scorecardresearch Skip to main content

The Shekarchi-Foulkes-Matos show

There are loads of potential candidates to replace David Cicilline in Congress, but everyone appears to be waiting for these top-tier Democrats to make a decision

Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos is one of the top-tier Democrats that others are waiting to see if she runs for Congress.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

It’s been two weeks since US Representative David Cicilline announced he is stepping down from Congress to lead the Rhode Island Foundation, and we still haven’t seen any top-tier Democrats launch a campaign to lead the First Congressional District.

So far, the only candidate to open a campaign account is Allen Waters, a perennial candidate who got trounced by Cicilline when he ran as a Republican in the general election last year. He’s running as a Democrat this time around.

As it stands now, there are loads of potential candidates eyeing the race, but everyone appears to be waiting for House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi, former CVS executive Helena Foulkes, and Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos make a decision.


Here’s a quick guide to why Shekarchi, Foulkes, and Matos would run, and why they might not.

R.I. House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Joseph Shekarchi


Shekarchi’s role as House speaker means he’s the biggest fish in the smallest pond in the country, but he’s not exactly a household name to the average Rhode Island voter. For someone who grew up eating and breathing Rhode Island politics, being part of the state’s four-member congressional delegation is like being royalty. This could be his best chance to join that exclusive club and solidify his chances of one day succeeding US Senators Jack Reed or Sheldon Whitehouse when they retire.


Shekarchi likes sure things, and this isn’t a sure thing. He has passed up runs for mayor of Warwick and statewide office over the past 20 years, and finally ran for state representative in 2012 without serious competition. In the House, he picked smart spots, built alliances, and easily slid into the speakership once Nick Mattiello’s political career fell apart. He would be the favorite in the congressional race, but true opposition isn’t something he has experienced before.


Former CVS executive and R.I. gubernatorial candidate Helena Foulkes.Glenn Osmundson for The Boston Globe.

Helena Foulkes


Foulkes has been bitten by the political bug, and she enjoyed it. She knows that if she had a few more weeks in her gubernatorial campaign last year, she’d probably be running the state today. And while she could wait to run for governor again in 2026, this is a chance to continue building her resume in Rhode Island politics for whatever comes next. It doesn’t hurt that she could learn the ropes from US Representative Nancy Pelosi, who was her mom’s college roommate.


Losing two high-profile campaigns in back-to-back years would be a blow to anyone’s ego. It wouldn’t necessarily disqualify Foulkes from running for statewide or federal office in the future, but some of the star power she has built would probably begin to fade.

Sabina Matos


Why not? If Matos won, she’d be the first Democratic woman and the first Latina elected to Congress from Rhode Island. If she lost, there’s a good chance she’d remain lieutenant governor for the rest of the decade. She has a compelling personal story and performed well in Providence, Pawtucket, and East Providence last year.


Matos isn’t in the same league as Shekarchi or Foulkes when it comes to fund-raising, so she would find herself at a disadvantage if either of those candidates run. Her entry wouldn’t necessarily scare anyone out of the race, so she will face a highly competitive Democratic primary even if Shekarchi and Foulkes take a pass.


Literally everybody else

Let’s be clear: While Shekarchi, Foulkes, and Matos are probably the biggest names who are considering jumping in the race, there are plenty of other candidates who have the ability to run credible campaigns.

Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien has said he is leaning toward running, and he’s got a strong base in his city. Gabe Amo, who works for President Biden, is flirting with a run. State Senators Sandra Cano and Dawn Euer are each talking to supporters.

Right now, everyone appears to be waiting to see what those top-tier candidates are doing. If Shekarchi or Foulkes decides against running, there’s a good chance that we’ll see a wave of new names start to kick the tires on the race.

This story first appeared in Rhode Map, our free newsletter about Rhode Island that also contains information about local events, data about the coronavirus in the state, and more. If you’d like to receive it via e-mail Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.

Dan McGowan can be reached at Follow him @danmcgowan.