Pro-Israel progressive David Cicilline leaving US Congress to lead nonprofit

Openly gay Jewish Democrat, a member of the influential House Middle East subcommittee, leaving politics to take up position as CEO of Rhode Island Foundation

Representative David Cicilline, Democrat-Rhode Island, on Capitol Hill, July 9, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Representative David Cicilline, Democrat-Rhode Island, on Capitol Hill, July 9, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline said Tuesday he will step down this summer to lead his home state’s largest funder of nonprofits.

The Democrat, who is a member of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee and the influential Middle East subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee — a choice pro-Israel insiders were happy with — was named president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation, effective June 1.

“Serving the people of Rhode Island’s First Congressional District has been the honor of my lifetime,” said Cicilline, who is serving his seventh term.

“As President and CEO of one of the largest and oldest community foundations in the nation, I look forward to expanding on the work I have led for nearly thirty years in helping to improve the lives of all Rhode Islanders.”

Cicilline is a member of the Democrats’ Progressive Caucus. He and several other progressive Democrats belie the conventional wisdom that the traditional pro-Israel community is losing the party’s left. Other caucus members with traditional pro-Israel views include Frank Pallone of New Jersey, Brad Sherman of California and Ritchie Torres of New York.

He aligns with mainstream pro-Israel positions in a number of areas, including in his criticism of the United Nations for singling out Israel. Cicilline is gay, and he recently expressed concerns about anti-LGBTQ prejudice among members of Israel’s new governing coalition. Cicilline was Providence’s first-ever LGBTQ-identifying mayor.

Democratic Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island, left, chair of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, speaks alongside ranking member, Republican Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing with representatives from major tech companies, July 16, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Cicilline, 61, said the opportunity to lead the foundation was unexpected but gives him the opportunity to “have an even more direct and meaningful impact on the lives of residents of our state.”

The Rhode Island Foundation, founded in 1916, focuses on supporting economic security, affordable health care, as well as education and job training. With $1.3 billion in assets, it raised $98 million in 2021, the most recent year for which data are available, and awarded $76 million in grants to 2,300 nonprofits, according to its website.

Cicilline takes over for Neil Steinberg, who will continue as president and CEO until Cicilline starts. The congressman has “the experience, the skills, the passion, and the network to ably lead the Foundation,” Steinberg said.
Cicilline was selected after a national search.

“Congressman Cicilline’s career-long fight for equity and equality at the local, national and international level, and his deep relationships within Rhode Island’s communities of color are two of the many factors that led us to this decision,” said Dr. G. Alan Kurose, chair of the foundation’s board of directors, said in a statement.

Cicilline has represented Rhode Island in the US House since 2011.

The news of his retirement comes months after he withdrew his bid for a leadership post in the House this Congress. Cicilline, had challenged Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina for the Democrat’s assistant role, arguing that it was time the party’s leadership table included LGBTQ voices.

But Clyburn, the highest-ranking Black American in Congress, received unanimous support from the caucus in closed-door elections in December to stay in leadership.

Representative James Clyburn, Democrat-South Carolina, walks to a closed Democratic Caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 4, 2019. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The challenge to Clyburn was a surprise, but Cicilline said at the time that he felt the need to act to ensure the Democratic leadership “fully reflect the diversity” of the caucus and of the country.

During his tenure, he was a frequent critic of big tech and the amount of power the nation’s tech companies held. He was a House impeachment manager during former US president Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, and a lead sponsor of the legislation that gave federal recognition to same-sex marriages.

Cicilline served as mayor of Providence from 2003 to 2011, and in the state legislature from 1995 until 2003. He has degrees from Brown University and Georgetown University Law Center.

Rhode Island’s other longtime Democratic representative, Jim Langevin, served his last day in office earlier this year after announcing in January 2022 that he would not seek reelection to the seat he has held since 2001.

He was replaced by another Democrat, Seth Magaziner, who also identifies as Jewish.

Under state law, Rhode Island’s governor can set a date for a special election to find Cicilline’s successor.

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