By Naeisha Rose
Dymitra Etienne, a senior clinical quality analyst in the healthcare field, did not intend to pursue politics, but after seeing how a bullying incident was handled with her daughter she found her school district and the local government to be ineffective.
That is one of the many reasons Etienne is challenging incumbent female Democratic Leader Roslin Spigner for the 33rd Assembly District seat in the Sept. 13 primary.
The district represents St. Albans, Queens Village, Hollis, Cambria Heights, Floral Park and Bellerose.
“My daughter was attending PS 176 – a Cambria Heights school — and was in a bullying situation and while she was in the gifted and talented program, she was being used as a scapegoat,” said Etienne. “Instead of disciplining the other five students, they decided to transfer my daughter out of the class.”
Etienne tried to reach out to the late district leader and Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) for help, but found her elected official to be inaccessible and the principal, and superintendent more interested in sweeping the whole matter under the rug.
“I basically got no help,” said Etienne. “I ended up having to move my daughter to Bayside – to School District 26, which is considered a better school district [than School District 29].”
After transferring her daughter in 2007 to PS 46, Etienne found the northeast Queens politicians to be more available.
“The elected officials were more accessible and any problem or issue I had, I just walked into the office and had a conversation with someone in the office and things were done,” said Etienne.
Witnessing how local politics worked in Bayside led Etienne to volunteer for Sen. Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
“I got fired up,” said Etienne.
When her daughter asked to go to high school near their home in Cambria Heights, Etienne agreed. But she couldn’t help but notice that most of the schools in their district were co-located and knew she had to do something.
“After working with the Obama campaign… I knew I wanted to make a change,” said Etienne, who thought the schools in her district should be of better quality.
In 2008, Etienne co-founded the Cambria Heights Neighbors, Friends and Families Association and has served as a budget delegate for City Council District 27 Participatory Budget committee for the city.
As a potential Democratic district leader, she doesn’t only want better schools, she wants area politicians to answer to the constituents they represent and not the other way around.
“If you are a paid representative, you answer to us – we pay you to represent us,” said Etienne. “That’s not what is happening here.”
She also wants more legislation driven by the needs of the citizens in her district, not legislation that is shoved down their throats.
To grow the Democratic Party and ensure better leadership in her district, Etienne’s vision includes increasing the numbers of attendees in block and neighborhood associations and having these members become more politically engaged so that they are equipped to run for office.
“We need [constituents] who can run for local positions because we need a thriving community and a strong community,” she said.
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose