Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Growing Up Running for Office

         Deratany family lore actually has it that I was a painfully shy and quiet child until, at the age of 8, I started having to campaign door-to-door for my father as he ran for a seat in the Florida Legislature in 1978. Then again, you could argue that I had already been working on political campaigns since before I was born.

In 1969, my father owned a barbershop in the center of the Town of Indialantic, where he pretty much held court among all the gentlemen in the area, who would come in and linger to gossip and talk politics. I know this not only because my father tells me it is true, but because even now any time I meet a man over the age of 35 from the Melbourne area, he will inevitably mention how he used to get his hair cut by my dad or one of my uncles in the old barbershop and how it used to be a real guy hangout.

At 29 years of age, my father would pontificate with a comb in one hand and a pair of hair scissors in the other about what needed to be fixed in the Town and what should be done to make things right. It wasn’t long before some of his clients egged him on to run for Town Council so that he could put his money where his mouth was. My mother, 25 years old, pregnant with me and caring for a precocious three-year-old boy (my brother, Todd), hustled to campaign for my father.  On the day that I was born in early October of 1969, my mother rushed around delivering campaign materials while chalking up her contractions to Braxton Hicks. Turns out, she was to deliver more than campaign materials that day. One month later, my father held me in his arms as he gave his first victory speech. Over the next eight years my father would serve the Town of Indialantic first as a councilman and by the time I entered kindergarten, Mayor (and then a few years later my Mother would be the Mayor, and then several years after that my brother, and now as I write this my husband is Deputy Mayor, but I’m getting ahead of myself).

            In 1978 my father would run for the Florida legislature, where he would serve for over a dozen years until I was in my senior year of college, first as State Representative and later as Senator. So from birth until my senior year of college my father held or was running for some sort of elected office.

Now, there is no time or opportunity for the daughter of a politician to be quiet and shy. There is no luxury of staying behind the scenes playing alone in your room with your dollhouse and Barbies. Having a family member running for office calls for all hands on deck, and I would not be spared. Although I didn’t feel particularly cute at the time, I am now an adult and realize that all eight-year-olds are precious and probably one of any candidate’s better selling points. So, when I was just my own son’s age now, I remember waving with my family on strategic street corners during morning and evening rush hour traffic. I would smile, wave and hold up a big red and white sign that read, “Vote for My Daddy.” They also had me walking door to door with them and other volunteers in the early evenings and on weekends, knocking, then taking three steps back from the door, handing out a brochure and giving my pitch,

“My daddy is Tim Deratany and he’s running for State Representative District 42. I hope we can count on your vote!”

I might have been shy when I started, but after knocking on literally hundreds of doors over weeks and months, and successfully getting people to take my brochure, I eventually overcame my shyness. I learned to look people in the eye and shake hands. I learned that other people were just as shy as I was and that I could make myself feel less shy by letting people know that I was happy to see them.  I learned that I should always conduct myself as if I were being watched because I was a reflection of my family. Even today, I feel perfectly comfortable walking up to total strangers and introducing myself, at least if I’m on some sort of mission like promoting an event or working as part of a hosting committee. However, if I’m just at a party to be at a party where I don’t know people and am just a random guest, then I’m just as shy and awkward as the next person. But give me a piece of literature to pass out or a job to do, and it’s just like second nature. Like riding a bicycle. I’m Brooke Deratany Goldfarb and I’m pleased to meet you!

People sometimes ask me when am I going to run for public office. Although I’ve been elected to the leadership of various organizations over the years starting with Melbourne High School Student Body President, I haven’t yet tried for true political office. Not that I wouldn’t, just that I haven’t.


You see, the one thing I’ve learned having both parents in politics (after my father, my mother was on the Indialantic Town Council, then the Mayor of Indialantic, then a Brevard County Commissioner), is that politics is not pretty. It takes thick skin and being prepared to have half the people hate you at any time, no matter how nice you are or how hard you try to do a good job and get things accomplished. It means always being a target for angry citizens (and opposing sides) and having ongoing dinner conversations on things like zoning and taxes and other issues of the day. It means always having to worry about saying what you mean exactly the way you mean to say it so that it is not taken out of context and used against you. It means living your life in such a way as to avoid even the slightest appearance of impropriety.

Endearing retired people at political functions used to ask my little school-aged pig-tailed self what I wanted to be when I grew up. They really seemed to get a kick out of it when I said things like “Supreme Court Justice” or “Governor of Florida.”  I always thought I was supposed to run for office when I grew up; that people expected it of me. Except that I don’t always care for the polarizing effect of the two-party system, even though it is the system we have and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. I can’t help but see the other side or that the world is more complicated than divisions of black and white or Red and Blue. The issues have nuances and intricacies. I really want to understand why each person feels the way that they do. I really want to try to make sense of it.  Is anyone really ever completely right? Is anyone really ever completely wrong? There are so many ways of viewing a situation. I first want to listen carefully to all of the offered arguments and then make up my mind.
There is one non-partisan election I would like to pursue: I really would like to be a judge. A judge is supposed to be independent minded. A judge is supposed to remain above and beyond politics. The judge’s robe and iconic blind over the eyes of Lady Justice are meant to symbolize the closing off of the judge from bias, prejudice and political influence. I know it doesn’t always seem that way to people, but that is the way it is meant to be. Judges are supposed to make decisions based solely on the unique facts of the case before them and the applicable law.  They are supposed to do so with honor, dignity, wisdom, and respect for all. A judge should maintain order in the courtroom while promoting an atmosphere in which professionalism, courtesy and civility prevail for all those who come before the bench. A judge should be compassionate, have life experience and be able to see the big picture. She should do her best to make visitors to her courtroom feel comfortable and safe; that rules will be followed; and that people will be dealt with appropriately. She is uniquely placed to require professionalism and respect for humanity.  

          When people go to court, they are naturally nervous, angry, upset or afraid. Much usually hangs in the balance. Cases are almost always complicated and must be resolved as, well, judiciously, as possible. Individuals are rarely all good or all bad or all wrong or all right, but the one thing they all have in common is that they want to be treated fairly. One man’s frivolous case is another man’s dying cause, but what are the facts of the case and what law applies? These are the questions. To me the only true constant (because lawyers and litigants rarely agree on the facts or the law) is that all people before the court—regardless of why they are there or what they have done—are human beings. And as human beings they are worthy of respect. Sometimes a person may think another not so worthy, and although it makes sense that they might feel that way, it remains that all human beings are indeed worthy, regardless of what mess they may have made of things or how badly they have acted. And let's not forget that we can respect all people and still hold them accountable for their actions, by preserving due process and following legal procedure.

It’s what we would want if it were you and I.

            So I hope to become a judge because I want to be that calming courtroom presence. I want to be able to command professionalism and dignity, courtesy and civility. I want people to feel like they have been heard and respected, even if the ruling doesn’t end up going their way. As a lawyer and as a litigant, I’ve seen it from all angles. I’ve felt what it’s like to perform for the judge and jury on behalf of my client. I know the anxiety of the witness on the stand. I’ve seen lawyers be rude and insulting. I’ve seen lawyers conduct themselves with professionalism and respect. I’ve also examined the courtroom from the point of view of the mediator, the arbitrator, the law professor, the mentor of aspiring law students and younger lawyers. I know how challenging it can be to ask the difficult questions and to feel the need to zealously represent your client. I think a good judge should also mentor young attorneys and build them up and encourage them to be the most professional and ethical they can be. Believe it or not, my friends, lawyers are people too. Even they are worthy of human kindness and respect.  Despite what you might see in the movies or on television, most lawyers are just trying to do a good job for their client. Certain judges sometimes forget how hard it is to be in the trenches, to be required to be in front of three judges in three different courtrooms at the same time. 

In the end, it’s all about balance. After all, I think that's what the scales are for.