NEW YORK–Dan Donovan, 53, the Republican candidate for New York attorney general, may have an Irish last name, but according to his 84-year-old mother he looks Polish and his gray eyes and pale complexion are a proof of his ancestry. Mrs. Donovan’s maiden name is ‘Bolewicz’ and she is the third generation in a Polish-American family that settled on Staten Island. Today there is a growing Polish-American community in the borough and Donovan hopes for its support in November.
“I think the Polish community would be proud to have a person in the attorney general’s office who has common blood with them,” said Donovan during a sit down interview with the Polish Daily News last week. But that’s not the only reason, he said.
“I don’t think people should vote for me just because I’m Polish. I think…people from all over ought to vote for me because of my experience and background and independence.”
In the 2000 Census, 18,405 Staten Island residents claimed Polish ancestry. In all of New York State there were almost 1 million. On the campaign trail Donovan has met with representatives of the Polish community in the Buffalo area and recently attended the Pulaski Parade, an annual Polish event held on Manhattan’s 5th Avenue.
Donovan has been reaching out to local immigrant communities since 2004 when he became district attorney of Richmond County (Staten Island). Soon after taking over that office he hired staff members who spoke several languages and made a pledge not to ask immigrants about their immigration status if they were victims of a crime or witnessed one, a promise he intends to keep if elected AG in November.
“No one should be exploited, no one should be a victim of a crime, regardless of their status in the United States,” Donovan stressed.
He also declared himself a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He is an opponent of Arizona’s new immigration law, SB 1070, and vowed to prosecute those responsible for a series of recent attacks on Mexican immigrants on Staten Island.
On all of these issues his position is virtually identical to that of his opponent, Democratic State Senator Eric Schneiderman who has a progressive record and labor support. Schneiderman has promised to protect immigrant rights and has been campaigning in various ethnic communities. He has also, “reached out to the Polish community and proudly marched in the Dyngus Day parade in Buffalo earlier this year,” said his campaign spokesman, James Freedland in a written statement. “When he becomes attorney general, Eric will make it a top priority to ensure that every community is represented.”
Donovan hopes to create a more personal connection with Poles. He may not remember how to spell his mother’s maiden name off the top of his head, but he brings up childhood stories that evoke his Polish roots.
Like when the family used to travel to Bayonne, New Jersey to buy Polish food or how family pictures decorating the entire house almost disappeared in 1978 when they were replaced by photos of the newly elected Polish Pope John Paul II.
Donovan jokes that to his mother, a devoted Catholic, the pope’s election was far more important than, say, his graduation day. “We have another pope now but Benedict is not up in our house. It’s still John Paul.”
Brought up in a Catholic environment, Donovan is pro-life, which has become an election issue between him and Schneiderman, who is a vocal pro-choice activist. However, the Republican candidate strongly stated that his personal convictions would not affect the way he would run the AG’s office, and he would enforce any current or future law in this regard.
Donovan can be disarmingly candid. He laughs that he is an only child because his father was one of 13 children and his mother one of 8. “I always say that my mom and dad, after growing up, really wanted to get a chance to use the bathroom, so they figured if they only had one kid it will be a lot easier”.
Single, and with no children, Donovan says it makes it easier to dedicate his life to public service.
He is the first in his family to graduate from college (his father was a longshoreman, his mother worked in a uniform factory). Having to pay for his education at Fordham Law School by working while he studied, Donovan claims to understand the hardships of immigrant and working families.
On the other hand he is supported by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire, and seems to have many friends on Wall Street. “I think I have the support from people who want to see a New York attorney general who (…) will root out corruption wherever that is, whether it’s in our Medicaid system, whether it’s in Albany or whether it’s on Wall Street (…) without destroying entire industry,” he said when asked whether he thought support from the financial sector may hurt his chances among “Main Street voters”.
Regardless of the election outcome, Donovan jokes that his dedication to the public service is irreversible and was determined on the day he was born: Nov 6, 1956, since it was Election Day. “My mother said she went to the voting booth and voted for Dwight D. Eisenhower during his second term as president and then went to the hospital and had me.”
Till this day he is relieved that his mother didn’t name him Dwight D., but Daniel, after his father.
Feet in Two Worlds New York Election coverage is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.