Ron DiOrio knew he faced a big challenge when he ran for a seat on the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen.

In addition to running against three candidates with considerably more experience in town politics, Mr. DiOrio was a relative newcomer to the Oak Bluffs scene.

Although he rented a summer home in town beginning in the 1960s before buying a home and moving here full time in 1994, to many lifelong Oak Bluffs resident, Mr. DiOrio was still considered a Johnny-come-lately or what some call a wash-ashore.


Mr. DiOrio, 66, wasn't politically connected. He had never run for political office in Oak Bluffs. He didn't attend many selectmen meetings, and for the most part, was unfamiliar with the town's political landscape. But he felt strongly that the people of Oak Bluffs wanted a forward-thinking selectman with new ideas.

He knew not being a native Islander would be a disadvantage - especially in this blue-collar town - but he played the hand he was dealt. Mr. DiOrio has never backed down from a fight in his life, and he wasn't about to start now.

When Mr. DiOrio won the election on Tuesday this week - beating out three other candidates, including political veteran and former selectman Herbert A. Combra Jr., who trailed him by 66 votes - there were a lot of surprised people in Oak Bluffs.

But Mr. DiOrio was not one of them.

"I think people were ready for a change. And in this case, I don't think it hurt me that I wasn't born and raised here in Oak Bluffs. I don't think the people were focused on that," he said.

In an interview with the Gazette on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. DiOrio talked about his outlook, his life and his goals for serving as selectman.

He boasted about his two children, his 39-year-old daughter who works as an attorney, and his 38-year-old son who works as a club manager. He talked about his relationship with Paula Cantenese, whom he met on the Island almost ten years ago after going through a divorce, and about their business adventures running Craftworks, a contemporary American craft gallery on Circuit avenue.

But most of all, he talked about his dedication to his adopted home town of Oak Bluffs.

"From the moment I first came here, I knew that I loved this place. It's an honor now to have the opportunity to give back to this great community," he said.

When he first rented a cottage in Oak Bluffs, "in either the summer of 1968 or 1969," the rent was $250 a week - a hefty sum for a teacher from Rhode Island.


In the early 1970s, he was elected president of the Rhode Island Education Association, a position he kept until 1985, when he took a job as the director of policy in the Rhode Island governor's office. In 1990, he took a job in Washington D.C. working for a joint-labor management company that focused on establishing training and education funds for employees.

When he moved to the Island full-time in 1994, he took a job working for Budget Rent-A-Car, starting as a rental agent before being promoted to the Island manager of operations. In 1998, he took a job back in Rhode Island working for United Nurses and Allied Professional Labor Union, commuting back and forth to the Island.

Although he remained in the job until 2002, it took its toll.

"I just got the point where I realized where I wanted to be, and it wasn't in Rhode Island or on the boat going back and forth to Rhode Island. It was in Oak Bluffs, close to my home, and close to Paula," he said.

Although helping to run Craftworks is now his full-time job, it is only one of his many endeavours. He is also the president of the Martha's Vineyard chapter of Habitat for humanity - and of course now the freshman Oak Bluffs selectman.

He says he likes to stay busy.

"It's just in my nature to keep myself occupied. I don't think I will ever truly retire. If I stay idle I grow a little crazy," he said, adding: "I was always taught you should spend one-third of your life getting educated, one-third of your life making money, and one-third of your life giving back to the community."

As a young teacher in Rhode Island, Mr. DiOrio volunteered for a training through placement program that taught young adults with developmental disabilities how to find jobs. He stayed involved in that program for close to 20 years.

When he moved to Washington D.C., suicide was a big issue in the city at the time. Mr. DiOrio again felt compelled to help, and joined the local chapter of the Samaritans.

He followed a similar pattern when he moved to the Island in 1994. He wanted to get involved in an issue that resonated on the Vineyard, and realized he could do the most good working on the affordable housing problem.

Mr. DiOrio joined a group of volunteers to start a chapter of Habitat for Humanity, a grass-roots organization that has built more than 175,000 homes around the world.

Since 2002 the group has built six homes for deserving Island families.

Mr. DiOrio is an interesting mix of affability, intellect and political savvy. He can switch gears mid-conversation on the drop of a dime, describing the inner workings of labor relations one second, and venting his frustration with prejudice the next. Recounting a story of a recent customer at Craftworks who made a racially insensitive remark, fire flickers in his eyes.

"You don't say something that stupid to anyone. I don't know how anyone can be that small-minded. Its just stupid behavior," he said.

Except, he didn't use the word stupid. Mr. DiOrio is capable of punctuating his points with a choice expletive while off the record, a skill no doubt honed somewhere between the governor's office and his work for teacher and labor unions.

Ms. Catanese, walking outside to kiss Mr. DiOrio goodbye, picks up on the story.

"We don't put up with the sort of talk around here," she said, explaining that she promptly asked the customer to leave after the remark was made.

Mr. DiOrio said he has learned one valuable life lesson: treat everyone the same. He feels that government in this country needs to do more to help the less fortunate and bridge the gap between the upper and middle classes.

"The poor get screwed in this country. There are millions of people who will never have the chance to own their own home just because they got behind on their bills. Of course, you see a lot of that here on the Island," Mr. DiOrio said.

But he doesn't believe that solving the affordable housing problem is impossible, just like he never believed that someone who wasn't born and raised in Oak Bluffs could win a seat on its board of selectmen.

When he campaigned for selectmen, he said people responded to his ideas and fed off his optimism. He didn't just go through the motions, saying the same things as the other candidates, he instead asked residents how they felt the town could be better. He said people connected with his honesty and candor.

"I don't really have a system or an agenda. I'm like an open book. What you see is what you get," he said.