Metro

Alums among R.I. leaders and candidates in the Ocean State

Diversity and academic rigor of University cited as valuable qualities for alums seeking office

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, October 16, 2014

As the 2014 election season ramps up, a number of Brown alums vying for office are demonstrating that Rhode Island captured their hearts and interests during their time on College Hill. Alums running to assume new positions include Seth Magaziner ’06 for Rhode Island general treasurer, Daniel Harrop ’76 MD’79 for Providence mayor and Aaron Regunberg ’12 for state representative.

They hope to join the ranks of numerous Brown alums who already hold office in the state, such as Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 P’17 and state Sen. Louis DiPalma ScM’89, D-Little Compton, Middletown, Newport and Tiverton.

Four of these alums — Chafee, Magaziner, Harrop and DiPalma — spoke with The Herald to reflect on their time at Brown and how it influenced their political paths.

 

Chafee

“In the seventies, it seemed the whole campus was following what was happening” in national politics, Chafee said. Though Chafee, a classics concentrator, said his four years undoubtedly coincided with “a politically involved time” on campuses across the country, his collegiate period was not the first time he experienced a political atmosphere.

“I’ve been around (politics) since I was very young,” he said, adding that his father — whose public service record included time as Rhode Island’s governor, U.S. Secretary of the Navy and a U.S. senator from Rhode Island — was an important influence during his childhood.

In terms of influences gained at Brown, “being exposed to such a diverse student body from all over the world” was one of the most valuable aspects of his time here, Chafee said.

And Brown has also influenced the way others perceive him, he said, adding that other politicians, particularly those in Rhode Island, recognize a certain level of prestige associated with having attend the school.

A Democrat since 2013, Chafee was a Republican during his time at Brown and until 2007, when he became an independent. Though Chafee said he acknowledges that Republicans have always been a minority in the state, he never felt hostility from his peers on campus. He recalled President Richard Nixon’s efforts to reach out to China and his creation of the Environmental Protection Agency — “there was enough good there that you could even defend him,” Chafee said.

 

Magaziner

Magaziner, on the other hand, embraced the liberal-leaning campus. The current Democratic candidate for R.I. treasurer was president of the Brown Democrats in academic year 2004-2005, a tenure he said “served as my introduction to Rhode Island politics.” He described the experience as both eye-opening and inspirational, witnessing firsthand that “even as 19-year-old college students, we were able to make a difference with what was going on at the Statehouse.”

Upon graduating from Brown, Magaziner said, he worked as an elementary school teacher in rural Louisiana before earning his master’s degree in business administration from Yale. “I think great leaders come from all different kinds of backgrounds,” Magaziner said, adding that his time at Brown exposed him to a very diverse group of people.

He was drawn to the position of treasurer because he believes there is a lot the office can do to “get the state back on track,” he said.

Magaziner currently leads Independent opponent Ernie Almonte in the race by 13 percentage points, according to Tuesday’s WPRI/Providence Journal poll.

 

Harrop

“I’m a little unusual for a politician,” said Harrop, who is currently running as the Republican candidate for Providence mayor, adding that he was not involved with political groups on campus during his time in the Program in Liberal Medical Education.

He has always considered himself to be “relatively conservative … not exactly the usual at Brown,” he said.“I describe myself as the last of the Rockefeller Republicans.”

After graduating with a degree in medicine, Harrop did not immediately become active in state politics. But in 2004, after “dabbling in politics,” Harrop decided that he would run against Edith Ajello, D-Providence, for the position of state representative for Rhode Island’s third district.

“I got slaughtered, but it was fun,” Harrop said. “I enjoyed it.” Ajello — who has been serving in the Rhode Island House of Representatives since 1992 — continues to hold the office, though a reshuffling in the districts’ numbers means she is now the representative for the first district.

The experience of running was a unique opportunity for the psychiatrist. “It has sort of become a hobby for me,” he said, adding that he has run in several political races since then, including his current campaign for mayor.

“This is not what you expect when you run for mayor of Providence,” Harrop said of the current race. The addition of independent mayoral candidate Vincent “Buddy” Cianci — who served as mayor of Providence from 1975 to 1984 and from 1991 to 2002 — to the race has drawn national media attention, Harrop noted.

Harrop said his Brown education has earned him respect from the press, as well as suspicion from fellow Republicans.

“Brown has been an issue in the campaign,” he said.

Harrop trails behind opponents Cianci and Jorge Elorza in the race, with 6 percent of the vote to Cianci’s 38 percent and Elorza’s 32 percent, according to a September WPRI poll.

 

DiPalma

DiPalma said he was not involved with on-campus political groups during his time at Brown, where he earned his master’s degree in computer science. “It was a diverse community,” he said, adding that “Brown allows you to think differently.”

DiPalma said he has always enjoyed being involved with volunteering. Though his career — which has led to his current position as chief engineer for undersea systems at Raytheon in Portsmouth — has not been overtaken by service in public office, he said, “We all need to be able to give back to the communities we live in.”

Before becoming a state senator, DiPalma served on the Middletown Town Council for four years from 2004 to 2008, a period during which he says he realized “we could … take our representation in the statehouse to the next level” for District 12.

Topics: