Politics in the Blood: Charlie Diradour, City Council Candidate in Richmond

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By Aram Arkun

Mirror-Spectator Staff

RICHMOND, Va. — Albert Steven “Charlie” Diradour, an active real estate developer and public figure, announced his candidacy for City Council on February 8. Diradour has had a long history of political involvement, including work on a number of campaigns of Democrats on a local and national level, and an attempted run against Eric Cantor for Congress. He is president of the Lion’s Paw Development Company.

The 48-year-old Diradour became interested in politics while still a child. He said, “The truth of it is when you grow up in an Armenian household, you sit around and drink coffee in the morning and talk about politics. My mother and father would talk about current events. It made me want to know more about how the government works, and how we all fit in.” Diradour learned a lot from his father, though they may have had differing political party affiliations. For example, he said, he was taught that “It’s our duty to stand up if something is wrong, point it out and say that it is wrong, and then go further. By that I mean you propose something that is better, a solution rather than just pointing the problem out.” Diradour also felt that his inclusive and pragmatic approach to politics may have something to do with his Armenian background. After all, he pointed out, “Armenians are good at negotiating, making deals and coming to a middle point politically.”

After high school, Diradour attended Fordham University in New York, and then started working in the family real estate business. Both of Diradour’s parents were Republicans, but Diradour became a Democrat. Perhaps it had something to do with the times, because in the 1980s most Virginians were Democrats. But there was more to it than that. Diradour said, “I never felt comfortable calling myself a Republican because I don’t believe that we should tell people how to live their lives. For Republicans, at least in the 1980s and 1990s, a lot of social issues were at the fore — and I didn’t agree with the Republican stance on any of them.” Among other things, Diradour is a strong supporter of a woman’s right to choice concerning abortion.

Diradour’s local role models are Virginia Democrats like Chuck Robb, Douglas Wilder and Mary Sue Terry. He felt they are “people who are fiscally conservative and responsible, and yet socially they understand that understanding each other is the first step towards respecting each other as human beings. For me, being a Democrat means being inclusive, listening and understanding others’ viewpoints.”

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Diradour volunteered on his first campaign in 1985, helping Terry win office as attorney general of Virginia. In 1986 he worked for Kenneth E. Powell, who unsuccessfully ran for congress in Virginia, and then in 1988 worked on Al Gore’s presidential campaign in North and South Carolina, Connecticut and New York during the primary season. Diradour explained, “I did field work, organizing people before there were computers, laptops or even cell phones with some change in my truck, a file folder and a rolodex. I loved engaging with people.”

He organized local Democrats into phone banks to call identified Democratic voters, operate door-to-door campaigning and distribution of literature. He also prepared sites for Gore, coordinating with police and secret service and preparing information so that Gore would be able to publicly recognize the local notables.

Diradour then worked on some local races in Richmond, and a campaign for a seat in the Richmond House of Delegates in 1991. He worked for Bill Clinton in 1992 in North and South Carolina. After this he focused fulltime on real estate, a field more lucrative than politics, for some time. Diradour also completed his college education, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in 1999 from Virginia Commonwealth University in, naturally, political science.

Diradour lived from 2000 to 2005 in North Carolina because of his wife Dr. Ann Ritter’s work (pediatric neurosurgery), but after returning to Richmond, he helped on C. T. Woody’s successful 2005 race for city sheriff. He served as an advisor for Greek-American William “Bill” J. Pantele on his 2006 city council race, and then his unsuccessful 2008 Richmond mayoral campaign. Diradour explained his rationale for political involvement at this stage: “Once you become involved in the public arena and you have a real interest in helping people, you realize that if you are able to help get good people elected, that is your duty.”

In 2009, Diradour himself decided to make a run for office against a very powerful Republican representative, Eric Cantor. He was motivated by his feeling that “Eric Cantor represents himself and hardly anyone who lives in the seventh district.” After a few months, Diradour realized that he was not getting the necessary Democratic support and the odds were stacked against him, so he pulled out of the race.

This year, Diradour said, people came to persuade him to run,for Richmond City Council in the second district. The district, including the Jackson Ward, Carver, Northside and Fan areas, is one in which his father owned restaurants, and where Diradour grew up. He lives in the Fan neighborhood now and has his own business, office and many properties there. Diradour feels that “it is very unique because it is very diverse. You have everything from the very wealthy to the working poor. There are students, and residential housing.”

Diradour is known in the area because of his work on the Fan District Association and his leadership in a campaign to oppose the construction of a stadium in the Shockoe Bottom neighborhood, which would have required the issuance of a $77-million bond. He also helped stop the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts from putting up a bright electronic sign on a historic boulevard.

Formally, candidates for councilman are only allowed to run on their own records without stating political party allegiance, but of course the public generally knows the leanings of prominent individuals. The second district is a mixed one politically, and Diradour feels a Republican candidate would not have a chance, as it leans Democratic.

Charles R. Samuels, the present councilman, has a background as a Democrat. He has not yet declared his intention to run again, but probably will be Diradour’s main opponent. Diradour says that the main difference between him and Samuels is that he would put his business interests in the hands of an operations manager while in office and give nearly 100 percent of his working time to be in constant contact with the people of the district. Samuels, on the other hand, works fulltime as a lawyer in addition to holding a city council position.

Some of the key issues for Diradour in his campaign are improving some core services by government such as insuring safety in the neighborhoods, infrastructure like sidewalks, streets and lighting. He stresses that he is willing to listen to the people. He does not anticipate the race being an especially expensive one, and in general the most ever spent on a city council race, he thought, was roughly $100,000.

Descendent of Genocide Survivors

Diradour is descended from Armenians who immigrated to Virginia in the early 20th century. His paternal grandparents, Hagop and Yughaper Diradourian, were originally from Agn, and they settled in Hopewell, a small city in the Richmond metropolitan area. Diradour said that a small group of Armenians, along with Greeks, Italians and others, came to Hopewell in the early 1920s because of the manufacturing jobs there. Hagop Diradourian had graduated from Robert College in Constantinople and initially came to New Hampshire via New York. Hagop Diradourian found the climate too cold and wrote to Armenians and Armenian churches up and down the East Coast until he got an answer from Hopewell that the Tubize Artificial Silk Company would hire his whole family. The Tubize Company was the successor to a DuPont plant, which manufactured guncotton.

Diradour’s maternal grandparents, Stepan and Nazley Beducian, were originally from Dersim. Stepan Beducian came directly to Richmond from New York. He arrived with no money, and worked on a merchant marine vessel until he had enough money to bring his wife, who he had left in Beirut for 12 years after the Genocide. The couple lost three children during the deportations and they started a new family in the United States. Eventually, he started a real estate business.

According to Diradour, very few relatives survived the Genocide and made it to the United States. After they immigrated here, he said, “Both sides of the family worked hard. My parents met when my father was in the restaurant business in the Fan district.” Their family origins in different parts of Ottoman Armenia led to some good-natured banter. Diradour said, “My father always used to tease my mother that ‘my people are city people and you are country people.’”

Diradour never met any of his grandparents, but he learned conversational Armenian from his parents. When he was a young child, he said, “One evening we were in a restaurant. My father said something to my mother and somebody asked what he said, so I translated. But it was something not for public dissemination. After we got home, my father told me that we should never translate what we say in Armenian, and secondly, that we would speak Armenian at home.”

Before the St. James Armenian Church in Richmond was consecrated in 1956, many Armenians would attend St. Paul’s Episcopal Church downtown. Stepan Beducian was one of those Armenians. Occasionally though, an Armenian priest would be brought to town for a service. In the 1950s, Beducian helped in the process of establishing a church, but he did not go regularly, as he already felt at home at St. Paul’s.

Diradour as a child would be brought to St. James for major feast days like Easter, and came with his family for picnics and other types of events, but he regularly attended St. Paul’s

Church. He now is a lay minister at St. Paul’s, but he occasionally attends St. James. Among other things, he said he helps the church’s annual Armenian Food Festival.

Recently, in 2009, Diradour became a member of the National Ethnic Democratic Coordinating Council, which has a number of other Armenian members prominent in Armenian-American politics. This body is a wing of the Democratic National Committee, which does outreach among different ethnic groups on behalf of Democratic candidates who need help.

When asked what role Armenians have to play in the US politically, he responded, “I would say that all of us in this great country are ethnic, in that all of us have forefathers and foremothers who risked it all to get to this great land of opportunity. We allbmust take a role in political life in some form to help shape our communities, whether local or international or anywhere in between for this Democracy to work for all.”

Diradour concluded, “I sort of live in two worlds. I am an Armenian-American. I’m not an Armenian. I’m an American who happens to be Armenian, with those values drilled into us as Armenians of hard work and family. It’s hard now when there is no family left that speaks the language or lives the lifestyle.” Nonetheless, he is trying to pass something on to the new generation, and he is already teaching his daughters how to count from one to 10 in Armenian. And he promises that “one of the things that I would work on if elected is to expose more Richmonders to the realities of the Armenian Genocide as the first major genocide of the 20th century.”

The election will take place in November.

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