BY ARDASHES “ARDY” KASSAKHIAN
As most of the political world keeps their powder dry in anticipation of the mid-term elections of 2014, there are a few races that loom just around the corner which should be front-and-center on the radar of Armenian-Americans who follow politics. Although the bulk of Armenian-American voters are relegated to very specific regions such as Southern California or New England, there is still reason to be excited about the possibilities that lie ahead.
It is often the case with most second term Presidents that there is usually a shift in leadership positions within the cabinet and other key posts. This, in turn, often leads to a political domino effect. And this is exactly what happened when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “retired” from her post and former Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry of Massachusetts was elevated from his seat in the Senate to succeed her. It seems that folks in Massachusetts have to vote for a U.S. Senator more often than they vote for their members of Congress. Massachusites have had to go to the polls to vote for a U.S. Senator in 2010, 2012, 2013, and will vote again in 2014. By comparison, in California we had a U.S. Senate election in 2012 and won’t have another until 2016 and 2018 and even those will be non-events if Senators Boxer and Feinstein decide they are able to continue doing their jobs in Washington.
But let’s focus on New England and the fallout from all of these Senate races. After Kerry’s appointment, it was inevitable that a number of local politicians would vie for the seat in the special election. And the winner turned out to be long time (and I mean LONG time) Congressman Ed Markey of the 7th Congressional District. Markey’s been a staunch supporter of proper U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide and other key Armenian issues while on the Hill where he’s been since 1976. Yes, 1976. When he was first elected to Congress, I was barely 6 months old and the price of gas was 59 cents a gallon. But who am I to judge? He has done a fine job and the people have voted to promote him to the post of junior U.S. Senator. That leaves his Congressional seat open for yet another special election. This is where the Armenian vote in Massachusetts and Armenian support nationwide can play a critical role in regional and national politics.
There are five Democrats who have declared intentions to replace Markey but the candidate who seems to have a real shot at it is Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian. A former State Representative who served in the MA Assembly for over a decade, he was handpicked by Governor Deval Patrick to serve as Sheriff of the state’s largest county (serving over a million residents). He was reelected by 77% of the vote this last November. Koutoujian is well respected and well liked and if elected, he would be the first member of Congress elected from Massachusetts of Armenian descent. This is no small achievement considering Armenians have been in Massachusetts since the early 19th century.
Koutoujian is proud of his heritage and his family has done a lot for Middlesex County. His father was City Clerk of Waltham, MA for over 30 years. Additionally, when I was enrolled in a summer executive program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government back in 2009, many of the faculty remembered Koutoujian fondly when he was completing his Master’s degree at that same institution.
Koutoujian represents the type of person our community needs – both as a role model and as a political leader. He’s intelligent, hard working and cares about the working class in America. As Sheriff he was instrumental in the cooperative efforts to capture the Boston bombing suspects and he continues to oversee one of the nation’s oldest law enforcement posts (founded in 1692). But, unfortunately, Congressional campaigns aren’t just about achievement or ability. Running for office, any office, requires votes and raising money. These two are critical to winning election and I know this from my own first hand experience. The votes are what matter but the money helps candidates reach as many voters as possible.
Now I have to admit that I’m slightly biased. As someone who was born in Boston, I happen to have a particular affinity to the individuals of Armenian descent who go on to do great things in Massachusetts. It doesn’t hurt that Koutoujian’s father held the same post in Waltham that I have been elected to here in Glendale. But putting all of that aside, it’s important for everyone to understand that Koutoujian’s campaign couldn’t come at a more critical time for Armenians as our advocacy efforts seem to face new challenges every day from pro-Turkish and Azeri interests in Washington and elsewhere. Who better to counter the thugs who bully our members in Congress than a Sheriff!
And even though there have been opportunities in the past – some that even seemed within reach like Krikorian in Ohio, Avakian in Oregon or Tarkanian in Nevada – this race is the most critical Congressional race for our community in the entire country. It’s not like there are Armenian-Americans who run for Congress every day. As we’ve seen previously, you don’t have to live in any of these states to be involved. Sure, it would be great if you could fly out to Massachusetts and campaign alongside Team Koutoujian, but save the money for that airline ticket and donate it instead. And get 3 other friends to donate as well and maybe post a message on Facebook or Twitter. Maybe you have family or friends in the district or nearby who can vote or help on the campaign. Every little bit will help.
It’s not often that we get the good fortune of having circumstances that favor our community. Most often, Armenians are playing defense on the political pitch. But when an opportunity like this come knocking on our door, we would be stupid to sit on our hands and ignore it. Let’s do our part.
For more information on the Koutoujian for Congress campaign, visit www.koutoujianforcongress.com
Next Week: The New Jersey Senate race every Armenian should be watching.
Ardashes “Ardy” Kassakhian is the elected City Clerk of Glendale. He is involved in numerous community based organizations and has been involved in many political campaigns for local, state and national office. He can be reached at AKassakhian@gmail.com.