Four Haitian-American candidates running for office greeted a largely Haitian-American audience during a unique gathering in Dorchester last month. The forum at Sant Belvi Senior Center was organized by one of the candidates, Jean-Claude Sanon, in order to introduce the candidates, who collectively form the largest field of Haitians running for seats at one time in the state. All of the candidates with Haitian roots who are running this year are first-time candidates. Two — Fred Fontaine and Marc Lucas— are running for at-large seats on the Brockton City Council.
The facilitator and director of the center, Oswald Neptune, began by asking the four candidates to briefly talk about their backgrounds and reasons they are running for office. Fontaine could not attend due to a scheduling conflict.
Marc Lucas, who is running for City Councilor-at-Large in Brockton, said he was driven to run for public office because of his concerns over crime, lawlessness and decreased property value in the city.
“I am running because I just couldn’t sit there and do nothing,” said Lucas. He has authored a 37-page booklet that discusses the problems the city is experiencing as well as proposed solutions. His focus, he says, would be to reduce crime, rebuild the local economy, build a new identity for the city and improve the quality of life for residents.
Married with two children, Lucas is a practicing attorney at his own law firm in Brockton and a licensed real estate broker. He holds a bachelor’s degree in government from Harvard University and a law degree from Suffolk Law School.
Lucas says it’s been hard to run for office. One of the challenges is trying to reach the city’s diverse community.
“In order to connect with voters, we’ve used the radio, e-mail, the website and gone door-to-door.” It’s also been difficult for the campaign to raise funds in the current economy. Lucas says that people are willing to give but can’t give what they’d like to.
He admits, “We have to find creative ways to raise funds.”
Lucas is a member of numerous organizations including YMCA Black Achievers, Brockton Neighborworks Advisory Board and Brockton Democratic City Committee.
He notes, “I truly believe that Brockton’s best days are still ahead. With some hard work and creative thinking, I am convinced we can rebuild the City of Champions.”
Ricardo Bonachy Telemaque, who is running for town councilor in Randolph, quoted an old Chinese proverb, “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness” to explain why he’s running. He says that rather than sitting back and complaining about what’s wrong with the town, he decided to try and improve things. Telemaque noted that Randolph is struggling with many problems such as foreclosed properties, lack of business development and a chaotic school system. His plan to rebuild the town includes: bringing jobs as well as businesses to Randolph and bringing residents together.
In an echo of President Barack Obama’s rhetoric made famous here in Boston in 2004, he said, “There is not a North Randolph, West Randolph, East and South Randolph, there is the town of Randolph.”
Telemaque — who holds a degree in Law and is a town meeting member in Randolph— says that many residents are leaving the town due to the poor quality of the schools and lack of services for their children. If elected, he plans to help parents take a more active role in their children’s education.
“As an elected official, I will serve as an advocate for all residents, make sure that every dollar is well spent, close the wastebasket of spending and listen to all residents with my heart and ears every day.”
Telemaque is currently the Associate Pastor of the Voice of Tabernacle Church in Mattapan. Former positions include program director of Dorchester Nazarene Compassionate Center and health educator for high-risk youths at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. He has also worked as case manager for Cambridge Family Services’ mentoring program. He is married to Yanick and is a member of several organizations including the Black Ministerial Alliance and the Massachusetts Mental Health Counselor Association.
Longtime advocate Nekita Lamour was on hand to discuss her first-time candidacy in the city of Malden.
“I’d like to be the voice of those who don’t have a say in how the city is run,” said, Lamour who’s running for Ward Councilor. She complains that for too long, political power has rested in the hands of a well-connected few, and many residents do not play a role in decisions that affect their lives.
Lamour, who has lived in the city for many years, cites an example where residents were charged for trash pickup but had no say in the decision. She also laments the ethnic imbalance between students and teachers in the city schools.
“It’s a shame that black kids go to school and never have a black teacher,” said Lamour, who taught for almost three decades in the Cambridge Public Schools and briefly in Boston. She holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Boston State College, a master’s in education from University of Massachusetts/Boston and a master’s degree in theological studies from the Weston Jesuit School of Theology. Lamour is a member of the Malden-based Bike-to-the-Sea and the Haitian-American Artist Association.
Jean-Claude Sanon, running for one of four at-large seats on the Boston City Council, said some tried to discourage him from “aiming too high” in his first try for public office.
He decided to run anyway and quotes the real-estate mogul, Donald Trump, “If you’re going to think, think big.”
“I always liked to organize. I never thought I’d run for office myself.”
Sanon says his motivation to run stems from a need to help people access the available services that can improve their lives. He also wants to help improve the medium of communication used by the city to reach residents.
“The modes of communication must be culturally appropriate and language barriers must be taken into account,” Sanon said.
Sanon came to the United States at 15 years old. Married to Michele, he obtained a degree in computer science from Newbury College and in 2007 completed the Initiative for Diversity in Civic Leadership, a training program for aspiring and current candidates.
Until last year, Sanon worked for Haitian American Public Health Initiatives, Inc. (HAPHI) teaching in health and adult education programs. He’s also worked as a legal assistant at the law firm of Alford & Bertrand doing public relations with the Haitian community. For the past year Sanon has been a full-time candidate. He is a member of several organizations including the Caribbean Political Action Committee, Haitian American United and the Massachusetts Haitian American Voters Coalition.
Fontaine, who could not attend the forum, spoke later to the Boston Haitian Reporter.
“Government functions best when it focuses on core issues such as public safety and infrastructure,” said Fontaine. If elected City Councilor-at-large in Brockton, he hopes to make the city a more attractive place to raise a family and attract new businesses.
Married to Daniele, Fontaine came to this country in his early twenties. He’s an entrepreneur who owns several businesses in Brockton: F&B Appliances, Maytag Laundry and FDJ Realty. He also owns Fontaine’s Cleaners in West Bridgewater. Further, he has experience as a mechanical engineer in a Newton-based company. Fontaine attended Northeastern University, Lowell Institute/MIT and studied mechanical engineering at Wentworth Institute.
Fontaine is a member of several organizations including the City of Brockton Diversity Commission, Brockton Area Workforce Investment Board and South Shore Haitians United for Progress.
After the introductions, members of the audience asked questions about CORI reform, mobilizing Haitians to vote and a proposed power plant in Brockton. Some questioners also wanted to know the candidates’ views on the foreclosure epidemic, their visions for Haiti, summer jobs for youngsters and how to reach our youth in general.
Lucas expressed concerns about environmental hazards the plant might pose, especially since his son suffers from asthma but says he’s neutral about it partly because he would have no control over whether the plant is authorized or not.
Reached by phone after the event, Fontaine laments the loss of jobs, increase in crime and people leaving the city as some of the challenges faced by Brockton. That’s partly the reason he sees the proposed power plant as a source of revenue for the city. He says he has no control over whether or not the power plant comes to the city; the state decides. He does plan on being vigilant about its safety.
“I live here, have kids and businesses in the city. If there’s anything wrong, I’ll speak up.”
To mobilize the Haitian community to vote, Telemaque says people have to be convinced that the campaigns don’t belong to the candidates but to the Haitian community itself.
As for the high number of foreclosures in the Haitian community, Telemaque says that often its Haitians giving bad mortgages to other Haitians. He says, “People wake up one day and declare themselves realtors. We have to work with the attorney general to create laws to protect people.”
Regarding change in Haiti, Lamour says that if Haitians enjoy political force here in the United States, it will extend to the island nation. Telemaque adds, “Haiti is a land. For it to change, we Haitians have to change. We’re the problem, not Haiti.”
To those in the community who say they don’t care about CORI reform, Sanon notes, “You can’t say ‘you don’t care” just because it doesn’t affect your kid. We need to stand together for CORI reform. It may not affect your kid, but it may affect your nephew or cousin.”
Telemaque added, “After someone serves their sentence, CORI shouldn’t prevent them from getting a job.” Lucas remarked, “We have to help prevent our youth from having a record in the first place. We also have to advocate for bills that support CORI reform. However, if someone has a record, let’s show them how to clear it.”
The question about how to reach our young people elicited comments from all the candidates. Lamour says, “The youth are my heart. I run so they can fly. All of us, blacks and whites have to work together to reach them.” Addressing the young people, Sanon says, “You’re a mighty force yourself. Don’t be ashamed of Haitians who’ve failed you before. Together we can make this machine go forward.”
One audience member remarked that the candidates don’t even have to win. The fact that they’re running is a success he says.
Henry Milorin, a longtime activist and leader in Greater Boston’s Haitian community, says he retired this year in order to help the candidates who are running for office.
“We have an opportunity. If we work together, we can achieve this,” Milorin said.