Gemma campaign volunteer : Cicilline “Sandusky copy cat”
U.S. Rep. David Cicilline and his challenger Anthony Gemma are set to debate on live television Tuesday, two weeks before the Democratic primary and following unsubstantiated allegations from Gemma that Cicilline’s previous campaigns engaged in voter fraud.
WPRI-TV and The Providence Journal are holding the debate for the 1st Congressional District at Rhode Island College in Providence. It will be aired live at 8 p.m. on Channel 12 and streamed at wpri.com.
The debate comes as the primary battle grows increasingly contentious and personal. Last week Gemma accused Cicilline’s earlier campaigns of paying people to vote multiple times or asking individuals to impersonate registered voters. None of the evidence offered, however, had any clear link to Cicilline, whose campaign called the accusations bizarre and outrageous.
On Tuesday, a group of gay and lesbian Democrats called on Gemma to reject a comment made by campaign volunteer Anthony Sionni that seemingly compared Cicilline, who is openly gay, to convicted child molester and former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
“We call on Mr. Gemma to strongly and publicly denounce this kind of hateful and homophobic innuendo,” said a statement from Anthony DeRoses, chairman of the Rhode Island Democratic Party Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Caucus.
Messages left with the Gemma campaign Tuesday morning weren’t immediately returned.
Sionni made the remark Monday on Twitter after Bill Fischer, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party, complained that Gemma was waging an irresponsible smear campaign. Sionni responded that there was “nothing wrong with smearing a liar, thief, crook, Sandusky copy cat.”
Gemma’s campaign called the comment inappropriate and said it had asked for Sionni to step down.
Joe Lazzerini, a former Gemma staffer who had planned to host a fundraiser for Gemma, called the comment a “hurtful, intolerant smear”and said he would no longer have any involvement with the campaign.
Gemma is a businessman seeking his first elected office. Cicilline is serving his first term in Congress and was Providence mayor from 2002 to 2010.
Cicilline has a huge cash advantage over Gemma. As of June 30, Cicilline had $836,000 cash on hand to Gemma’s $164,000, according to filings with the federal Election Commission. Cicilline has been using the money to pay for TV ads since the beginning of this month.
Gemma on Friday gave his campaign $150,000 on top of a previous $150,000 loan. His campaign didn’t respond to requests asking whether it planned to run any TV ads.
While Gemma has used his campaign to target Cicilline, Cicilline stresses his efforts to help create more jobs while working to defeat Republican proposals on taxes, spending and health care.
The winner of the Sept. 11 primary faces Republican Brendan Doherty, former head of the state police, in the Nov. 6 election.
Another debate is scheduled for Sept. 6 on WJAR-TV.