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Shekarchi says he will not run for Cicilline’s soon-to-open seat


Shekarchi says he will not run for Cicilline’s soon-to-open seat

Mar 17, 2023 | 5:57 pm ET
By Nancy Lavin
Shekarchi says he will not run for Cicilline’s soon-to-open seat
Rhode Island House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi confirmed Friday he will not run for the 1st Congressional District seat. (Photo courtesy of Rhode Island General Assembly)

One of the top would-be contenders for Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District seat is a no-go.

Rhode Island House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi confirmed Friday he will not run for the seat being opened up by longtime U.S. Rep. David Cicilline. Shekarchi, a Warwick Democrat, said his decision was “not a political one, but a deeply personal decision” made after discussions with family, friends and fellow lawmakers. 

Among the most influential discussions to his decision was a conversation with U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, who Shekarchi called a mentor.

“He kind of gave me the realities of what it’s like in Washington today,” Shekarchi said in an interview Friday. “That gave me pause. I could stay in the speakership to work to accomplish great things for Rhode Island or I could become the 435th member of the House in a minority party where I can’t get a hearing on a bill, let alone get a bill passed.” 

Shekarchi also named commitments to his Warwick law practice and desire to spend time with his 97-year-old father as reasons why he opted out of the race. 

He did not lack confidence in his ability to win the seat, despite what will likely be a crowded primary filled with strong candidates.

“Clearly, I think I would have won the race,” Shekarchi said, citing support from labor unions and fellow elected officials as well as an ample war chest.  

The top lawmaker in the R.I. House of Representatives was one of a host of high-profile officials whose names were floated as potential candidates after Cicilline abruptly announced his decision to leave Congress to head up the Rhode Island Foundation.

As of Friday, Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos is the only candidate to officially announce her plans to run for Cicilline’s seat.

Other possible candidates eyeing a campaign include former gubernatorial candidate Helena Foulkes, Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera, Providence City Councilman John Goncalves and state senators Sandra Cano of Pawtucket and Dawn Euer of Newport.

Shekarchi’s decision may widen the field further, with others initially hesitant to throw their hats in the ring changing their minds, said Rep. Joseph McNamara, Rhode Island Democratic Party chairman. 

“I think we are going to start seeing more people officially entering the race,” he said. “We have a lot of people who are very highly qualified who have the funding and fundraising necessary to be competitive. I think it will be a very exciting race.” 

Shekarchi was not worried about the prospect of vote splitting in the primary. Instead, he said the number of would-be contenders speaks to the strength of Rhode Island’s Democratic Party.

McNamara, a Cranston Democrat, said he was “selfishly” pleased that Shekarchi was staying put in Rhode Island. 

I don’t think I am alone in hoping he would remain and continue his advocacy for the working families of Rhode Island,” he said. “He would have made a tremendous congressman, and it may be selfish, but I am pleased he’s staying.” 

A date has not been set for the upcoming special election, with options for either an August or September presented by the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s Office. Depending on the final dates, which can’t be determined until Cicilline vacates his seat in May, candidates will have until July, or later to declare their intent to run. 

Shekarchi, 60, rose to power as the House Speaker in 2021, having served as House Majority Leader for the four years prior. He was first elected to represent Warwick’s 23rd District in 2012.