This Side Up

The mayor won't be leaving Warwick

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Scott Avedisian has defied all rumors about his political future up until last week, when he confirmed he would accept the role of chief executive offer at the Rhode Island Transit Authority.

I’ve lost track, but it goes back at least a decade when speculation on the political future of this young (at that time) Republican became the party’s darling. At one time or another the pundits had him running for just about every statewide office except attorney general. After all, he doesn’t have a law degree so that would have hardly been credible. But the posts of governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and general treasurer all seemed reasonable at one point or another.

It made sense, too. Avedisian’s numbers would be the envy of any candidate. Election after election he has carried every polling district in the city. He’s done it in a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans three to one. And at this point, anyhow, not a single Republican holds any of the city’s elective seats. The one exception is Rep. Patricia Morgan, who represents a small segment of Warwick in addition to Coventry and West Warwick. She doesn’t even live in Warwick.

I have no doubt that he could have kept winning.

With such a solid base in the state’s second largest city, it’s no wonder that Avedisian was likewise viewed as a viable candidate for a Congressional seat. He certainly has the pedigree to run for a national office, having graduated from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, the Aspen Institute and attended as a delegate trade and goodwill missions to the Middle East, Ireland and China.

Avedisian has never carried any baggage. While he didn’t hold the line on taxes, an issue his Democratic opponents hammered at to no gain, the city wasn’t falling apart. There wasn’t a whiff of scandal and the closest it came to open hostility within the city ranks was during the tenure of former Superintendent Peter Horoschak. Avedisian couldn’t get him to respond to calls and found him to be running his own show oblivious to the rest of the city. It infuriated him.

It only made sense that Avedisian would move up the ladder. He’d run for higher office. The field was his, too. Unlike Democrats who often have to duke it out in primaries to win the party’s nomination or wouldn’t think of challenging an entrenched incumbent, as a Republican Avedisian virtually could pick a post and know he’d have a shot at the party’s endorsement.

But then Avedisian didn’t put his personal political ambitions ahead of friends.

It’s why he didn’t run against James Langevin, although a House seat must have been appealing. He also told me at the time it is why he didn’t go for lieutenant governor, as he is friends with Elizabeth Roberts, who ran and won the seat.

In an interview yesterday morning that is featured in today’s paper and will continue Thursday, Avedisian said he didn’t consider running for higher office. He is happy with Warwick.

Friendships and his passion for the city, rather than being defined by a political label, also explains why as a Republican he was able to work with many Democratic council members.

It may also be a consideration as to why at this time, on the eve of a budget debate and the campaign season that he is choosing to bow out.

Avedisian doesn’t have the allies on the council that he once did and, given the flak he and his department directors have encountered under the guise of saving the taxpayers’ money – the failed deal to sell the former Aldrich Junior High School and Christopher Rhodes School or buy a sanitation truck or fire engine – this budget was going to be torture. Avedisian is starting off from the position of a $4.2 million structural deficit – the sum taken from unrestricted reserves to balance the current budget. This was not going to be pretty, especially given that the council would once again like to pass a zero tax increase budget.

With Joseph Solomon as acting mayor, I can’t imagine Council Finance Committee Chair Ed Ladouceur playing interrogator. Now this is going to be their budget. There is no Avedisian to make the fall guy.

This will be a new show.

Thinking back on those 18 years, I remember the edition where we headlined his victory, calling him “Mayor Scott.” It seemed appropriate for someone who had defied the Democratic machine, was so young compared to those on the scene and was so approachable. I got a call that day asking that I use his surname henceforth, with the explanation that he needed all the credibility he could get and “Mayor Scott” would be a hard name to shake.

It was a good point, and he became Mayor Avedisian, although we managed to misspell it several times. He made sure we got it right.

In the weeks ahead we’ll be writing a lot about the boy wonder who grew to become a dean of municipal leaders and a fixture in this city.

He remains an optimist.

He doesn’t see his departure as creating a void, but rather providing opportunity for many who share his love for Warwick and public service to step forward. As it stands now, more of those potential candidates mentioned over the years have declared they aren’t running than those considering the race.

When it comes down to that race, I hope Avedisian speaks up, for he understands this city and has an opinion on what it needs. He isn’t leaving Warwick, remember that.

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Justanidiot

You don't have to be a lawyer to be attorney general.

Tuesday, May 1