By Marc Larocque
As Published by The Enterprise
BROCKTON – With less than two years of U.S. citizenship under his belt, after coming to this country from Haiti in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, Jean Bradley Derenoncourt was able to get himself elected as a leader of Brockton’s city government.
The 27-year-old, who is the first Haitian-American elected to public office in Brockton, took one of the four at-large seats on the 11-person Brockton City Council during Tuesday’s citywide election. While Derenoncourt is proud to be an immigrant and a Haitian-American, the councilor-elect said his story shows the how opportunities are afforded to everyone who comes to live in the U.S.
“What I would like people to understand is that it happened to be my name and my face,” said Derenoncourt, “but I do believe there are a lot of people out there, not just from Haiti but people from all over the world, who could do exactly the same thing. It’s not just a Haitian-American story. It is a story of America.”
Derenoncourt launched his campaign for Brockton City Council on Feb. 11 this year, on the one-year anniversary of his obtaining U.S. citizenship. During his first campaign for public office, Derenoncourt won on Tuesday by picking up 5,250 votes, finishing fourth in a field of eight candidates.
While many believe that he had support from the city’s political establishment, Derenoncourt said it was the total opposite. During an interview at his home on Saturday, the the city councilor-elect said that he built a campaign team of friends who he has met along the way from school and the community, in addition to supporters from the SEIU and the Massachusetts Coalition for Social Justice, which he campaigned with in 2014 to pass a ballot measure giving the chance to earn sick time to all workers in the state.
“I would like people to understand the establishment did not support us, they truly did not,” Derenoncourt said. “I thought some of the folks who claimed to be the representation of Brockton would have jumped on board, but they did not. I had no big political backup. People think I do, but I do not.”
Without naming names, Derenoncourt said he was spurned by several city leaders that he expected support from during the campaign. The city councilor-elect said some people even personally urged him to drop out of the race. Derenoncourt said that his election showed that a candidate doesn’t need to be well-connected in order to win.
“Some of the folks who I thought believed in me turned me down,” Derenoncourt said. “I learned from that. ... I think they were shocked because they didn’t think that the people of Brockton would vote for a guy who is new, who just became a U.S. citizen and speaks with a very heavy accent.”
Derenoncourt said he was also subject to duplicity during the campaign, which he described as a wake-up call about politicians. In one case, Derenoncourt said he received an early endorsement from an official in the city, but then that support was cut off.
“It’s one thing to say something, and it’s another to do the job,” Derenoncourt said. “Certain things were very hurtful that I will never forget. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, politics is not a game. People will look at you straight in the eyes and they will lie to you for the sake of power.”
Derenoncourt said he credits his victory to the large group of volunteers that he assembled, with a team headed by campaign manager Jared Gilpatrick, who taught the city councilor-elect history when he attended Massasoit Community College. (Derenoncourt later completed a bachelor’s degree in political science at Suffolk University, where he continues to pursue his master’s.) The campaign team established its headquarters in a second floor office of a commercial building on Belmont Street, where volunteers on laptops made frantic phone calls nearly until the polls closed on Tuesday night. Derenoncourt also did a lot of footwork to grow his support network, even taking a leave of absence in October from his job as a Beacon Hill staffer to step up his efforts. Derenoncourt said he knocked on 9,000 doors himself throughout the course of the campaign.
“I won that race on my own with my team,” Derenoncourt said. “I say thank you to everybody who came to help me out. It was a team effort.”
Derenoncourt said his election shows that, while he didn’t get the support he hoped for from established politicians in Brockton, the people of the city are very open-minded.
“It means that the city of Brockton is welcoming and diverse,” he said. “It’s a great piece of history for Brockton. ... It is truly the American Dream. It is truly the values and the greatness of this country.”
Derenoncourt said his campaign also shows that candidates can run a campaign free of negative campaigning and still succeed. The councilor-elect said his father, Yves Derenoncourt, was the one who made him promise to avoid “trash talking” during the course of the campaign.
“I promised him I would do my best to stay positive,” the younger Derenoncourt said. “I’d rather lose an election than put someone’s family’s name in the paper. I will not do it ... Serving the people shouldn’t be personal.”
Derenoncourt thanked his “surrogate mother” Ruth O’Brien-Denly, the Brockton woman who taught him English as a second language..
“She deserves all the credit for opening the door to me,” he said.
And Derenoncourt also paid tribute to his biological mother, Rosemarie Bazile, who died in Haiti at age 36 when he was just 4 years old.
“I think my mom would have been proud,” Derenoncourt said. “What I would like my mom to know is, ’Don’t worry, Mom. Your baby boy is doing good, and I want to my best to keep your promise, and hopefully your name will stay alive until I die.”
Derenoncourt pledged to be an independent voice on the Brockton City Council, where he will begin serving following the inauguration in early January. Derenoncourt also said he would not be deterred or discouraged by Brockton’s insider politics.
“Some people believe that they own the city,” he said. “But I will not back down. I will do my best to represent everybody. ... My job is to represent you, the people of Brockton. You are my boss. And as my boss, you have the power to tell me what to do, and I will do exactly what I think is best for all of us. That’s my job. ... I’d like to challenge the status quo, given that Brockton is a place for all of us.”