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When you’re the sort of person who was named vice president of your apartment building’s tenants association as a 15-year-old, elected to the local school board as a college sophomore, and appointed to your Queens community board at age 21, a future in politics seems like a fairly safe bet. So no one who knew him was all that surprised last year when Rory Lancman — by then a practicing lawyer with a wealth of local political experience — decided to run as the Democratic candidate for State Senate in the 11th District in northeastern Queens, N.Y. Now 31 and of counsel to Manhattan’s Fensterstock & Partners, Lancman is campaigning full time as he takes on the fearful challenge of trying to unseat the 14-term Republican incumbent Frank Padavan, who has represented the district since 1973. But he expressed hope that a high turnout of Democratic voters in this presidential election year, coupled with the support of a Democratic Party organization that has made his race a priority, could lead to an upset in November that will land him in Albany. “The substantive key to my winning is persuading people that what goes on up in Albany matters,” Lancman said. “If the election is about Frank’s record in Albany versus what I would do in Albany, I win.” Born in Bayside, Queens, and raised in Jackson Heights, Lancman first became interested in politics when the tenants in his mother’s rent-stabilized apartment building organized to fight a rent increase. Then a student at Hillcrest High School, Lancman (pronounced LANCE-man) was actively involved as the tenants hired a lawyer and succeeded in getting the increase overturned. At 15, he was elected the vice president of the building’s tenants association. As a sophomore majoring in political science at Queens College in 1989, Lancman successfully ran for the school board in his old school district and followed that up the next year by being appointed to Queens Community Board 8 by Borough President Claire Shulman. As a community board member, he opposed the expansion of the National Tennis Center at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, even attacking what he considered the Manhattan-centric elitism of the city’s approach to its parks by suggesting in a newspaper opinion piece that the new tennis stadium be built in the middle of Central Park instead. Later, as a student at Columbia Law School, Lancman served as chairman of the community advisory board at Queens Hospital Center. As a third-year student in 1995, he excused himself from his statutory interpretation class after getting word of Mayor Giuliani’s plan to privatize the hospital, wrote up a press release and went to City Hall to attend the mayor’s press conference. Later that year, Lancman filed a lawsuit attempting to block the privatization plan on the ground that the city had failed to consult with the advisory board. The suit was eventually dismissed, but in the face of opposition from the advisory board and others, Giuliani scrapped the privatization in 1997 and announced that a new hospital would be built on the Queens Hospital site. After graduation from Columbia in 1995, Lancman joined the litigation department at New York’s Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, where he participated in a memorable pro bono case on behalf of a women’s health clinic evicted from its offices after anti-abortion protesters demonstrated outside. “Fried Frank was a very formative experience,” he remembered. “It’s the best legal education you can get because the standards are so high and the commitment to putting out great work product so total.” Lancman left Fried Frank after 14 months to open a solo employment discrimination practice in Forest Hills, N.Y., in part because he had struggled to find time for his many community commitments. He has worked predominantly on employment discrimination cases and mergers-and-acquisitions-related litigation since joining Fensterstock & Partners as of counsel in 1998. He is no longer being paid by the firm now that he is spending all his time on the campaign, but he said Fensterstock attorneys had been eager to help him from the moment he started the campaign in the spring of 1999. Managing partner Blair C. Fensterstock, who was among the first contributors to the campaign, said Lancman’s passion for public service was a significant part of his appeal to the firm. Said Fensterstock, “We fully anticipated that he would run for something substantial. Politics is in his blood, I think.” He added that he had encouraged Lancman to use the firm’s resources to keep his campaign organized. “They were very generous in allocating my time and helping me,” Lancman acknowledged. “You can’t start this kind of endeavor without that kind of support.” Naturally, Lancman’s connections in the legal world have been vital to his fundraising. “Because of being involved in the community and involved in the legal world at a pretty high level, I can put the resources together to mount the kind of campaign that needs to be mounted to beat a 28-year incumbent,” he explained. “So it all kind of comes together.” He noted with a laugh that after this story appears, he will redouble his fundraising efforts among New York lawyers. To date, Lancman said he has raised a total of about $105,000, and that as of the last campaign finance filing on July 15, he had $54,000 on hand, while Padavan had $51,000. Still, Lancman said he was resigned to the likelihood that his Republican opponent would outspend him by as much as a 2-1 margin. The sprawling 11th District, which includes neighborhoods such as Whitestone, Bayside, Auburndale and Jamaica Estates in northeastern Queens, has taken on a different personality in recent years with an influx of immigrants from South Asia and the Far East. It is strongly Democratic, with 52 percent registered Democrats against only 23 percent registered Republicans, but has continued to support the incumbent Republican. Padavan defeated Democrat Morshed Alam with 59 percent of the vote in 1998. Padavan is known in Albany as an independent legislator who is militantly anti-lottery and anti-casino. (Indeed, Lancman recently took in contributions from casino companies at a fundraiser in Sullivan County, where plans are afoot for a casino involving the Mohawk Indian tribe.) Padavan has crossed party lines to back Democrats on state rent laws and on a ban on assault weapons. But Lancman criticizes Padavan for being anti-immigration and for his election-year switch to support for hate-crimes legislation after years of opposition. “The issues people care about today — health care, education, issues affecting women — Frank Padavan is on the wrong side of them, and I’m on the right side,” he said. In particular, Lancman is emphasizing the issue of health care, pointing to Padavan’s opposition to a bill of rights for HMO patients and to his own role in the fight over the privatization of Queens Hospital. “Not many people take on Rudy Giuliani and are successful, and I was,” he said. “That’s probably the biggest credential I have.” The race is seen as an opportunity by a Democratic Party that is desperate to cut into the Republican majority in the New York State Senate. “The district has changed over the years and the incumbent, Padavan, is out of sync with the district on the issues,” said State Senate Minority Leader Martin Connor. “The Queens Democratic organization has recognized that and backed Rory. In the past they’ve sort of taken a pass on the race, but this year they’re not doing that.” BE LIKE CHUCK Lancman, who is married with a 3-year-old son and an 8-month-old daughter, described New York Senator Charles E. Schumer as his political model, citing Schumer’s talent at both politics and policy. And Lancman attempts to keep his example in mind by having the screen saver on his computer read, “What Would Chuck Do?” What Lancman hopes to do on Election Day is benefit from the carry-over support of Democrats voting for a strong presidential ticket. In the meantime, he is filling his days with press conferences and visits to railroad stations, senior centers and the like in an effort to make himself known. “This is a very sophisticated district, and I’m trying to unseat a 28-year incumbent, so I’ve got to give them a really good reason. I’ve got to present myself as extremely well-qualified and deserving,” he said. “So we go the extra mile.” Asked if he ever missed the practice of law, Lancman answered resoundingly in the negative. “The only thing I really enjoyed about being a lawyer was being in court,” he said, adding that those opportunities were far too rare. But he said that now that he is campaigning, it feels as if he is making his case to the voters almost all the time. “Here,” he said, “I’m in court every day.”

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