A warm welcome for Mark Perriello

Mark Perriello was doing well for himself in Washington, D.C. He had a successful career in politics and worked for the staffs of U.S. senators and in the White House under President Barack Obama’s first administration. He was the president and CEO for the American Association of People with Disabilities. He was one of those who wore three-piece suits to work, determined to make his mark, hell-bent on making a difference in life. What better place to do that than Washington, D.C.?

When Mark was hired by AAPD in 2011, the organization released this statement about him: “Perriello, the former Director of Strategy for the largest LGBT political action committees in the nation, has a proven track record of increasing organizational standing with decision makers through creative and high-impact grassroots and grass-tops programs across America. As a political strategist, he oversaw highly successful efforts to elect candidates to office at the federal, state and local level.”

“Mark understands the importance of political power to a civil rights movement, and his ability to harness that power for change made him the best candidate to run the organization,” said Tony Coelho, AAPD’s board chair, in that release.

So, the natural questions that comes to mind are why would he move way out to an island in the Pacific Ocean and accept the job as president of the Kauai Chamber of Commerce? After all, Perriello seemed pretty entrenched in Washington.

He addressed exactly this issue when he spoke at the chamber’s quarterly meeting Thursday at the Sheraton Kauai Resort. Here is what brought him to Kauai: “I came here like so many people, looking for a new way of life, looking for a better way of life.”

Simple and straightforward.

Let’s hope he finds what he’s after. Not everyone does.

Plenty of people have moved to Kauai for those same reasons cited by Perriello. And plenty of people have returned to the Mainland after living here for a year, maybe two, disillusioned and disappointed. Island life, as everyone who lives here knows, is not for everybody. It’s not the idyllic paradise they might have heard about or read about. It doesn’t take long for reality to smack newcomers right in the nose. As Perriello said, when people ask him how he likes the slow pace of life on Kauai, he doesn’t know what they’re talking about because he’s been busy since arriving in August.

Sure, Kauai has sunshine and beautiful beaches and the mai tais that most people imagine when thinking about life in Hawaii. But it also has high costs of living, lots of traffic, limited employment opportunities and isn’t known for exactly being receptive to ideas from new arrivals.

Which is why Mark Perriello must be a genius.

Some might have arrived with an agenda in mind; they might have stepped off the plane with big ideas for how they could make Kauai a better place to live.

But Perriello, who has had a visual disability since childhood, made it clear he has no vision for how or what the chamber should be doing. He has no vision for what goals the island should be pursuing. That’s not because he lacks initiative or imagination and hasn’t done his homework. It’s because he wants to hear from chamber members. He wants to talk to as many people as possible before setting any course for the chamber of commerce.

“I’m going to be listening,” he said. “I’m going to be reaching out to you all, to have those conversations, to learn what your hopes and dreams are for the island, for the chamber and for the future. And only then will we work together to come up with that vision, because it needs to be a vision that we’re all a part of.”

Well said.

We welcome Mark Perriello to Kauai. We’re glad he’s here. We hope he finds that better way of life he’s looking for. We hope he sticks around. He has the experience, leadership and the skills to take the chamber to the next level. And clearly, from listening to his words and seeing him in action at the chamber meeting, he is indeed a man of vision.

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