Gabe Amo was 4 years old in 1992 when his mother, a Liberian immigrant, graduated from the Community College of Rhode Island with a nursing degree.
And Weady Socree has never forgotten what he told her.
“I’m proud of you, mommy,” Socree recalls her young son saying.
Yes, his mom confirmed, the kid from Pawtucket with the bright smile and relentlessly positive attitude has always been this way.
On Tuesday, it was Amo who made his entire family proud when he won the special Democratic primary in Rhode Island’s First Congressional District, all but guaranteeing that he’ll be the first person of color from the state to hold federal office — assuming, of course, that he rolls to victory in the Nov. 7 general election against little-known Republican Gerry W. Leonard Jr.
It was around 8:40 p.m. Tuesday when a couple of dozen Amo supporters inside The Guild brewery in Pawtucket broke into applause after Channel 12 called the race. A few minutes later, in the most touching moment of the night, Amo made a beeline to his mother and the two hugged for 10 seconds as everyone around them clapped.
Amo quit his job working for President Biden as deputy director of intergovernmental affairs to run for the seat vacated by former US representative David Cicilline. He surged in the final weeks of the campaign as First District voters finally started paying attention to the 11-way Democratic primary. He established himself as the clear, more moderate alternative to Aaron Regunberg, the progressive who was backed by US Senator Bernie Sanders.
There will be lots of talk within Rhode Island’s political class about how Amo came from behind to win the race, but leave it to Socree and Amo’s father, Gabriel Amo, to explain it better than the rest of us ever could.
“I know he worked very hard for where he is,” Socree said.
“He told me when he resigned [from the White House], and I asked why he resigned,” the elder Amo said. “He told me it was because he is going to win.”
Parents always know best.
After Amo delivered his victory speech Tuesday night and talked to reporters, Socree and Amo joined their son in a back room at The Guild to talk with me for about 10 minutes. They looked exhausted, relieved, and overjoyed — all at once.
They recalled their son as a kid who preferred to stay in his room studying and reading rather than socializing with friends and family. But it was appointment viewing for the Amo family to sit down and watch “Wheel of Fortune,” young Amo’s favorite show.
The elder Amo, who immigrated to the United States from Ghana and earned $2.10 an hour in his first job before opening his own liquor store (first in Pawtucket, and then in Providence), said his son has learned from a young age that “hard work is everything.”
Indeed, this is the quintessential American dream. And it couldn’t happen to a more genuine guy.
Amo got his start in politics working for Sheldon Whitehouse’s first US Senate campaign in 2006, and served in the Obama and Biden administrations, with a stint in between working for former R.I. governor Gina Raimondo. He was a beloved figure in Biden’s White House, so much so that former chief of staff Ron Klain endorsed his campaign.
Sure, he already had a sterling resume. But now he’ll get a chance to serve thousands of Rhode Islanders just like his parents. He knows he’ll never have to look too far to remember why he entered politics.
Before long, it was time for Amo to go back out front to celebrate with a crowd that was rapidly growing (it’s funny what happens when you win). But first, he took a deep breath, looked his glowing mom and dad in the eyes, and told me something I’ll never forget.
“These are the people that I look to as representing who I’m fighting for in Rhode Island,” he said. “It’s a real thing to me.”