Hundreds show up to support Shekarchi

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Some of Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi’s supporters thought he might be up against the Super Bowl. Would many of those thinking of attending his $150 a ticket fundraiser at the Crowne Plaza Thursday night already be in Minneapolis?

Indeed, Aram Garabedian, managing partner of Warwick Mall, would have attended, but, as his son Gary said, there was no way he was going to miss his 31st consecutive Super Bowl, not even for Shekarchi.

More than 400 people were not going to miss what turned out to be the social political event of the year. Shekarchi, majority leader of the House of Representatives, says he’s happy where he is and plans to seek reelection. So far, no one has announced they would also seek the Warwick seat and, if there was any intrigue into his political plans, it was what he is going to do with all the money he has raised. Shekarchi had $702,685 in his campaign war chest as of Dec. 31, 2017.

Such reserves could easily make him a formidable statewide candidate, an observation made by many who stood shoulder to shoulder nibbling on canapés presented on sliver platters by servers who squeezed through the crowd while others filled plates from stations where chefs carved roast beef and cooked to-order pasta dishes.

The audience was a mix of Rhode Island’s political hierarchy from both political parties on the state and city level, business and labor leaders, state officials and just Shekarchi fans like attorney John Carroll. Carroll has known Shekarchi for 20 to 30 years. The two have worked together on a number of legal cases, he said. Shekarchi is a fellow lawyer.

Carroll described Shekarchi as “honest, straightforward, genuine and loyal…he’s no nonsense. If something has merit he aggressively pursues it.”

Peggy Forbes, chief assistant to the director of legislative counsel, who likely knew most of the people in the room, looked amazed.

“This is an awesome turnout for a great guy,” she said.

“Genuine” is the word Tony Simon, former Senator Sheldon Whitehouse aide and chief of staff for Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza who now works as a private political consultant, used to describe Shekarchi, but in a different context.

“People have a genuine affection for him,” said Simon.

What might Shekarchi run for, Simon was asked.

“I think Joe has a lot of potential to do a lot of things,” said Simon without suggesting a particular office. As for the money Shekarchi has amassed, Simon saw it as the sign of “a good candidate.”

The line to the reception extended down the hotel corridor. Shekarchi, leaning over at a small round table, greeted people at the door. Governor Gina Raimondo and U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse were among those waiting to speak with the man of the hour. Shekarchi served as Raimondo’s campaign manager in her first bid for public office when she ran for general treasurer. In the 2016 election, Shekarchi was the manager of the coordinated campaign where Democrats swept all eight statewide seats.

Former Republican West Warwick Mayor Michael Levesque wouldn’t be surprised if Shekarchi chose to run for another office, whether statewide or as mayor of Warwick someday. He labeled Shekarchi as “the most responsive elected leader in Rhode Island.”

City Council President Joseph Solomon said he has watched as Shekarchi matured into “a very well respected official.” He said Shekarchi is there for those who need assistance.

What does he see in Shekarchi’s political future?

“I think Joe can run for whatever Joe wants,” said Solomon, adding that that is up to Shekarchi to decide.

Patrick Quinn, Executive V.P. of SEIU 1199NE, who has worked with Shekarchi on issues concerning hospital and nursing home funding, likewise used “genuine” to Shekarchi.

“What you see is what you get…he makes time for you,” he said.

That’s an attribute that appeals to Donald Morash, chair of the Warwick Zoning Board of Review and a Warwick Republican Party leader. Shekarchi has appeared often before the board on behalf of developers.

Asked about his own party affiliation and supporting a Democrat, Morash said politics didn’t play into his decision to attend the fundraiser – it was to be there for Shekarchi.

Developer Ron Caniglia, president of the Stand Corporation, said Shekarchi listens and knows the issues. He said Shekarchi is good at identifying the “stumbling blocks and getting around them.”

Shekarchi said Friday he was humbled by the turnout and reiterated he has no plans but to seek reelection. Perhaps that’s one reason why so many people turned out.

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