Last Republican standing

Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian is a rare bright spot for the RI GOP
By IAN DONNIS  |  March 7, 2007

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MR. PATIENT: While some other pols have crashed and burned, Avedisian has bided his time, using Warwick’s relative prosperity to pursue health-care and environmental initiatives.

Last year, during one of Rhode Island’s most frenzied campaign seasons in recent memory, Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian made a very smart decision by standing pat.
 
Around the state, the results for the Ocean State’s tiny GOP resembled a battlefield littered with bloody bodies: US Senator Lincoln Chafee, the heir to a dying tradition of Republican moderation, fell victim to a big Democratic year; Steve Laffey, the great conservatives hope, crashed on the shoals of his own ambition; Republicans failed to gain an inch, both in general offices and in the legislature; and even Governor Donald L. Carcieri, who cruised into office in 2002, barely survived a surprisingly close contest with Democrat Charles Fogarty.
 
Warwick wasn’t entirely apart from these trends — its city council went entirely Democratic. Yet Avedisian, who claimed almost 70 percent of the vote while easily turning back a challenge by Democrat Donald Torres, was the most prominent Rhode Island Republican to emerge unscathed from the wreckage of November 2006.
 
The moderate 42-year-old mayor’s easygoing demeanor makes it easy to overlook his lengthy political resume. After cutting his teeth by serving as a Senate page to John Chafee, Avedisian was a legislative aide in the Rhode Island Senate; deputy campaign manager for Lincoln Almond; a member of Almond’s staff; an administrator in the state Department of Human Services; and, in 2005, he was chosen by the Aspen Institute in an inaugural class of bipartisan elected officials focused on reclaiming the center of American politics.
 
Considering this longtime civic immersion, it’s striking that Avedisian, now 42, became the youngest mayor in Warwick’s history when he won a five-way special election in February 2000, a few months after Almond tabbed Linc Chafee to succeed his late father in the US Senate. In the time since, Avedisian has proved a local political powerhouse, steadily winning election by large margins, with a majority of every ward and each polling station in the state’s vote-rich second-largest city.
 
While Avedisian’s patience may be unusual — his seeking of a fifth mayoral term offered a sharp contrast from Democrat Matt Brown, who began running for the Senate practically from the time when he won his first election, as secretary of state, in 2002 —  it has only strengthened his prospects.
 
Political junkies have been intrigued by the prospect of a Chafee-Laffey rematch, for governor, in 2010. Another school of thought believes, though, that Chafee, now ensconced at Brown University’s Watson Institute, may be more inclined to run for the Providence mayor’s office, potentially clearing Avedisian’s way as the gubernatorial choice of GOP moderates. (Regardless of what happens, Chafee and Avedisian flatly say they will not compete against each other.) What Laffey will do in three years, meanwhile, remains anyone’s guess.
 
Asked about 2010, Chafee says he thinks Avedisian will “probably run for governor.” The former senator adds, “I do think he’d like to work in Washington, but a Republican pretty much needs an open seat [to win a congressional office].” Chafee says he is “not, at this stage,” planning a gubernatorial run, and he demurs when asked about a mayoral campaign. Referring to Avedisian, Chafee says, “At this stage, I’d encourage him to think about [running for] governor.”
 
Avedisian is keeping his options open. It’s not inconceivable, he says, that he will continue to seek the mayor’s office in Warwick, although the possibility of being governor “does appeal to me. It would interest me. It would be something that I would have to consider.”
 
How he would fare against a well-funded conservative challenger, like Laffey, in a GOP gubernatorial primary remains open to question. Yet Avedisian has succeeded in building a strong foundation for his next move, even if he needs to develop his war chest. As one close observer of Rhode Island politics says, “The good thing about Scott, everyone likes him — Democrats, Republicans, independents. Everyone seems to have nice things to say about him.”
 
The downside of this bonhomie, as Avedisian freely concedes, is how he is very chummy with many of his would-be Democratic rivals. Last year, for example, he decided not to run for lieutenant governor, even though he could have formed a potent ticket with Carcieri. Avedisian denies that his friendship with Elizabeth Roberts, the Democrat who won the lieutenant governor’s seat, was the deciding factor, but he says, “Elizabeth and I would never run against one another.”

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