PROVIDENCE — As one of the original 13 states, Rhode Island has been electing candidates to the US House of Representatives since 1790, Representative Seth Magaziner noted Monday.
“And in those 233 years, Rhode Island has never sent an African-American or any person of color to Congress — until today,” he said.
Gabe Amo, who won the Nov. 7 special election in Rhode Island’s First Congressional District, was sworn in on Monday night.
“Gabe Amo will be first to tell you he did not come here to make history — he came here to make a difference,” said Magaziner, a fellow Rhode Island Democrat.
During a short speech, Amo quoted from a sermon by the Rev. Mahlon Van Horne, who was elected as the first Black member of Rhode Island’s General Assembly back in 1885.
“Reverend Van Horne’s dream and the dreams of those who have called Rhode Island home across generations allow me to stand before you today,” he said, standing on the House floor. “And while we have not arrived at our final destination in this project of our democracy, I am optimistic.”
He noted Rhode Island’s motto: Hope.
“It is hope that led my parents to come from West Africa — my dad from Ghana, my mom from Liberia — to pursue opportunity in the greatest country in the world,” Amo said, drawing applause. “But this is not just my story. It’s a Rhode Island story. It’s an American story. And that shared story is why today I am proud to be the representative from Rhode Island’s First Congressional District.”
Hope does not differentiate between race, religion, gender, or ancestry, he said.
“This belief has inspired people who arrived in Rhode Island from Italy and Ireland, Portugal and France, Dominican Republic and Haiti, Colombia, Armenia, and yes, countries in West Africa, and so many places in between,” Amo said. “And I, of course, must acknowledge those whose family branches extend from the Native tribes of our shores, to the settlers who came for religious freedom, to those who did not choose their journey because they were enslaved people.”
He then set out his legislative priorities, and said that hope has to be met with action.
“Action to protect and strengthen retirement security, support our seniors, create economic opportunity and good-paying jobs, secure reproductive freedom and keep politics out of the doctor’s office, ensure the livability of our planet for our children and their grandchildren, ban assault weapons and end gun violence, and stand up to the threats facing our democracy,” Amo said.
Amo was sworn in as a potential partial government shutdown looms, and it comes two days before the Rhode Island Board of Elections is set to meet to certify the results of the Nov. 7 special election.
Magaziner asked for unanimous consent to allow Amo to take the oath of office Monday, and said, “His certificate of election has not yet arrived, but there is no contest and no question has been raised with regard to his election.”
Amo, 35, who grew up in Pawtucket and lives in Providence, emerged victorious from a 11-person Democratic primary field in September, receiving 32.5 percent of the vote, while former state representative J. Aaron Regunberg finished second with 24.9 percent, and state Senator Sandra C. Cano finished third with 13.9 percent. Seven of the initial 12 Democratic candidates were Black and/or Latina, making it the most diverse field of congressional candidates in Rhode Island history.
In the Nov. 7 general election, Amo received 64.7 percent of the votes, beating Republican Gerry W. Leonard Jr. , a retired US Marine Corps colonel from Jamestown who received 35 percent of the vote.
Amo replaces Democrat David N. Cicilline, who stepped down on June 1 to become president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation.
House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, noted that with the addition of Amo, the 435-member House now has 434 members. The other vacancy is in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District, which will be decided in a special election on Nov. 21.
Also on Monday, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat, announced that Amo will be appointed to the Foreign Affairs Committee.
“As the son of Liberian and Ghanaian immigrants and an experienced former Biden-Harris administration official, Congressman Amo will bring a unique perspective to this important committee during a pivotal time for America’s relationships around the world,” Jeffries said. “Gabe is an extraordinary public servant who has made history as the first Black member of Congress from Rhode Island. I know he will be a powerful advocate for the Ocean State, and I am proud to welcome him to the House Democratic caucus family.”
Amo had said he’d like to serve on the powerful Appropriations Committee but acknowledged it would be difficult for a new legislator to land that assignment. He said he’d also be interested in the Foreign Affairs Committee that Cicilline served on, or the Science, Space and Technology Committee.