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Getting Progressive Voices in Congress: By Hook or By Crook

Dick Price: LA’s progressive political community is rallying behind David Segal, a rising young star looking to capture the Congressional seat Patrick Kennedy is leaving in Rhode Island.
david segal

David Segal

After suffering a tough loss when long-time activist Marcy Winograd fell to Blue Dog Jane Harman in a hard-fought primary battle this past June, LA’s progressive political community is rallying behind David Segal, a rising young star looking to capture the Congressional seat Patrick Kennedy is leaving in Rhode Island.

Leading local progressives—including Tom Hayden, Jodie Evans, and Winograd herself—are hosting a reception Thursday night in Venice to help fund Segal’s primary battle against three well-established and much more conservative Democrats in a district that covers eastern and northern Rhode Island and most of Providence.

“Segal is garnering national attention among the progressive community because of his potential to be one of the strongest and most effective voices to stand up to corporate power and fight for working families in Congress,” wrote Winograd. “He has stood up to the big banks to crack down on predatory lending and help families facing foreclosure; battled the utility corporations to pass legislation that is paving the way for green jobs and renewable energy; walked countless picket lines with workers organizing for their rights on the job; and has been a leader for elections and ethics reform.”

Just 30, Segal has served four years in Providence’s city council and another four in the Rhode Island legislature. “I got involved in politics originally in 2001 and 2002 as part of living-wage battles in Providence,” he said during a late-night phone interview as he rode from Boston back to Providence Monday night. “I also worked on reforms to deal with Providence’s notoriously abusive police department.”

Both Segal’s youth and his grassroots base set him apart from his three Democratic opponents in Rhode Island’s September 14th primary—all of whom are a generation older than Segal: Providence mayor David Cicilline, former Democratic state chairman Bill Lynch, and conservative businessman Anthony Gemma. By contrast, Segal, who founded and edits the Providence Daily Dose—voted the best blog in Rhode Island—has been called the “hippest guy in state government,” a title he suggests is best taken with a grain of salt.

“I see myself as more of an organizer and activist than politician -- and we need more organizers in Congress,” said Segal, a former teacher who graduated from Columbia University with a degree in mathematics. “Progressives standing in solidarity, pushing back as a block, can make a difference.”

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“In Congress, I’ll push back against corporatism,” continued Segal, who helped organize the progressive caucus in the Rhode Island legislature. “Overwhelming corporate influence is the reason we didn’t get real health care reform, why we’re fighting these wars, why we can’t get the economy up and running. Clearly, we need to address fundamental issues around corporate influence.”

Showing his political moxie early on, Segal’s first act as a Providence councilmember was to sponsor an antiwar resolution in 2003, which was an opportunity “to assert the negative impact of the war on the city’s ability to function—to fund municipal services and education.”

Later, he squared off with Mayor Cicilline, his toughest, best-funded primary opponent. “I organized a lawsuit against the Mayor because he refused to enforce tax break requirements that developers had to hire local workers from Providence, which is a pretty poor city,” he said. “Our lawsuit compelled enforcement, putting more Providence residents to work.”

As he does with his blog and West Coast fundraiser Thursday night, Segal needs to rely on unorthodox methods. “My anticorporatist message resonates with both the Left and the Right. The Right’s answer is to dismantle government. The Left’s answer is to fix government and make it better,” he concluded. “I’m getting support from those who feel government isn’t working for most Americans.”

Segal has been endorsed by the Progressive Democrats of America, AFSCME Council 94, the SEIU Rhode Island State Council, and Democracy for America.

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In addition to Jodie Evans, Tom Hayden, and Marcy Winograd, other sponsors of Thursday’s 6 p.m. reception include John Amato, Howard Braham, Annie Costner, Richard “RJ” Eskow, Patricia Foulkrod, Rosanne Keynan & Jonathan Flier, Howard Klein, Nomiki Konst, Heather “Digby” Parton, and Wendy Smith. RSVP online here.

Dick Price, Editor, LA Progressive