Three candidates have announced their plans to run in the next general election to fill the position of state senator, formerly held by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
They are: District Leader and Attorney Jesse Hamilton; Demetrius Lawrence, vice chairman of Brooklyn Community Board 9 representing most of Crown Heights; and Rubain Dorancy, an attorney and education administrator.
Adams already has put his weight behind Hamilton, and many expect other elected officials will be lock-step in their support of Hamilton as well. And although Lawrence currently can point to few political endorsements, he says he expects a handful of unions to lend its support.
But who is Rubain Dorancy? He has few political ties, and his professional background, at first glance, seems pointed more in the direction of academia than Albany.
Born and raised in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Dorancy describes himself as “an educator who is trained in the law.” After college, he taught for two years before enrolling in law school to become a licensed attorney.
“I wanted to study law to think about how civil rights and education law could be approached in a way to ensure we were adequately addressing the opportunities in the achievement gaps,” said Dorancy.
He also has served as a community school board vice-president, a senior administrator in the NYC Department of Education and chairman of the Haitian American Association for Political Action-PAC (HAAPA-PAC).
In this exclusive interview, Dorancy shares with the Brooklyn Reader his passion for education, his view on the role of elected officials, and why he believes he should be the next state senator of Brooklyn’s 20th district.
BR: You have chosen education as a key centerpiece of your campaign platform. Why?
RD: What we see in the public education system is really just a microcosm of what we see in society. When our children are under-prepared, you have this gap, this level of disengagement that leads to a huge number of societal ills.
So why I’m running, it goes back to public policy. When we have public officials that aren’t making the connection between access to high quality education and employment; the relationship between unemployment and high levels of criminality; the relationship between lack of opportunities and adult development… These are all inter-connected; they are not unrelated.
The violence we see in Brownsville can be traced back to poor education. So, we have to see the inter-connectedness between all of these different factors and begin to think about policymaking and laws through big ideas.
BR: As state senator, which of Adams’s previous policies do you plan to build upon?
RD: I think the role Adams played in the whole piece of the stop-question-and-frisk, being a champion around ensuring that the constitutional rights of men of color were preserved, that was critical. Also his understanding that we can build upon the traction Brooklyn has made in the areas of development while expanding opportunities to the disenfranchised parts of the community.
It’s very easy to encourage development. Brooklyn really has become the next Manhattan. But what we really don’t want is for Brooklyn to become the next Manhattan, where you have abject poverty sitting in the shadows of blinding affluence and people are, like, okay with that…
What we want to think about is, how do we ensure that low-income and middle-income people also get to enjoy the cultural masterpieces of Brooklyn. How do they get to benefit from their commitment to the community over the last 20, 30 years?
The idea that people are being priced out of Brooklyn, that you can barely afford to live in Brooklyn, the specter of hospitals closing, those are the things that require loud advocacy, passionate advocacy. Because again, all of these things are interconnected.
BR: As state senator, which public policy issues would you like to address?
RD: Over the last 12 years, there has been a systematic move away from the community–based models as service providers, to these mega organizations. You see this even in education. As a consequence, you have a lot of local minority and women business enterprises that have been shut out of this pipeline. And it’s this pipeline that creates the middle class and creates jobs. We want to think about how we’re expanding the opportunities for qualified vendors.
Public policies have to be designed in a way that we’re looking at not only being the consumers of services, but also the providers of services. How much of the government contracts are being directed towards our community?
Government interventions grant land, set up institutions, stimulate economies. That’s government. We shouldn’t be ashamed to tell the government, “We want contracts.” We shouldn’t be ashamed.
But if our elected officials don’t know that, and they think it’s a success just getting services, then we’re spinning our wheels. The power isn’t in getting services. The power is in determining who is delivering those services.
BR: What is your vision for the 20th senatorial district?
RD: I want the 20th senatorial district to become the most literate district in NY. And by that, I mean more than educational literacy. I mean financial literacy: We need to understand the language of finance and money; political literacy: We need to understand the language of the constitution and of civic engagement; social-emotional literacy, how do you cultivate healthy relationships with your counterparts and other cultures?
…These are life skills young people are going to need to know how to navigate in order to move forward, in order to thrive. So, how can we partner with other local institutions to educate people about these kinds of literacies?
BR: You’ve enjoyed a pretty successful and impactful career in education. So why do you now want to run for state senator?
RD: I want to get elected because we can raise the standard of quality of our representation… It really does matter who we elect to office. It really does. Just look at how it impacts the community. What do you think politics is? It’s about who gets what, when they get it and by what means, that’s all! And when our people are electing folks that have never looked at a budget, never managed a budget, never advocated to get money, all you have is… some person in office!
The ones who are in have to understand power and influence. It’s not just “Oh, I’m happy to be here.” I don’t think educational credentials necessarily mean anything. But I do think that it’s important to really understand how laws are made, how different policies interact with each other. As an elected official, you should have the capacity and the orientation to read a lot. To think deeply.
This is a job I’m applying for. So that means look at my past performance, kick my tires. Grill me, ask me what do I believe. And if you look back on my record from even twenty years ago, you’ll see, I’ve been consistent with the things I believe:
If we don’t improve our public school system, we’re going to be talking the same thing 20 years from now. If we don’t expand opportunities to minority vendors, we’re going to continue having the same problems we have right now.