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  • Kenny Daniels

Everything to Know about Gabe Amo, Rhode Island's first Black member of Congress

On Monday, November 13, 2023, Gabe Amo was officially sworn into the House of Representatives after winning the election to represent Rhode Island’s first district, making him the first Black member of Congress to represent Rhode Island. Amo secured the district with a whopping 64.7% of the votes, winning all three of the counties within his district by over 60% as well.

Amo was born and raised in Pawtucket, a city in Providence County, Rhode Island. His mother is a nurse, and his father is a small business owner who moved to Rhode Island from Ghana and Liberia. He attended Moses Brown School, a Quaker school in Providence established in 1784. During his time there, he actively participated in student government and received the Civic Leadership Award from Rhode Island’s Secretary of State. After graduating, he attended Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, where he majored in Political Science and minored in Economics. Engaging in student government continued to be a prominent part of his college experience. He led the Roosevelt Institute, a non-partisan think tank, and served as president of the Wheaton Student Government Association. He was awarded a Harry S Truman Scholarship for public service during his junior year and graduated both Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude from Wheaton College in 2010. He later received his Masters in Comparative Social Policy from the University of Oxford under a Marshall scholarship. 

Amo has an extensive and impressive amount of political experience under his belt. While still in college, he volunteered for both Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s 2006 campaign and Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. He played a crucial role in Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign as a National Political Coordinator and for the Obama administration as the Staff Assistant for the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. Afterward, he briefly returned to Rhode Island politics to work as a senior advisor for former Governor Gina Raimondo’s 2018 reelection campaign. He subsequently contributed to Biden’s campaign in 2020, holding roles such as the National States Strategy and Program Advisor in 2020 and returning to the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs as the Deputy Director. He was also Special Assistant to President Biden, working as his “primary liaison to local elected officials” before leaving his job to run for office after former Rhode Island Senator David Cicilline announced his resignation. 

Amo’s campaign website outlined his commitment to protecting both Medicare and Social Security, issues he heavily focused on during his time working for the Biden-Harris administration. He promised to combat alt-right extremism and safeguard Rhode Island’s primarily Democratic values, including reproductive freedom and gun control. He also conveyed his goal of helping the federal government function properly again, stating, “I’m going to be a voice for making sure we can restore confidence and trust despite the Republican Party that is rife with chaos.” Endorsements for his campaign came from many Rhode Island officials, including Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse (whom Amo volunteered for almost two decades ago), 2nd District Representative Seth Magaziner, and Governor Dan McKee. Additionally, he received endorsements from the mayors of Highland Park, IL, Kansas City, MO, and Tampa, FL, and former White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain. 

Despite being honored as the first person of color representing Rhode Island in Congress, Amo asserted that he “didn’t run to make history.” Rather, he sees himself as only one individual in a long line of people of color advocating for the rights of women and the working class. Reflecting on his experience being the child of immigrant parents, he highlighted how his story “[fits the] narrative of how Rhode Island has been a haven for so many people from so many different places to thrive and build their families.” 

Rhode Islanders have rejoiced at Amo’s historic win, with specialists discussing why his campaign was so successful. Maureen Moakley, a political scientist at the University of Rhode Island, noted one aspect of what makes him so well-liked is he has both a left-leaning stance on social issues and a “business-friendly attitude.” Joe McNamara, a Rhode Island Democratic Party Chairman, expressed that Amo represents the American Dream. Even Amo’s opponent, Republican Gerry Leonard, acknowledged him as a “good man,” and he hopes “he becomes a great Congressman” after Amo’s win. In light of intense partisanism in today’s political landscape, the manner in which both Amo and Leonard engaged with each other during the election process is both unusual and admirable. The Brown Daily Herald described their November 2, 2023 debate as “respectful” and discussed how the candidates were able to find common ground with each other on topics including extremism in both parties and foreign policy. 

However, less than a month into his term, Amo has already been criticized by some of his constituents for his stance on the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In one post on X, formerly known as Twitter, user @DanielDenvir posted that it was “absolutely shameful that @gabeamo” was absent from the list of Congress members calling for a ceasefire, adding that “Rhode Island deserves better.” Another user, @_holyspokes, also posted on X and tagged Amo, saying, “Voting for that R-led resolution, calling me + so many other Jewish RI’ers anti-Semites, is absolutely wild & not at all how I hoped your tenure as my Congressman would begin” in response to Amo voting in favor of House Resolution 894, which equates anti-Zionism with anti-Semetism. He has spoken in support of House Resolution 793, which calls on Hamas to release their hostages. Prior to his appointment in October, he was described by the Rhode Island Current as a “strong supporter of Israel.” 

Amo’s landmark success is clearly fueled by both his distinguishing experience and his personal qualities. Given how closely his campaign aligned with the interests of many Rhode Islanders, it's no surprise that he was able to have such a landslide victory. However, this support may waver amongst constituents who disagree with his stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Regardless, Amo is undoubtedly someone to watch closely during his Congressional term.


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