Gabe Amo is Rhode Island’s first Black elected US rep.
Gabe Amo, a former aide in the Biden and Obama administrations, made history on Nov. 7 by becoming the first Black person elected to represent Rhode Island in Congress.
Amo, a 35-year-old son of West African immigrants, defeated his Republican opponent, Gerry Leonard, in the race to represent the First Congressional District. It was a special election to fill the seat of David Cicilline, who resigned from the House in June, and Amo was sworn in on Nov. 13.
Amo could not immediately be reached for comment. He was quoted in the New York Times after his historic victory saying he was thrilled to have won.
“When I was 8 years old helping my mother study for the citizenship test, I never could’ve imagined that I would go with her to cast her ballot to vote for her son for the United States Congress,” he said. “I stand on the shoulders of so many who came before me to make this day possible.”
Christine Slaughter, an assistant professor of political science at Boston University, said Amo’s election marks a significant turn in New England, where political offices are dominated by white men.
Amo skipped the normal paths for ascending in politics, and his immigrant background made him appealing to voters, she said. His victory is significant in Rhode Island, which is more than 70% white.
“Having both parents from West African countries … and thinking about Black people in New England in particular, there’s a range of cultural and national backgrounds that make up the Black diaspora in New England,” Slaughter said. “And that’s also important to consider as we think about what representational strides are made for African Americans and Black voters in particular, in places where perhaps there isn’t a large African American or Black population.”
Slaughter also said Amo’s victory at the polls demonstrates that young leaders are capable of moving from organizing backgrounds into federal politics roles, even in states that have a lower Black population.
Maureen Moakley, professor emerita of political science at the University of Rhode Island, said Amo won in a district that is well-represented by Latinos, whose vote was split three ways, allowing a path to victory for Amo.
“It’s a fortunate outcome, because while Blacks are not that large a percentage of the population (here), in many cases, they have been overwhelmed by the Latino vote, especially in the cities,” Moakley said. “Latinos have been a wonderful addition to our community … They have lots of representation at all levels of government, but they kind of squeezed out opportunities for other minorities. So to have Amo win is nice … to give African Americans a chance to be represented.”
Amo campaigned on promises to fight gun violence, protect Social Security and Medicare, and work to ensure the federal government is fully functioning again in ways that best serve the public.
That message appeared to have been persuasive and inspiring.
“It’s important for folks … to see models on that pathway — Amo working for Obama … he has a long history working within the White House and also in Rhode Island politics,” Slaughter added. “It’s important to see that leap to office.”
Moakley added that Amo’s background in politics was equally impressive.
“That mattered to people,” she said. “He won all but three of the municipalities in the First District. So he had a broad win, there was broad support, and he was a very capable candidate. You put all those things together and that explains why he won.”
Amo grew up in Pawtucket, a son of Ghanaian and Liberian immigrants. He graduated from Moses Brown School in Providence, where he was president of the Student Senate and received the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s Civic Leadership Award, according to his campaign website.
He graduated from Wheaton College and studied public policy at Oxford under a Marshall Scholarship.
Amo worked in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs as a liaison to governors and state elected officials under former president Barack Obama. In Rhode Island, he worked in the administration of former Gov. Gina Raimondo as director of public engagement and community affairs and was Raimondo’s principal advisor on outreach to businesses and labor and other groups.
Most recently, Amo worked in the administration of President Biden as the deputy director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and special assistant to the president.