Don Boyajian (Photo: Don Boyajian Campaign)

New Yorker Boyajian Makes His Case for Congress

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By Aram Arkun

Mirror-Spectator Staff

CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. — Congressmen of Armenian descent are a rare commodity. At present, there are only two, but a third candidate, thirty-three-year-old Donald G. Boyajian (“Don”), is vigorously making his case in the Democratic primary for New York State’s rural northern 21st Congressional district, which includes the Adirondack Mountains and Thousand Islands regions.

 

Don Boyajian’s family: his parents, Don Sr. and Rhonda Boyajian are in the back, and the children are in the front row. From left, they are Allison, Caroline, Will and Don (Photo: Don Boyajian Campaign)

Boyajian’s paternal grandfather, originally with the last name of Nersesian, came to Saratoga County in upstate New York from Aintab, with his name being changed to Boyajian by the American authorities out of a misunderstanding. He arrived during the period of the Armenian Genocide. Boyajian’s maternal grandparents came to Providence from Palu.

Boyajian pointed out, “Since both sides of my family are 100 percent Armenian, I grew up going to the Armenian Apostolic Church, doing ACYOA [Armenian Church Youth Organization of America], and eating Armenian food two or three times a week (my mother is an amazing Armenian cook). We grew the grape leaves right on the fence at our house, and she makes yalanchi and sarma all the time from the leaves. It was a big part of my life growing up, both in the upstate community and visiting my mother’s family in Rhode Island.” He understands a little Armenian, and says that though he has not been to Armenia, and has not taken time to travel in general, it is “high on my list of things to do.”

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Armenian connections continued to play an important role in Boyajian’s life. He graduated from Colgate University in 2007 with a degree in environmental biology and geography, and then served as a legislative aide in the US Congress, focusing on agriculture, natural resources, and energy policy. He also he met a lot of friends and colleagues during this period through the Armenian Assembly and the Armenian National Committee of America. He remembers seeing the Armenian Genocide resolution fall short while he was a staffer in Congress, and feels that “there are so many untold stories of genocide and racial injustice.” Acknowledging and confronting these issues, whether historical or current, he said, “is the only way to prevent such things happening in the future.” Aside from the Armenian Genocide issue, he would work in Congress for foreign aid parity with rest of the region and protecting our churches in the Middle East.

Boyajian went from working in Congress to Cornell Law School, and after graduating in 2012, clerked in the office of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, where the District Attorney was Judge Richard S. Hartunian (2010-2017), the first US Attorney of Armenian descent according to the Armenian Bar Association. Boyajian also clerked in the New York Office of the Attorney General (Environmental Protection Bureau) and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

After becoming a lawyer, Boyajian soon joined the law firm founded by his father, Dreyer Boyajian. Here he pursued cases with political and environmental implications.

The firm represented the Mohawks in a case involving PCB contamination of the St. Lawrence River. Boyajian said that in general the US should “be honest about our history,” and teach and rectify the injustices of the past. He said, “We need to elect a Congress committed to advocate for Native Americans and tribal communities, to improve the lives of people in those communities.”

His firm also worked on the opioid epidemic. Boyajian said, “We need a comprehensive approach. We need funds for treatment, education prevention, and criminal justice reform. Anywhere you go in my district, you will meet people affected by this health crisis.”

Boyajian explained why he wants to serve in Congress as follows: “I always have been primarily a policy driven person…I saw a lot of trends in my home community that I did not like, a lot of young people leaving, a lot of stores closing…I said I have to do something about this.” He said his experience at the federal, municipal and state level will be very helpful, along with his bipartisan approach. He stressed, “We need to elect policy makers not politicians. This is a public service job.”

“Having the right message, the best team, and being somebody able to get results,” Boyajian said, he is confident of his chances in both the primary and the general election. He declared, “We have gotten support all over the country from a diverse array of groups who care about having a strong democracy, fighting for the middle class, and commitment to civil justice,” adding that there are many people in public service throughout New York State and throughout the country who provide him with good mentorship and good advice.

Economic development is an important part of his platform. He said, “I think it is much more complex than any one facet would suggest, and there never can be a silver bullet solution for economic development.” However, he supports conservation development regionally, and in general, said, “We need a huge reinvestment in infrastructure, with a bipartisan infrastructure bill.” He said he would like to sit on the committee on infrastructure if elected to Congress. His nuanced understanding of trade and our strategic relationship with Canada will be useful, he added.

Boyajian backs “a tax framework that is committed to providing true middle class tax relief,” unlike the recent tax bill, cutting back on the local and state tax deductions, which “will send people running to the hills outside of New York State.” It is, he said, “a handout to the millionaires and billionaires” and a “tax scam which will cripple us in debt.” He wants to create good paying middle class jobs instead.

In addition, he said that as someone that worked extensively on the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, he was disheartened to see it weakened, and emphasized, “We need financial regulation that is protective of consumers, protective of the people on main street. We cannot let Wall Street gamble with our savings and retirement funds — we need a firewall between them.”

Boyajian favors comprehensive campaign finance reform. He said, “I took a pledge early in our campaign not to accept any donations from corporate interests or PACs. I am proud to say that our average donation is under $200. We need a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.” He is at present, he said, leading the field financially with a grassroots fundraising effort — despite, or perhaps because of, this pledge.

Boyajian said that unfortunately the legislative process has devalued science recently, so it is crucial to have members of Congress with science backgrounds. He said that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, were all created in the 1970s to help save our communities, especially in the Northeast, and it is good for the economy to be good stewards of the environment. Therefore, he said, “I vehemently oppose efforts to weaken the EPA.” He also is against weakening the Consumer Protection Bureau, as, he said, protection of consumers is necessary.

He said, “Health care is a right as far as I am concerned. There should be a lower entry age for Medicare at 55, and ultimately a move toward universal coverage.”

Though Boyajian is a lifelong gunowner and sportsman, he declared, “Enough is enough. It is sickening to see Congress’ inability to enact any number of commonsense reforms that almost any responsible gunowner would agree upon.”

There may be as many as nine candidates in the Democratic primary right now, but, as Boyajian explained, the number is in flux, and may go down to two or three after petitioning is completed. Among Boyajian’s opponents at present in this primary is former MSNBC anchor Dylan Ratigan, a commentator for the online show “The Young Turks” (whose founder Cenk Uygur publicly denied the Armenian Genocide as late as 1999, but shifted his position in 2016). Uygur praised Ratigan, declaring to the Hollywood Reporter (https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/msnbc-anchor-dylan-ratigan-running-congress-1086884) on February 21 that Uygur will be a “great” candidate. If Boyajian wins the primary, he will face incumbent Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican.

Sheriff Peter Koutoujian of Middlesex County is one of Boyajian’s supporters in Massachusetts. He stated: “Don Boyajian is a true public servant, having spent his career fighting against corporate polluters on behalf of small towns across upstate New York. I am proud to support a young Armenian who has decided to put his values first and run for public office. As I have always said, whether a candidate’s name is followed by a ‘R’ or a ‘D,’ the most important letters are ‘ian.’”

There will be a Boston area fundraiser on March 21 at Phinix Grill (628 Trapelo Road, Belmont) for Boyajian with Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, Harry Haytayan, Raffi Festekjian, Steve Mesrobian, Judy Saryan and Victor Zarougian at 5:30 pm. For more information, contact Sam Parker(Sam@Don2018.com).

For more information on Boyajian’s campaign visit www.don2018.com.

 

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