By Nicholas Alahverdian
Since retiring from the United States Congress six years ago, Patrick J. Kennedy has made it a personal mission to change the way we look at mental health. He has reignited the discussion on modern healthcare and seems to have singlehandedly breathed new life into challenging the status quo.
“We stand on the doorstep to make momentous progress in advancing the cause of this new civil rights struggle started by the work of President Kennedy over 50 years ago.”— Patrick J. Kennedy
His father, the great US statesman Edward Kennedy, Senator from Massachusetts and brother of President John F. Kennedy, made healthcare and its quality and affordability his singular passion throughout his service in the United States Senate.
Following the senior Kennedy’s death after years of brain cancer and Patrick’s subsequent retirement from Congress, Patrick has made it his personal mission to see to it that American society has a renewed discussion about cognitive health and neuroscience.
He published “A Common Struggle” in 2015, a personal memoir of a life where he battled addiction with drugs and alcohol, some of it impacting his congressional career. The book correlates with his extensive tour of speaking engagements related to mental health and neuroscience and his initiatives to boost funding and research to these important causes.
One of the hallmarks of life in the Kennedy family is selfless service to country and fellow man. Patrick Kennedy truly embodies that spirit.
Find out more about Patrick’s work through The Kennedy Forum at https://www.thekennedyforum.org/
BY ANDREW MARANTZ
Hollybeth Runco, a blond woman in her forties, lives in a two-story Craftsman-style house on the east side of Providence, Rhode Island. On a recent Sunday afternoon, she and her husband, Tom, sat at their dining-room table with a few friends, drinking Cabernet and waiting for their guest of honor, Vincent Cianci, Jr., who is known by his nickname, Buddy.
“When we moved here, ten years ago, all I heard was Buddy jokes,” Tom said.
Susan Teeden-Cielo, a friend from the neighborhood, said, “When Hollybeth announced this, she got a lot of hate just for giving Buddy the time of day.” (Responding to Runco’s invitation, one neighbor wrote, “This waste of skin is a cancer to Providence.”)
“People think he’s a stain on the city, and they are worried that he’s slick enough to make people forget what he’s done,” Tom said.
Cianci was the mayor of Providence from 1975 to 1984, and again from 1991 to 2002. (Philip Gourevitch wrote about Cianci for The New Yorker in 2002.) He is the most influential figure in the city’s modern history, and many people credit him with bringing economic life to what was once a post-industrial backwater. He is also a convicted felon who is something of a local joke.
Though he left prison seven years ago, stores still sell T-shirts that say “Free Buddy”; his face is on the label of a popular brand of pasta sauce, Mayor’s Own Marinara. He also hosts a call-in radio show, which he describes as “lucrative.” Improbably, he is running for a seventh term, as an independent. Even more improbably, he has a decent chance of winning: a recent poll has him six points in the lead. He seems to belong to a special class of zombie politicians—Marion Barry, Eliot Spitzer—who can be embarrassed by scandal but not shamed into silence.
Runco, a former engineer, is now a homemaker. She has two children, one of whom has special needs. A few weeks ago, she heard a rumor that the public schools would be cutting back on special-education services. She called the school board and met with the current mayor, but their answers were not satisfactory.
“Finally, I found the name of Buddy’s campaign manager and cold-called her. She was on my couch the next day,” Runco said. Cianci offered to attend an informal meeting about the issue, and Runco invited a dozen friends. “Some are skeptical, some are haters, some are agnostic,” she said. “I don’t think anyone is ready to say they’re a supporter, including myself.”
A Lincoln Town Car pulled up, and Cianci climbed the stairs to the house, a bit unsteadily. He was once cannonball-shaped, with a charging gait and a voluminous toupee. Now, at seventy-three, he is thinner, slower, and openly bald. He wore khakis, a buttoned blazer, and thick glasses that magnified puppy-dog eyes. “I’m mostly here to listen,” he said, before talking for fifteen minutes.
“The city has changed, but not really,” he said, sitting at the dining-room table. “The biggest thing this time around is the technology. We hired a company that breaks down voters and their behavior—you know, people who like baseball are more likely to vote for me, that kind of thing. It’s remarkable how much privacy we’ve given up in this country.” Noticing that he had his back to some of the guests, he turned and said, “My apologies, ladies. I’m not used to doing theatre in the round.”
Runco, seated across from Cianci, said, “I’m going to sit right here, because I’m partially deaf and I read lips. It’s not that I want to make out with you.”
“Good,” Cianci said. “I’ve got enough problems.”
In 1984, Cianci’s first term was interrupted when he was found guilty of assaulting a man who was dating his ex-wife. In 2002, after undercover federal agents recorded hundreds of conversations in City Hall, Cianci was indicted on twenty-nine charges of corruption. He told the group at Runco’s house, “I was found not guilty of the RICO”—crimes defined by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act—“but was found guilty of conspiracy to commit RICO. Go figure.” He served a four-and-a-half-year prison term but still professes his innocence, preferring to speak vaguely of “regrets.” “I gave a speech and some kid sits in the front row and says, ‘What would you have changed in your life?’ Being a smart-ass, I said, ‘The verdict.’ ”
Runco and her guests voiced their concerns. Kirsten Murphy said, “My son can see our elementary school from his window, but the city told us that they would allocate funds to bus him to another school.”
“That’s just stupid!” Cianci said.
“What’s your plan for busing?” Runco asked.
“Look, I was mayor when we were going through voluntary desegregation,” he said. “I know I don’t look that old, but I am. But now you have to revert to neighborhood autonomy.” He added, “My good friend Richie Daley, in Chicago, he’s done a pretty decent job with the schools out there.” (Daley, Chicago’s former mayor, survived several scandals.)
Cianci took a call on his iPhone—it had something to do with an upcoming city-council vote. As he talked, he took a bite of one of the meatballs Teeden-Cielo had put out, and made an A-O.K. hand gesture.
He hung up the phone. “I want to talk about the story of American cities,” he said. “I made a decision years ago not to knock down our historic buildings. That was the big thing back then—knock ’em down, build something new. I don’t want to name names, but New Haven and Hartford did that.” He continued, “People ask other questions—whether we should invade Iraq and all that. That’s not me. I pick the garbage up.”
“I don’t know if this is too personal, but I have to ask,” Kira Greene said. “In the past, obviously, things didn’t always go the way you wanted them to go. I don’t know how to phrase it, but—could you be a better mayor because you made mistakes?”
“Oh, absolutely,” Cianci said. “In hindsight, if I want to be honest, I wouldn’t have voted for myself in 1974. It took a few years to get running. But I had a lot of vitality and devotion to the city, and that hasn’t diminished at all. They ask me, ‘Isn’t it a shame for you to run again?’ I’m not the problem. The city is in debt, failing schools—that’s the shame.”
He stood up. “Hey, listen, I talked too much—that’s been my trouble my whole life—but I really enjoyed it.”
After showing him out, Runco said, “I think it was less about deciding ‘I’m definitely voting for him’ and more just about getting comfortable with the idea.”
“It’s harder to hate someone when they’re sitting right in front of you,” Tom said. He had been in the anyone-but-Buddy camp, but he was reconsidering. “Our friends warned us not to get taken in: ‘He puts on a good show, but don’t believe a word he says.’ Well, unless you hook him up to a polygraph, I guess it’s impossible to know.”
President Barack Obama will ask Congress to quickly authorize the arming and training of Syrian opposition forces but will press forward without formal sign-off from lawmakers on a broader military and political effort to combat militants in Syria and Iraq, administration officials said Tuesday.
Obama was to outline his plans Wednesday in a rare prime-time address to the nation, a format that underscores the seriousness of the threat posed by the Islamic State militants. The president’s broader strategy could include more wide-ranging airstrikes against targets in Iraq and possibly in Syria, and hinges on military and political commitments from allies in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere.
Ahead of his address, the president huddled with congressional leaders at the White House. Following the hourlong discussion, the White House said Obama told lawmakers that he “has the authority he needs to take action” against the Islamic State militants but would still welcome action from Congress that would “aid the overall effort and demonstrate to the world that the United States is united in defeating the threat.”
Even before Obama’s meeting with Senate and House leaders Tuesday, some lawmakers suggested a congressional vote on the president’s plans was unlikely before the midterm elections in November.
“As a practical matter, I don’t really see the time that it would take to really get this out and have a full debate and discuss all the issues,” said Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
For Obama, a sustained U.S. intervention in the Middle East is at odds with the vision he had for the region when he ran for president on a pledge to end the war in Iraq, where the role of American fighting forces drew to a close nearly three years ago. The timing of his announcement Wednesday night was all the more striking, with Obama’s address to the nation scheduled just hours before anniversary commemorations of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Among the president’s most urgent priorities will be seeking authorization from Congress to arm more moderate elements of the opposition fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad. The president asked lawmakers earlier this year for a $500 million train-and-equip program, but the plan stalled on Capitol Hill.
With Obama ruling out sending U.S. ground troops into combat in Iraq or Syria, bolstering the capacity of the Iraqi security forces and Syrian opposition will be crucial to efforts to root out the militant group that has moved freely across the blurred border between the two countries. U.S. airstrikes could help give the forces in both countries the space to make gains against the Islamic State.
Administration officials said Obama sees a congressional authorization for a Syrian train-and-equip message as sending a strong signal to allies who are considering similar efforts. Secretary of State John Kerry was traveling to the region for discussions in Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
On Capitol Hill, there was little consensus on the scope of Obama’s authorities. While some lawmakers said the president has the authority he needs under the Constitution, others were seeking a more central congressional role in the effort.
Powered by the top-spending campaign, state Treasurer Gina Raimondo scored a decisive Democratic gubernatorial victory over her two main rivals Tuesday, in a campaign dominated by debate about Rhode Island’s long-suffering economy and the pension overhaul spearheaded by Raimondo in 2011.
Unofficial returns showed Raimondo with 42 percent of the vote, compared with 29 percent for Angel Taveras, and 27 percent for Clay Pell.
Raimondo, 43, used her victory speech at the Met, a music club in Pawtucket, to vow to put Rhode Islanders back to work.
In the GOP gubernatorial primary, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung scored a solid victory over challenger Ken Block, 55 percent to 45 percent.
The scene for Raimondo’s campaign-watch was part of the Hope Artiste Village complex where she launched her campaign in January, and her campaign reprised the sound of Canned Heat’s “Let’s Work Together.” The song reflected her move to the left, to cobble together a winning Democratic primary coalition (backing such measures as driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants).
While Raimondo touted her regular credentials as “Gina from Smithfield” during the campaign, the Yale- and Oxford-educated former venture capitalist has built a national reputation since bursting on Rhode Island’s political scene by winning the race for treasurer in 2010.
She moved quickly and steadily to shape the battlefield over a sweeping pension overhaul the next year; as a result, opposing the reform in the General Assembly took on a higher perceived political cost, and the measure passed overwhelmingly before being signed into law by Gov. Lincoln Chafee.
Critics seized on the pension overhaul — and revelations about tens of millions in fees paid for hedge fund investments backed by Raimondo — to charge that she was more responsive to Wall Street than to struggling Rhode Islanders.
Taveras, the well-liked mayor of Providence, took up the theme in his campaign by touting himself as the candidate of working families. Raimondo responded by saying she would be a governor for all Rhode Islanders, bringing a more muscular focus to overcoming the state’s persistently high unemployment and other chronic problems.
During her 25-minute campaign announcement in January, Raimondo compared her petite frame with Rhode Island’s distinction as the smallest of the 50 states.
“Usually when people meet me for the first time, they say, ‘Oh, I thought you’d be bigger.’ But the truth is, it’s because we are small that we can do things that have never been done before,” Raimondo said. “But we have to start by thinking bigger and bolder, and it’s time to change the tone at the top. We need a tone at the top — a governor with a tone of urgency and focus and possibility as we turn this economy around.”
Taveras remained in contention in late August, when a Providence Journal-WPRI poll showed him with 27 percent of the support, compared with 32 percent for Raimondo — a disparity barely larger than the margin of error.
Yet the surprising entry into the race earlier this year of Clay Pell, the grandson of the late Democratic Sen. Claiborne Pell, scrambled the dynamic and wound up cutting sharply into the support for Taveras.
Since winning election as mayor of Providence in 2010, the former Housing Court judge emerged with the most consistently high approval ratings in a series of polls. But Taveras (who raised more than $2 million) lagged in fundraising behind Pell (who loaned himself $3.4 million), and Raimondo, an adept fundraiser who brought in more than $4 million just since April. A union coalition rallied behind Taveras, but that wasn’t nearly enough to salvage his campaign.
Raimondo will face Cranston Mayor Allan Fung in the November election.
Fung beat Barrington businessman Ken Block, who in his concession speech, reminded the room of supporters that his campaign offered solutions to the problems facing Rhode Island.
“We did not receive the support of the majority of Republican primary voters today,” said Block. “But that does not mean that we just simply go home and stop caring, because I am looking out at a large group of people who care.”
Unofficial results show Fung beating Block 55 percent to 45 percent.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — United States District Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. approved the creation of The Nicholas Edward Alahverdian Trust earlier today, paving the way for an improved quality of life for Rhode Island’s children and adolescents in the care of the Department of Children, Youth and Families. Continue reading Steve Klamkin and the WPRO Morning News – Nicholas Edward Alahverdian Trust Coverage
A survivor tells the story of kid dumping
By Bob Kerr
24 November 2002
The Providence Journal
© 2002 Providence Journal/Evening Bulletin. All Rights Reserved.
As Nicholas Alahverdian and I talked, he took in the view of the Rhode Island State House from The Journal cafeteria.
“You don’t know how much I love going in that building,” he says.
Alahverdian loves the excitement of it, the reporters and the politicians. He’s been part of it. He’s worked for his state representative. He’s testified at hearings.
He wants to be a politician. And a lawyer. And a journalist.
Don’t bet against him hitting the career trifecta. He’s already been tested in ways few of us will ever know.
“I don’t think I’ve been harmed at all,” Nicholas Alahverdian says. “I think it’s all part of a plan that’s been assigned to me for upcoming events.”
He talks about the dark, uncertain part of his life as “boot camp.” It has taught him things and prepared him.
He’s 15, smart and articulate and almost painfully polite. He introduces himself with a handshake. He even said it was an honor to meet some of the people here at The Journal. He reads the newspaper. When he opens his backpack, a copy of David McCulloch’s biography of John Adams is the first thing he takes out.
He speaks from the other side of a lot of hard, cold statistics. He’s a kid caught in a cruel social shuffle that has left him with a heavy load of uncertainty when he desperately needs something solid and reliable.
His insistence on being all that he can be is remarkable.
After we talked Thursday afternoon, Nicholas Alahverdian headed for the bus stop and a ride to his latest group home in Providence.
At a time when he should have no concerns more pressing than homework and maybe the girl who sits two rows over in his Spanish class, he is forced to live his life in bits and pieces, never knowing how long he will be living or going to school in the same place.
There was a point in Nick’s nomadic life, when the Rhode Island social service system put him in a foster home in North Smithfield. It was probably the best experience he’s had, the closest he’s come to his ideal of home and family.
“I can’t tell you how loving this family was – how they accepted me into their home. They were so caring.”
He stayed there for two days. That’s all he was scheduled for. Then he went home to his real family for the Christmas holidays at the end of 1999.
Then he returned to a shelter in Woonsocket.
“It was decent for someone my age,” he says of the shelter. “There were caring people there. There were activities set up for us each night.”
As we talk, he sorts through a stack of notes he’s taken on his life so far. There are also copies of school grades and newspaper stories I wrote about his stepfather, a popular local performer.
It is amazing how matter-of-fact he is about it, as if every 15-year-old goes through this kind of jolting, disjointed life in which faceless people are making the calls on where he will live and where he will learn. He sorts through his papers, tells his stories and provides a stunning personal voice for all the stories about kids in Rhode Island who get moved around like pieces on a real-life board game.
He has been in night-to-night placement under the Department of Children Youth and Families (DCYF). It is often little more than a couch to sleep on for the night, followed by a day of wondering where the next couch will be.
“It’s scary ridiculously scary,” he says. “There are punks in there, they took my sneakers, my clothing. I was threatened, assaulted. I saw kids hit each other with hockey sticks.
“You wake up in the morning at 5:30 and you go the DCYF building and wait to see where you’re going to go the next night.
“You’re not in school and I love school. You’re not associating with friends. You’re not treated decently. And how can your parents know where you are?”
In one sense, he knows it has to be this way. In another, he rails against the injustice of it and the self-defeating madness of dumping kids in often strange and frightening places.
The list of his stops on what seems a journey with no real destination is daunting. It winds through Coventry, Woonsocket, North Providence, Cranston, Providence, Narragansett and points in between.
Nicholas Alahverdian has been to a bunch of schools, some of which insulted his intelligence with course work and materials geared to children 5 or 6 years younger. He remembers being assigned the book The Pokey Little Puppy when it seemed like something from his distant past.
He once addressed the Cranston School Committee on how he felt he was being unfairly judged on his past in his classroom assignment.
Now, he is attending Hope High School where he’s on the debate team. He’s living in a group home in Providence which he considers one of the better ones he’s been in.
“It’s like a challenge at Hope,” he says, “a challenge to help yourself learn.”
And through it all, he remains this delightful survivor who seems to have held on to a real sense of who he is and what he wants to be, despite the efforts of the state of Rhode Island to keep him forever on the move.
There is a great temptation to listen to his story and thoroughly enjoy his company and then ask him something like “How the hell have you gotten through all this with so much hope and determination?”
We’ll hear from him somewhere down the road. He says all that training he received in his own personal “boot camp” has gotten him ready. It’s gotten him ready for war.
“It’s a war with people who are trying to destroy kids’ lives,” says my new friend Nick.