PROVIDENCE — Representative David Cicilline is used to being in the limelight, and used to the scrutiny that comes with it.
As a kid, he attended public hearings held by the Narragansett Town Council to speak his mind on the issues of the day, ruffling feathers among some adults in the room. As mayor of Providence, he stared down labor unions and clashed with obstinate legislators. As a member of Congress, he was one of the most vocal critics of Donald Trump.
But when he visited his parents in Rhode Island a few weeks ago, his father said they were disturbed by what they saw: three US marshals accompanying Cicilline as his security detail. His dad wanted to invite them in for coffee, but Cicilline explained that they were working.
Cicilline, 59, is getting used to enhanced security since being named one of nine impeachment managers in Trump’s second impeachment trial. Calls to his office — including the occasional threat — increase every time he appears on television to talk about Trump.
“We’re all very proud of him, but his mother is concerned,” said his father, John F. Cicilline.
David Cicilline and his colleague Representative Ted Lieu of California started drafting the article of impeachment while they were locked down in Cicilline’s office on Jan. 6, as supporters of Trump stormed the Capitol.
Since the trial started Tuesday, Cicilline — a Brown University and Georgetown Law graduate who was following in his father’s footsteps as one of the top defense attorneys in Rhode Island before he was elected mayor in 2002 — has been tasked with reminding the 100 senators who are serving as jurors just how terrifying the scene at the Capitol was.
During his three presentations, Cicilline has repeatedly pointed out that Trump praised his supporters and told his millions of Twitter followers to “Remember this day forever!” only hours after the Capitol was secured by law enforcement. Understanding that his job is to convince at least 17 Republicans to join the 50 Democrats to convict Trump, Cicilline has been quick to note that Trump even criticized his vice president, Mike Pence, that day.
“He got what he incited, and according to Donald Trump, we got what we deserved,” Cicilline told the Senate on Wednesday evening.
As soon he appears on television, his office phones in Pawtucket and Washington, D.C., immediately light up, mostly with Trump supporters leaving venomous voice mails.
On Tuesday, the first day of the trial, the offices received 251 voice mails, nearly all of which were negative and from outside Rhode Island, according to spokesman Rich Luchette. On Wednesday, the offices got 36 calls in less than an hour.
“Let me tell you something,” one woman said in a voice mail to Cicilline’s office. “You look like Joe Pesci in ‘Goodfellas.’ You hung around with too many of your old clients in the mob. That’s how you dress. That’s what you look like. That’s probably who you are.”
Cicilline did represent individuals with ties to organized crime when he was a practicing attorney. His father is one of the most prominent Mafia attorneys in the region.
Even before the House voted to impeach Trump on Jan. 13, Cicilline’s office was inundated with threats. One caller said impeaching Trump would lead to a civil war. Another said, “You’ve got 80 million [expletive] people coming after you, you commie little [expletive].”
Those who have faced off with Cicilline over the years say nasty messages and even threats of violence aren’t likely to intimidate him.
Paul Doughty, a former president of the Providence firefighters union, battled with Cicilline for years during his two terms as mayor.
Their labor dispute became so bitter that the firefighters convinced then-vice president Joe Biden to skip an event in the city to avoid crossing a picket line. Doughty remembers cringing on a different occasion as a group of firefighters crowded around Cicilline’s mayoral SUV and shook the vehicle while he was in the back seat.
“He’s not afraid to fight,” Doughty said. “We were in some nasty rock fights. He never blinked.”
Doughty joked that Cicilline still dislikes him from their fights more than a decade ago, but he said the congressman has the ability to compartmentalize personal feelings from tasks at hand. He said Cicilline is showcasing that skill during the trial.
When Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah objected Wednesday to Cicilline describing a call between Trump and Lee on the day of the insurrection, Ciclline showed composure.
“He has to be extraordinarily passionate as he delivers that advocacy, but it never blinds him or weakens him as he’s strategically planning his statements,” Doughty said.
Back in Rhode Island, Cicilline’s dad isn’t surprised to see his son performing on the biggest stage.
“He’s been training for this moment his entire life,” John Cicilline said.