st District, which stretches from Woonsocket along the Massachusetts border to Newport, is predominantly Democratic and the special election is expected to draw a crowd of candidates. Democrats who have already announced that they are exploring a run include state Sen. Meghan Kallman of Pawtucket and Cynthia Mendes, a former state senator who ran for lieutenant governor in 2022.
Joe Shekarch of Warwick, the speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, was also mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate, but he said Tuesday that “today is not the day for political speculation.”
Cicilline has long been seen as an ambitious and talented politician. He co-chaired the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee in the 116th Congress and ran for assistant House speaker in 2020, but fell short to Katherine M. Clark of Massachusetts.
He briefly sought the Democratic assistant leader position in November, but dropped out of the race. Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the former majority whip, won the post.
Cicilline used his chairmanship of the House Judiciary subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law to publish a sweeping, 450-page report detailing monopolistic practices by the nation’s largest tech companies, leading to a suite of bipartisan bills that passed the House.
One of those bills — a measure that raised the fees merging corporations must pay — was included in the end-of-year omnibus spending bill that became law. These were the first legislative losses suffered by the tech industry in decades, and Cicilline was widely credited with making the issue a congressional priority.
Cicilline was a leading candidate to take over the House Judiciary gavel if Democrats were to regain control of the House.
Cicilline also served as one of the managers of President Donald Trump’s second impeachment following the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
Before Congress, Cicilline served as mayor of Providence. Since winning a contentious primary in his first House election, Cicilline has cruised to victory in subsequent campaigns. He won his last general election by 28 points.
Cicilline is one of Congress’ first openly gay politicians. He served as co-chair of the LGBT Caucus and pushed for legislation to protect LGBT individuals from discrimination that passed the House in 2019.
The Rhode Island Foundation he is leaving Congress to run is the state’s largest private funder of nonprofit organizations. The group’s president in 2021, Neil Steinberg, was paid $565,698 and received $165,518 in additional compensation, according to a filing with the IRS for that year. The base pay for House members is $174,000.
Cicilline’s unexpected announcement is the second shake-up in Rhode Island’s delegation in recent months. In January 2022, former Rep. Jim Langevin surprised Ocean State political observers with his announcement that he wasn’t seeking reelection in the 2nd District.
Former state Treasurer Seth Magaziner emerged victorious from a crowded Democratic primary field for that seat and went on to beat Republican Allan Fung by less than 4 percentage points in the general election. Magaziner, who was sworn in January, will become the senior member of Rhode Island’s House delegation when Cicilline leaves in June.