Gabe Amo makes history as first Ghanaian-American elected to Congress

BY Ben Ebuka Oji November 9, 2023 8:11 PM EDT
Gabe Amo
Gabe Amo. Credit: Michael Salerno/Rhode Island Current

Democrat Gabe Amo has won the special election for Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District, making double history as the first person of color to represent the state in Congress and the first-ever Ghanaian-American elected to Congress.

Gabe Amo, a 35-year-old ex-White House staff member, defeated retired U.S. Marine Corps officer and political novice Republican Gerry Leonard to secure the representative seat.

Accepting the victory and thanking his teeming supporters for the overwhelming support, Gabe Amo said this in his victory speech: “Thank you to the countless elected officials and volunteers and activists and people who keep our politics full of action, activism, and purpose-driven. It is so important that you are here because the work that we do together starts tonight.”

“When I was 8 years old and 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,” Amo added during his speech.

The special election became imperative when, in a surprising announcement in February, Congressman David Cicilline announced he would step down to assume a new position – the president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation, leaving the U.S. House after over a decade.

The special election was only to finish the rest of Cicilline’s unexpired term. Therefore, Gabe Amo remains eligible for re-election again next year.

“I want to go to Washington, D.C. to work on behalf of the community that has invested so much in me. From humble beginnings in Pawtucket to serving at the heights of government, I have never forgotten where home is – right here in Rhode Island. My experience is what sets me apart, and I believe it is what will allow me to effectively serve and your family as our next congressperson from day one,” he added.

Career Before Election

Before the election, Gabe Amo had served in several government positions for over two decades. Specifically, he was a member of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs during the Obama and Biden administrations, where he acted as a liaison to governors and other elected officials across the country.

Additionally, he served as a special assistant to President Biden and held the position of an aide to then-Gov. Gina Raimondo during his stints at the White House.

Gabe Amo announced his candidacy after resigning from his position in April.

Political Journey

His electoral victory is a surprise, given that Gabe Amo has never held political office. But the Pawtucket native and the son of immigrants from Ghana, West Africa, earlier in September, earned a surprisingly easy primary victory against other top contending Democrats, including state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, state Sen. Sandra Cano, and Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos.

Carrying the weighty support of the Democrats, Gabe Amo moved on to the 1st Congressional District election, where he defeated the other top contender, Republican Gerry Leonard, a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer.

Political Agenda

Congressman Gabe Amo has outlined several programs of utmost concern that he wants to focus on.

Gabe Amo intends to work “together with my Democratic colleagues and those in the Republican Party who are willing to stand up to the NRA and the gun lobby.”

His agenda includes the following:

1. Carry on former Congressman Cicilline’s legacy on this issue and continue the fight to ban assault-style weapons in our country.

2. Support legislation to build on the progress of last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the first significant piece of gun safety legislation in over 30 years, to increase funding for research at the CDC for gun violence prevention.

3. Work with Representative Lucy McBath of Georgia who lost her son to gun violence, and Representative Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Pennsylvania, to enact red flag laws and common sense universal background checks.

4. Build on federal investments in community violence intervention and support groups like the Nonviolence Institute.

5. Work towards the long-term goal of repealing gun industry immunity.”

In an interview, Gabe Amo stated that as a member of Congress, he will advocate for the Congress to focus on some of the biggest challenges confronting America today.

“We must protect the freedom to live without the fear of gun violence. In the White House, as President Biden’s Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, I was often the first call to a mayor following a mass shooting to initiate the federal response to an incident.”

“Over my time in the Biden White House, I made that first call after too many deadly shootings that have been in the headlines – in places like Uvalde, Buffalo, and Highland Park. After these acts of senseless violence, I not only brought the condolences of the President and the entire Administration, but I also provided the commitment of the federal government to help communities heal – leading efforts to help affected communities access federal support and resources.”

“I am proud to have been the first candidate in this race to announce real steps – not just rhetoric – that I would take as a member of Congress to prevent gun violence and marshal the resources of the federal government to take long overdue action.”

Gabe Amo further emphasized two critical matters that deeply resonate with him – data privacy and addressing the care economy.

 “There are two issues that I believe are flying under the radar, both in this campaign and in the national discourse as well.

 “Right now, there are many large entities around the country that are collecting and trading data on us, from the stores we shop in to the social media we consume. In an increasingly digitally connected world, it is of utmost priority that we one, have some control over our identities in life and online, and two, that as that information is bought and sold, that we retain as much of our individual privacy as possible – an issue which is compounded by the growth in Artificial Intelligence and the mirroring of our identities in a range of venues. Additionally, I support the Biden Administration’s efforts to establish a Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights, and as a member of Congress, I would be focused on getting legislation passed to address both the privacy and workforce concerns that Artificial Intelligence presents.”

 “The second is the “care economy,” that is the work of caring for our seniors, children, and those unable to care independently for themselves. The burden of this work, traditionally, has fallen on women and has usually been unpaid. This reality has led to many women having fewer savings in retirement and greater instability in their employment, as we have not provided enough support and resources for caregivers to take paid time off of work to take care of their children, aging parents, or other family members. In Congress, I would support legislation to expand and diversify the care economy workforce, increasing the number of CNAs, nurses, and home health aids. I would work to expand access to high-quality childcare so that no family is paying more than 7% of their income on childcare. Finally, and this is not an exhaustive list, I would support legislation to make the expanded child tax credit permanent. The American Rescue Plan did this and the program cut childhood poverty in half.”