By an overwhelming margin, Raymond LaPorte was elected to the Tisbury board of selectmen Tuesday. He welcomes the challenge and speaks confidently, not arrogantly, about the role he looks forward to playing in the highest elected position he has ever held on the Island. His strength stems in part from his years of volunteer work and his active lifestyle.
Mr. LaPorte moved to the Island in 1987 and has been involved in local government ever since. That's not an unfamiliar role for Mr. LaPorte, who first experienced the political realm working as an LBJ Fellow legislative aide to Paul E. Tsongas, then serving in the United States Congress.
At 28, Mr. LaPorte, who was born in Lowell, returned to his home town and became director of the United States Department of Interior for the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission. For one of his last projects in Lowell, he was involved in the establishment of Kerouac Park, a memorial for the great American beat writer Jack Kerouac, a Lowell native. Mr. LaPorte remembers walking down the streets of Lowell one day at the age of 16 and seeing a funeral procession. He walked into his father's pharmacy store and asked him what was going on. His father replied that Jack Kerouac had died.
Mr. LaPorte moved to the Island and began work as a loan officer for Plymouth Savings Bank of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket; in 1994 he became a financial advisor at Advest Inc. in Vineyard Haven, a position he holds today.
He has never been too busy for volunteer work, and his care for others is apparent in any conversation, sometimes in the form of simple health advice. He served as president of the Martha's Vineyard Boys' and Girls' Club for nine years and afterwards as member of the board. The Martha's Vineyard Cerebral Palsy Camp has had him on their board since 1988.
His new office will require more of his time, and he addressed this issue in his conversation with the Gazette this week. "I am going to relinquish all my other volunteer responsibilities with the exception of my Little Brother, an 11-year-old, who is near and dear to me. I am going to try to focus my energy on those things that I can make a difference and try to manage my time appropriately so I am not sacrificing my work. I expect to be working about 15 hours a week. My golf game can't suffer anymore, so that will be the first to go."
Politically, Mr. LaPorte has held positions on five boards or committees, the latest being chairman of the town administrator search committee and a member of the Tisbury personnel board since 1997. Mr. LaPorte will resign from the personnel board now that he's been elected selectman.
Mr. LaPorte celebrated his victory this week in addition to his 50th birthday on Wednesday; he has no plans to slow down. "I am a huge cyclist. I cycle early in the morning at 5:30 with a couple of clients. That's my big passion in the summertime. I put on 3,000 miles in the summer. I ride for a big benefit called the Pan-Mass Challenge, for the Jimmy Fund. I have a team I ride with and I practice out here on the Vineyard." The challenge is the largest fundraising event for the organization, a 200-mile ride from Sturbridge to Provincetown during the first week in August. He also kayaks and does a lot of downhill skiing in the winter in New Hampshire. On a windy day, one may see him in a Hobie Cat, "power sailing across the water on a wet ride."
Mr. LaPorte keeps his mind sharp with his constant reading, usually two books at a time, one fiction and another nonfiction. Somewhere at his home where he lives with his wife, Bernadette, is the copy of the novel he is reading now, David McCullough's John Adams. Mr. LaPorte looks forward to hearing the author speak at the Tabernacle in July.
Mr. LaPorte has begun serving the remaining two-year term of Edmond Coogan, who died earlier this year. He is focusing on initiating himself into the role one step at a time. "One of the most important issues first off is to develop a healthy working relationship with the other two selectmen and to develop a unified approach and voice to major issues that affect Tisbury," he said.
By working on the personnel board, Mr. LaPorte said, he has developed a relationship with the town employees, and he has confidence in their talents for operating town government. "In the old days, selectmen actually were managing town affairs on a day-to-day basis. Now the professional staff does that more and should do that more. I am strongly advocating that the role of selectmen be primarily policy makers and agenda setters and letting the managers, professionals, town planners and employees manage the day-to-day operation."
Mr. LaPorte believes he has a history of being open-minded and allowing open communication with everyone involved on particular issues, creating effective discussions. "One of the biggest issues involves the healing of the relationship that's faltered with the Steamship Authority, and other towns' selectmen. I want to improve our relationship there."
One particular interest Mr. LaPorte has is the implementation of the new sewer system, which is part of the Tisbury wastewater management program, something he calls the "little dig." "I want to watch vigilantly the implementation of the new sewer system to ensure it doesn't adversely affect local businesses," he said.
Mr. LaPorte has always considered running for selectman at some point; unfortunately his time came with the passing of his friend Mr. Coogan, who possessed many qualities Mr. LaPorte admired.
After he was sworn in, Mr. LaPorte had a heartfelt conversation with Mr. Coogan's wife, Liza. Recounting that moment, he had to excuse himself and fight back tears. One quality Mr. Coogan possessed, while acting as chairman of the board, was exemplary leadership. Mr. LaPorte remembered one of his methods for leading discussion toward a goal. "Ed had a great method of raising his right hand - not quite going to a T for time-out, but more of a traffic signal. It worked well for him, and I might use it."