August 7, 2010

A Letter to Narragansett, Peace Dale and Wakefield

For as long as I can remember, I’ve cared a lot about what is fair. Whether it was standing up to the school superintendent so that my second-grade class was treated to the same end-of-year celebration as my siblings’ classes had been – or making my voice heard on local issues – I've always stood up for fairness, or challenged myself to find out more about my surroundings.
Today, I write to share that I will be a candidate for State Representative from our district in Narragansett, Peace Dale and Wakefield. You may have never received a letter like this from a candidate, but I believe that we all deserve to get to know those who ask for our vote. I’m writing this letter to share where I've come from, what challenges I've faced, what I value – and what I hope to do, with your help, when elected.
My father Luigi was born in Mola di Bari, a small fishing village in southern Italy on the Adriatic Sea. As a child, he would watch as the fishing boats went out and returned each night with squid.
My grandfather, Domenico, was a stonemason and my grandmother, Maria, was the matriarch of the family. Three generations lived together in a four-story apartment building, sharing in the work of raising families. After World War II, times were very hard for my father's family. After much discussion, my father and uncle came to the United States as teenagers to live and work with family towards a better future.
My dad was still a teenager when he joined the U.S. Marines and served overseas in Beirut and Naples. It was while stationed in Naples that he met my mom, Nancy Nielson, on base. As the daughter of a U.S. Naval officer, she had been raised mostly in San Diego, but spent her high school years in Italy with her parents, Harvey and Jacqueline Nielson.
After Dad finished the Marines, my parents came to Edison, New Jersey to live. My dad never finished high school, and worked many different jobs: bus driver, truck driver, bailiff and janitor. Times were often pretty tight.
Ours was a close knit family, partly because of my mother's very traditional upbringing, partly because of my father's old country ways, and partly because we had to pull together to get by. There was nothing to waste because there was nothing to spare. My sisters Maria and Carol, my brother Dominic, my parents and I always had a big vegetable garden and did our own canning. My mom made almost all our clothes, and dad would buy a side of beef and a whole hog from a local farm and bring it back from the butcher each autumn in neat little white packages that filled our extra freezer with food for the year.
Vacations were trips to stay with relatives and were paid for out of the year's "donations" to the big glass change jar in the corner. The only time I remember not having to scrimp and count every penny was the last day or two of vacation when we'd realize there was a little extra left. That was the one time we could have all the gelato we wanted!
I know I gained far more in my childhood than I might have missed out on. Today, many of us face hard times and diminished expectations. When we’re feeling less economically secure, these lessons I got growing up – to work hard, never waste a thing, and rely on your own initiative – are more valuable than ever.
I take these lessons into this campaign with me: to prosper as a state, we need to be more than simply thrifty; we also need to be smart with our investments.
For me, getting an education was the key long-term investment, but like so many young people today, getting my education was a struggle. I was accepted to the University of Maine at Orono, but I simply could not afford it. Instead, community college was the first critical step – and having that public school option was a godsend. But when my sister, who needed help as a single mom and full-time nursing student in Salt Lake City, called, I went out to help.
Despite its challenges, I loved the west, with the clear sky, the big mountains, and the desert. And one of the best things I experienced in Salt Lake gave me a vision for how any city or neighborhood could transform itself with the right kind of investment and community participation. In one of the lowest income neighborhoods in the city, a program called "Artspace" revitalized an abandoned warehouse district. With a lot of creativity and hard work, affordable artist housing was developed, with the expectation that the storefront studios would be open to the public for workshops and educational programs for low-income, at-risk youth through scholarships. I volunteered as a teacher and founded a community garden for kids in an abandoned lot. This example of how even the loss of a manufacturing base can be turned around with some vision, leadership, and by rolling up our sleeves together has been an inspiration to me – and something I want to do more in the future.
The very best thing from those days, however, was meeting my future husband, Eric Buchbaum. Eric was just finishing up his medical residency in podiatry when we met, and wasn't sure where he'd start his professional practice. I was only a few weeks away from relocating, too, and it looked like we were headed to opposite coasts. But love really does conquer all, and we have been delighted with our choice to build our lives together in Rhode Island.
In our ten years here (seven in Narragansett and three in Wakefield) we’ve been busy. Eric has built up a successful practice leading workshops, working with seniors and the Narragansett Indian tribe, making house calls and working as Medical Director of the Wound Care Center at South County Hospital. I have lead support groups at the Domestic Violence Resource Center, catered and designed events, and taught children about sustainable agriculture with the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities at Casey Farm – all while helping Eric establish his practice.
Working two or three jobs has been the way I've always lived, sometimes by choice, and sometimes by necessity. I know from experience how hard it can be, and know how important it is to develop our economy with the kind of good jobs that pay a decent wage and offer opportunity.
In 2003, after a year at the University of Rhode Island testing the waters to make sure I really was ready to go back to school, I finally had the chance to go to a school of my dreams when I was admitted to Brown University’s Resumed Undergraduate Education program. Going back to school as an adult with many other responsibilities is never easy, but it was wonderful. I studied Public Policy, that is, the nuts and bolts of how government can be a force for necessary change. My studies at Brown were an incredible addition to my life experiences.
While at Brown I was elected president of the Resumed Undergraduate Student Association and was an inaugural member of the Brown University Community Council. I felt an obligation to advocate for the adult students who needed a more flexible program to make continuing education fit their lives. After all, school should be there for the students, not the other way around. But fighting for what's fair was nothing new to me, because I’d been doing it as far back as second grade. I can thank my mom for some of that spirit. In her day, she had helped organize her coworkers to form a secretaries unit as part of the National Education Association. She always encouraged me when I wanted to set things right.
Now, Eric and I have the most important opportunity of all as parents. Our daughter Delia was born in 2006, and her arrival has been the greatest blessing in our lives. Parenthood has taught me many things- including the value of sacrifice. Once again I've had to put off my own education. The financial strain of paying for quality childcare on top of tuition has made finishing my education a personal goal to which I am completely committed, once Delia begins public school in September of 2011.
The issues facing Narragansett, Wakefield, Peace Dale and all of Rhode Island are clear, and my experiences make me ready to work with you to address them.
To improve our local economy and create jobs, I will bring my experience as someone who has established a local business and who has revitalized a neighborhood. I look forward to talking to other small business owners in our district, to hear your ideas about what government can do to help, and what needs to be changed.
One way I know we can do a better job helping our local small businesses survive and thrive is to reform our tax and budget priorities. I'll work to turn our upside down tax system upright. Today, average households pay a higher overall percent of their income in state and local taxes than the very wealthy, and that's plain wrong. Until we fix the system, homeowners and local businesses will be overwhelmed, schools and our children will suffer, and the state's budget hole will deter future opportunities.
Finally, I am committed to the value that good government should be transparent in its operations. And so, I am committed that as your State Representative, I will be readily accessible and available to you and to all my constituents. Today, and every day, you can reach me on my cell phone at 527-9468, or my email at
I look forward to meeting you at your door this summer, or at any number of town or school committee meetings I attend – or even running errands in town or enjoying a night out with the family. And when I’m not walking door to door this summer, I hope to be found (at least once in a while) at Chair 5 with our daughter at the beach!
I hope I've given you a sense of who I am and what kind of representative I'll be, and I’m very much looking forward to continuing the conversation. I welcome your questions, your opinions and your ideas. And I hope you'll consider giving me your support in the upcoming Democratic Primary on September 14th. I'd be honored to have it.
Please feel very welcome to call or email me at any time. Or just drop by the house because I’d love to meet you.
With warm regards,
Teresa Tanzi
PS: Another great way to connect and share views is at any of the upcoming house parties or coffee hours hosted by our neighbors. Check out the campaign website or call me at (401) 527-9468 to find out more. I'd love to get together to hear your thoughts and concerns.