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Cicilline says “I’m sorry” — not exactly the Checkers speech

April 11, 2012

WPRI-TV’s Tim White broke the story yesterday of a major change in strategy by Congressman David Cicilline as he fights for his political life. After declining for 17 months to acknowledge he dropped a howler with his October 2010 description of Providence’s supposedly “excellent financial condition,” Cicilline adopted a decidely more contrite tone.

“I should have been much clearer the challenge the city faces,” Cicilline said. “I should have been much louder in the consequences of the state cuts and to the extent anything I did contributed to the challenge the city faces, I’m sorry for that and I accept full responsibility for it.”

Cicilline’s latest remarks are a step quite beyond his previous commentary — that he’s responsible for every decision he made as mayor.

One of the great political wise men of Washington, Stu Rothenberg, tells the ProJo’s John Mulligan that it’s already too late to change the public mindset around Cicilline’s departure from City Hall:

That cake is already baked.

Cicilline will certainly face criticism that his apology is both opportunistic and conspicuously delinquent. Fellow Democrat Anthony Gemma’s expected entry to the First Congressional District race on Sunday will only amplify that.

Yet Cicilline and his team surely decided that apologizing now is better than not apologizing at all.

It’s not going to turn the tide of public opinion like Richard Nixon’s famous Checkers speech. But it does innoculate Cicilline against questions of why he hasn’t apologized for a description that seems so at odds with reality.

Cicilline’s Republican opponent, Brendan Doherty, is wielding an early strategy of wearing the white hat while remaining vague on some policy details. During an appearance on RIPR last week, Doherty not-so-subtly contrasted his law enforcement background with Cicilline’s previous work as a criminal-defense lawyer.

That meme — and whether Cicilline can rebuild enough trust with enough voters across CD1 — will help decide the race. But so will any number of other factors, like GOTV, the candidates’ credibility in discussing issues, the air war of TV commercials, and Cicilline’s dogged campaign style and skill in debates.

Even though he’s facing abysmal poll ratings, Cicilline can’t be counted out. And if he’s able to stage a Phoenix-like resurrection from the nadir of his political fortunes, “I’m sorry” might be remembered as a turning point.

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