Personal Essay: Why Second Warden?
I get the same question a lot: “Why are you running for Second Warden?” It’s not as easy to answer as one might think in a straightforward, concise manner.
I attended the last get-together before the election with Rep. Jim Langevin at the R.I. Yacht Club in October. I went as Second Warden of Block Island not only to wish our Congressman well in the election, but to also impress on him that Block Island sincerely appreciates what he and his staff do for us on the island. I think in my position it’s good practice, if not imperative, to keep in close contact with our representatives whenever we have the opportunity.
I got there and met Joel, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whithouse’s Director of Research. A super nice guy who wished he could make it to the island the day when the senator visited. I was quick to inform him that in the future, if he ever needed a nice trip offshore, we could easily have him come for some “research.”
Scanning the room, I spied an older man sitting alone enjoying some hors d’oeuvres. I wanted to go over and introduce myself. I realized that at one point every single person there would stop by and chat with him for a little while, leave, and then quickly be succeeded by someone else. I waited until he was alone again and went over to him. “Hi” I said, “I’m André Boudreau from Block Island” and he said, “Block Island?! What the hell are you doing here?” So I told him. Second Warden seemed like a term in government he couldn’t grasp the meaning of, so I explained. “I act as the presiding officer of the town council in the absence of the First Warden.” “Oh, oh, oh, yes,” he said, “You must forgive me, the only wardens I know are in the prison.”
“Block Island can be like a penal colony sometimes,” I replied. We had a good laugh.
He then launched into his story. He’s 82, has given his life to public service, as well as being a very successful businessman. More people stopped by and he introduced me to all of them. Then came a former Speaker of the House. They spoke of the old days when they were in the R.I. General Assembly together and being at the center of the idea of the Patriots moving to Providence. (Remember that?) They joked about running again. I had to tell the former speaker that we had actually met.
His office was at the end of my street where I grew up in Pawtucket. It still is. I was thrilled to inform him that about 40 years ago, around Halloween, I was partly responsible for the toilet paper in his trees.
The silence was deafening until the old man broke it with, “So you know the wardens at the prison then?”
I felt no small bit of excitement knowing that I had just left a seasoned, professional politician speechless, and at the same time had the tables turned on me by an even more seasoned public servant. We all laughed and the former speaker left. More people came and I excused myself so I could actually have a word with Congressman Langevin.
I then moved on to, in my mind, the other most interesting people in the room: Langevin’s interns.
I introduced myself to Mohammed, who lives in Woonsocket and is putting himself through college at the University of Rhode Island.
I said, “Okay, where can I get the best French meat pie?” He didn’t know because he is Muslim and his dad cautioned his son at an early age that that the French Canadian delicacy may contain pork, so it was off limits. He said he went to the Providence campus because Kingston was too far a drive. I quipped, “You’re such a Rhode Islander!” He politely informed me that no, it was because he was always a bit short on money, working part-time in a group home. He had $36 in his bank account and gas is expensive. No joke at all.
Then there was Alexa, also attending URI, in the political science program with a minor in social justice. She is a Rhode Island resident and chose URI over more expensive schools because the tuition there is affordable. If she decides to go to law school after she graduates, her good grades there would get her scholarships at the more expensive law schools. She waitresses in addition to her full schedule and commutes to school.
Her time with Langevin’s campaign was when it fit into her schedule. “Jim is so great. I help when I can, and do not have to commit to a certain amount of hours,” she said, “So whenever I have free time, I help out on the campaign.”
I was left thinking, “What free time?”
The event was coming to a close and as I left I couldn’t wait to get to my car so I could Google the name of the man sitting alone at that table, which turned out to be Aram Garabedian.
I found an article about him that recently ran in The Cranston Herald: I started to read…and there it was, the answer, in one simple sentence.
“The thing that always drove me was the common good, and that comes from my mother, who said I should help everybody I could… Helping the common good and making mom proud.”
It became crystal clear to me why this man was the center of attention. He’s old school Rhode Island politics. It doesn’t matter to me what went on in the trenches during his tenure in politics. It’s the story he has to tell that defines him in the time after all of that: His accomplishments that define him as a person in his older years. It was obvious to me in the short time I spent with him how proud he is of those accomplishments, the work he has done, and what he continues to do.
It’s also about the story of the interns, who could just as well be our young families who are on an affordable housing list while renting homes and having to hold down multiple jobs just to live here. Those who are starting out in their lives and are writing their story every day.
Young people struggling to pay their way through college and giving their time to an idea, and a man, they truly believe in. Young families working their asses off to call Block Island home. They, and all young people today who are serious about their future, need the wisdom and assistance from the former.
We, as elected officials, need to help everybody we can, we need to govern for the common good, and we should always strive to make our moms, and our community, proud. We must constantly be asking ourselves “In the end, will I someday be that beloved man holding court at political events or the one avoided at all costs?”
I ran to be your Second Warden and I just want you to know this is why I ran for that office. I will miss no opportunity to reach out to our state and federal officials for the betterment of our lives.
Thank you for having the confidence to put me back in Town Hall.