PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, a prominent progressive who lost a close race for lieutenant governor five years ago, announced Monday he is jumping into the Democratic primary to replace outgoing Congressman David Cicilline.
“For 15 years, I’ve been fighting to make a difference for everyday Rhode Islanders,” Regunberg, 33, said in a statement. “As a state legislator, I built coalitions that passed laws to give working people paid sick days, higher wages, and access to renewable energy.” He promised to be “a fighter” who would “organize, and build coalitions, and make real change” in Congress.
As part of his launch — which also included a campaign video — Regunberg cited his identity as a young father.
“My son turned two in March, the same month the United Nations released its final warning that if we don’t start taking urgent action on the climate crisis, all of our children will be permanently locked-in to a dangerous future,” he said. Other key issues for him include democracy, abortion rights, union protections, and battling large corporations.
In a sign that he has already built some support, Regunberg’s news release announcing his campaign included supportive quotes from state Rep. Cherie Cruz, Providence City Councilors Sue Anderbois and Helen Anthony, labor lawyer Marc Gursky, and former Providence After School Alliance executive director Hillary Salmons.
Regunberg joins an ever-growing list of Democrats running in the special election for the 1st Congressional District, as wide open and unpredictable a race as Rhode Island has seen in years. The primary is Sept. 5.
Nine others have announced campaigns or filed with the Federal Election Commission so far: Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, state Sens. Sandra Cano and Ana Quezada, state Rep. Nathan Biah, former state official Nick Autiello, Providence City Councilor John Goncalves, former secretary of state candidate Stephanie Beauté, Republican-turned-Democrat Allen Waters, and political newcomer Mickeda Barnes.
State Rep. Steve Casey told 12 News he has filed candidacy paperwork with the FEC and plans to make a formal announcement soon. Jamestown investor Donald Carlson is also expected to run, while state Rep. Marvin Abney and White House official Gabe Amo are both said to be strongly considering getting in, as well.
No Republicans have announced campaign for the 1st District so far; in fact, last year’s GOP nominee for the seat last year — Waters — is running as a Democrat this time.
Regunberg, a 6-foot-4 Brown University graduate who grew up outside of Chicago, first made his mark just out of college as an organizer for the Providence Student Union, an advocacy group for city students. In 2014, voters on Providence’s East Side elected him in the open race to succeed disgraced former House Speaker Gordon Fox.
Four years later, Regunberg mounted a strong primary challenge from the left against then-Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, losing by just 2,466 votes out of 113,500. McKee went on to become governor in 2021 when Gina Raimondo departed to join President Biden’s cabinet.
After his loss in 2018, Regunberg went on to work for Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, then earned a law degree at Harvard. He flirted with another run for lieutenant governor in 2022 but abandoned the idea after Raimondo’s departure put a newly installed incumbent — Sabina Matos — in the job.
Regunberg had been clerking for a federal judge before Cicilline’s surprise retirement announcement, but gave up his position at the court to run for Congress.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook