NY City Lens Reports on the Primary: A Diary

New Yorkers finally got their say in the presidential race Tuesday. On the eve of the primary, Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump were in the lead.  As New Yorkers voted across the city, NY City Lens reporters talked to them, observed, and listened to what they had to say.

Dems Give Peace a Chance

UPPER WEST SIDE, Manhattan – About a hundred feet from the entrance of the polling station at PS 163 on West 97th Street, two campaign tables were set up next to each other. Signs for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton hung from one; signs for her opponent, Bernie Sanders, hung from the other. Whenever a group of people passed, Carmen Quinones, the president of the Frederick Douglass Housing Projects and one of the campaigners behind the tables, would try to get their attention.

“We either Bern or go to the Hil!” she shouted.

In recent weeks, the Democratic primary has become increasingly tense, with both Clinton and Sanders trading jabs over their records and policies. Quinones and three other campaigners, Norm Lafond, Joyce Johnson and Sonia Garcia, decided early in the day to put their differences aside, and their two campaign tables together, as a symbolic reminder that the Democratic Party has more reason to be celebrating than fighting.

“We’ve got two great candidates,” Quinones said.

Processed with VSCO

Processed with VSCO

Quinones, along with the other campaigners, are all part of  the Park West Policy Forum, a coalition of Upper West Side political leaders. At first, they set up separate tables across the street from each other to campaign for their preferred candidates. But as the day went on, they all agreed that the Democratic Party was more important than any one candidate, so they put their tables together.

Quinones, while a staunch Clinton supporter, said that she would work her fingers “to the bone” to put a Democrat in office, regardless of who won, and that her friends would do the same. “We thought this would be a great demonstration of that,” she said.

Lafond, a Sanders supporter, said that their campaigning efforts reflected the mission of his group, the Park West Policy Forum. He started it three years ago so Upper West Side local leaders could come together and discuss policy in a civilized manner. “I think basically, we were dismayed at the level of animosity in local politics,” he said. “We want to restore that civility.”

Paul Ukena, curious passerby who approached the Clinton table, smiled as he looked at both tables together. “This is fabulous,” he said. “Democrats should come together.”

Not everyone was so supportive. The campaigners reported that earlier in the day, an angry Clinton supporter came over and tore a Bernie Sanders signs into pieces. But that didn’t deter the group—their mission is more about inspiring involvement than playing politics. While Lafond was the only Sanders supporter at the table, he still believed that they supported this mission as a unit.

“We encourage people to get involved in political campaigns,” Lafond said.  And to the four campaigners outside of PS 163, it doesn’t matter which one.  – James Farrell

 

Undecided Until the Last Moment

Marc Glazer sits outside of the voting poll on 84h and Columbus (Marybel Gonzalez)

Marc Glazer sits outside of the voting venue on 84th and Columbus. (Marybel Gonzalez)

 UPPER WEST SIDE, Manhattan — Outside the Louis D. Brandeis High School, Marc Glazer leaned on a concrete bench, resting his hand on a wooden cane. Wearing a gray shirt and khaki shorts, he blended in with those who came and went.

Unlike the majority of New Yorkers in this neighborhood, Glazer is Republican, and his political affiliation hasn’t changed much over the years.  On this primary, however, Glazer walked into the school’s polling station uncertain about how he would vote.

Glazer, who is Jewish, criticized Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz’s recent statement on New York values and Donald Trump’s developments that overhauled the Upper West Side’s brownstone residences.

In the end, he said he voted or Republican presidential candidate John Kasich.

But what if he was able to change to another party?

“I probably would’ve voted for Hillary,” Glazer said. “I realize she’s got baggage. Who doesn’t? She’s had to do some things she didn’t want to do.”

He made no comment on Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’s campaign.

Even though he showed up at the polls, as he usually does, Glazer said he doesn’t think voting makes a difference.

“I believe it’s a waste of time,” said Glazer, who has lived in the same apartment by Central Park for 36 years. “I don’t think anybody is strong enough to fight the system anymore. I think there are so many roadblocks, so many people in our pockets – officials, politicians – and nobody will let anything change.”

“I hate to say it,” Glazer said. “But nothing gets better.”    – Marybel Gonzalez and Samantha McDonald

 

Cast a Ballot, Buy a Cupcake

Kadidja Rea (left), a parent volunteer, and Nicki Reidy (right), a PTA member, run a bake sale outside PS 163, a polling station during the New York Primary.

Kadidja Rea (left), a parent volunteer, and Nicki Reidy (right), a PTA member, run a bake sale outside PS 163, a polling station during the New York Primary.

UPPER WEST SIDE, Manhattan – When Nicki Reidy, a member of the PTA at PS 163, walked by the school gymnaisum on the morning of April 18 and saw the voting booths set up for the next day’s primary, she had one thought: “Oh my gosh! That’s untapped money!”

She sent an e-mail out to the principal and to the parents of the Upper West Side elementary school seeking help, and they delivered. The next morning, she had two long tables filled with home baked cookies, cupcakes and brownies lined against the fence in front of the school—a last minute bake sale targeting a hungry crowd of primary voters, all to raise money for PS 163, a polling station for the primary.

“We’ve sold a ton of stuff,” said Reidy on the day of the primary. “I’m actually really surprised.”

The money will go to the PTA, who will use it to fund two main projects: a new scoreboard in the gym, and PS 163’s afterschool program.

Kadidja Rea, a parent volunteer helping Reidy behind the table, said that the last minute planning put pressure on parents to produce. “We had to bake overnight,” she said.

By mid-day, the frosting was melting off the tops of many of the cupcakes, bleeding pink and white colors together. But that didn’t stop the few lingering voters from heading to the tables and buying a treat to contribute. In the end, it worked out—at that point in the day, Rea estimated that they had made between $500-600. And that was before the expected evening rush of voters heading to the polls after work. “We’ll probably, hopefully bring in about $1,000.” —James Farrell

NYC’s Pop-up Primary Court Rooms

WEST VILLAGE, Manhattan— Judges help would-be voters on primary election day at polling stations across New York City. Video by Justine Miller and Jessica Cartwright

 

In Search of the Elusive Republicans of the 15th District

Janna Pea, voter and Democrat (Kyra Gurney)

Janna Pea, voter and Democrat (Kyra Gurney)

 

THE SOUTH BRONX—“Republicans?” asked a puzzled Javier Rodriguez, after voting for Bernie Sanders in New York’s April 19 primaries around 8 a.m. “No. They don’t go here,” he said.

Dan O’Keefe echoed Rodriguez. “You’re going to have a tough time if you want to speak to a Republican voter here—you might be here all day!”

Indeed, last week, The New York Times, The Economist, and other major publications wrote about the unusual political makeup of the South Bronx’s 15th congressional district—the poorest and most Democratic in the country. The district, which encompasses Yankee Stadium, is home to few Republicans. But they will have a disproportionate influence on the outcome of the Republican primaries.

New York’s Republican party awards three delegates for each district, giving the votes of Republicans in places like the 15th district more weight. So much so that Ted Cruz and John Kasich made campaign stops in the area earlier this month in an attempt to woo the district’s few Republicans.

On Tuesday morning, NY City Lens went to the Bronx Supreme Court, the polling station for the 15th congressional district, in search of the elusive Republican voter. Instead, we found a lot of diehard Hillary Clinton fans and a handful of Bernie Sanders supporters.

Some, like Jennifer Mpofu, had gotten up at 6:30 a.m. to cast their ballots. “When there’s a Donald Trump running, I got to wake up early and drag myself out of bed to vote.”

Jeniffer Salmon, a local real estate agent, voted for Clinton too. “I believe people are fooled with the Bernie message and the Bernie message is to give everything away for free,” she said. “If everything is free, how can you survive? How can the country survive?”

Keisha Melville and her mother-in-law, Dorothy Melville, also voted for Clinton. “I think it’s time women stand up,” Keisha Melville said. “She’s been around, her husband was president. She has the experience—what more do you need?”

Dorothy Melville has always voted Democrat. “The Republicans are not for the poor, that’s how I feel. And Bernie Sanders? I don’t know him.”

Other voters had a lot to say about Bernie Sanders’ age. Sanders “looks a little frail,” said Brenda Cooper, a Bronx saleswoman. “Bernie is now too old for this,” Bronx hairdresser Felicia Flora explained in Spanish. “Why not Bernie? Because he’s too old. He’s too old,” said Sherlyn Llaca, a nurse’s aid.

Sanders is actually only six years older than Clinton and his age was not as big of a concern for his younger supporters. “He is the revolution,” said Laura Tori, 27. “He is just more honest than Clinton. She’s the establishment and she needs to change. She is the top one percent.”

Javier Rodriguez echoed these sentiments. “She’s a drone,” he said of Clinton. Sanders, he said, “is preaching the right words. I want to hear—no, see—difference.”

In the steady stream of voters coming in and out of the courthouse, there were no Republicans to be found.

“The Bronx every year votes for Democrats. It’s always like that,” explained Angel Rodriguez, a city employee.

“I don’t have any Republican friends, actually,” said Tori, the 27-year-old Sanders supporter. “Definitely not in this area, not here.”

“You might find a few, if they come out of hiding,” joked Marlon Wilder.

At last, NY City Lens thought we might have found one Republican voter who had stumbled out of hiding. “Ted Cruz is my guy,” said a man who declined to state his name, as he walked into the courthouse. In the end, however, he ended up being a courthouse employee—and not a local voter. —Krutika Pathi and Kyra Gurney.

 

The “Guardian of the Voters”

Copyright Caroline Spivack

Bay Ridge voters at P.S. 264 early Tuesday morning, casting their votes. (Caroline Spivack)

BAY RIDGE, Brooklyn— “She’s not in the book,” the information clerk said, flipping through a stack of names at as he gestured toward a woman.

“What do you mean she’s not in the book?” James McHenry said, as he sauntered across the freshly waxed gym floor at P.S. 264. It was 7 a.m. A sherbet orange card with McHenry’s job title for the New York State Board of Elections, Coordinator, hung from his neck and swung like a pendulum as he walked.

“Her neighbor who lives in the same building is here, but she’s not,” the man answered, with a twinge of concern.

“Let me see,” McHenry said, as he leaned over the tiny collapsible desk covered in papers and tape, the gateway to the voting booths in the gym beyond. His glasses hung low on the bridge of his nose as he scanned a list of names. After a moment he glanced up at the woman and waved for her to follow as he entered the gym, packed with district tables and voter booths.

McHenry, a Bay Ridge resident of 40 years, referred to himself as “the guardian of the voters.” He scurried across the gym and took repeated elevator trips to check on those greeting voters in the elementary school’s lobby to make sure they are doing their jobs.

In the early morning, a steady stream of Brooklynites began to trickle in, and often with their own set of problems. A teacher who works at P.S. 264 mistakenly thought she could vote in the school instead of her own district’s polling center. A few longtime voters’ names were missing from the books. A pair of “privacy shields” for the scanning machines had gone missing, causing some congestion. And one volunteer mistakenly collected the folder that contained one man’s ballot before he had a chance to cast his vote. The error was quickly corrected.

Kelly Hunt, whose name had been missing from Election District 59’s book of voters, was quickly given an affidavit to sign and an old fashion bubble sheet to fill in, with only a few minutes delay.

“I gotta have the answers to people’s questions, you know, it’s not like they can come back tomorrow,” McHenry said with a laugh. “It’s important and it’s a right I’m making sure people can fulfill.”

McHenry, whose full-time job is a cashier at the Met’s CITI Field, has done this for the last 10 years and feels it’s his duty to get involved.

“If I don’t vote,” said McHenry. “If I’m not part of the processes, how can I complain about things I’m not happy with?” – Caroline Spivack

 

Pushing Hillary, Feeling Some Heat

Gretchen Borges and Paula Diamond Román, with their Hillary merchandise

Gretchen Borges and Paula Diamond Román, with their Hillary merchandise (Aditi Sangal)

 

UPPER WEST SIDE, Manhattan—As voters came in to vote, the children of PS 165 walked out from their classes to play in the sun during recess. What caught their fancy was not the bake sale they passed by on their way out, or the number of strangers coming in to vote. It was the table set up by Broadway Democrats right outside their recess ground.

Gretchen Borges and Paula Diamond Román sat at the table with merchandise pushing their candidate, Hillary Clinton: stickers, buttons, and cards that show which delegates have pledged to the Democrat. Everyone was sneaking a look. Some loved Hillary. Some were just curious. And others took a second to boo at her picture.

The children, at least, were not getting any merchandise regardless of the reaction. Román knows kids and their fascination with stickers, and she says it usually ends badly. “Apparently, they stick it all on the voting machines and then the teachers yell,” she said.

The table was not just fascinating to the kids. Soon, adults were coming to check out what was going on as they came around to vote, and Borges and Román had more to deal with.

Joseph Rabich stopped by to give them a piece of his mind. “Where’s Hillary right now? Is she in a black church? I’ve never seen her in a white church,” he said. “She’s a piece of shit, just like her husband.” Rabich, 88, was voting for Trump in the primary. Clinton, he argued, “is dividing blacks, whites, Hispanics. I haven’t heard her say Americans. This country is so divided. I feel sorry for my country. I see it being slowly destroyed.” Trump, he believes, will fix it.

Another voter was waiting in line to speak to someone who would listen to how misleading the voting process is. “The ballot only says make sure you fill the circles completely. It’s very confusing. They should have the instructions written on the ballot,” said Cory Zimmerman. “If the voter fails to select the delegates in addition to the candidate, or if the voter selects the wrong delegates, then the candidate will not get those delegates. Also, the candidate will not get all of the delegates unless the voter selects all six of the delegates,” he said, trying to explain. But Zimmerman had to clarify the details with the officers himself to get it right.

Later, as the crowd thinned out, and things calmed down again, Román couldn’t get the angry eighty-eight-year old, Rabich, off her mind. She pointed to a Hillary button with a picture of her and the slogan, Unite America. “I couldn’t be rude to a man who is of that age,” she said, “but Hillary does want to Unite America.” Then she went back to shooing away the children who were asking for free Clinton merchandise. —Aditi Sangal

 

This Play Is the Real Thing

The Debates unfolds on stage. (Jack Goodman)

The Debates unfolds on stage. (Jack Goodman)

 

EAST VILLAGE, Manhattan—Not only was The Debates—a play that amused and educated a full house at the Kraine Theater on the eve of the primary elections—about politics. It was politics. The script is largely made up of real quotes, stats, and statements from the live presidential debates of both parties.

In the small and atmospheric venue, the ‘Theater In Asylum’ production was a clever adaptation of the presidential debates, and also told the story of a group of friends—half in the Sanders camp and half in Clinton’s. One cast member stood at the center of the stage at the end, with a message for the audience: “please make sure you vote.”

On primary day, The Debates director, Paul Bedard planned to vote near his home in Harlem on 144th Street. “I personally feel the Bern,” said Bedard, who is also the Co-Artistic Director of Theater in Asylum productions. In this politically charged performance, it is unsurprising that the cast members had their own biases to contend with, said Bedard. But the actors were eager not to show favoritism. To do so, the group worked hard to counteract their personal preferences and often took the opposing position during the play. After the second performance tonight, the play moves to Rhode Island and Connecticut.

The script for The Debates is available online  (www.theaterinasylum.com/script.html)complete with footnotes for any suspicious fact-checkers. In preparation, the cast pored over transcripts from the real debates and conducted research to make sure their facts were watertight. The actors delved into the issues that have been the big talking points during the campaigns—healthcare, gun control, tax policy, and racial injustice.

Throughout the evening, they also picked up on the little real-life idiosyncratic ticks of the candidates, from Bernie Sanders’ repetitive pointing to Clinton’s folding down her fingers to the bottom of her palm to Jeb Bush’s meek expressions and Trump’s rapid-fire orations.

“The play was a way to bring theater people to politics,” said Bedard. “And politics to the theater.”— Jack Goodman

 

A Coordinator’s Work is Never Done

The sign outside a polling booth in Forest Hills

The sign outside a polling booth in Forest Hills (Mary Kekatos)

FOREST HILLS, Queens—At a table at the entrance of the gymnasium of P.S. 101, Joseph Hennessy, 78, sits and looks around as voters straggle in to cast their ballots for the Democratic and Republican presidential party nominations.

As coordinator of this district for the past seven years, it’s Hennessy’s job to make sure that everything runs smoothly—which takes a lot of work. The 37-year-resident of Forest Hills has been at the school since 5 a.m. to get ready for the first flood of voters. Polls opened an hour later. “It takes a lot to set up,” Hennessy said. “The equipment is delivered on Friday and then I come in on Monday to make sure everything is working okay.”

A staff of some 45 people sat at various tables around the gym, signing in voters and translating ballot cards. In this assembly district, District 28, polls will close at 9 p.m. and while Hennessy hopes to be out by 10 p.m., he knows this isn’t always the case. “I’m here until everything closes up. But in the last primary, so many people rushed in to make it in by 9 p.m. that the machines broke down,” he said with a laugh. “So we didn’t get out of here until around 11.”

In fact, in the middle of this interview, one of the scanning machines broke down, and Hennessy was called over to figure out what was going on. After about 15 minutes of fruitless fiddling, a “Broken” sign had to be placed on the machine until support could be called in to fix it.

Around noon, Hennessy said that for a primary voting day, turnout had been unusually heavy, especially in a district mostly filled with working professionals and senior citizens. Hennessy doesn’t mind the extra work. As someone who has been volunteering during election cycles for close to 15 years, he say it’s important for people to get out and vote, so the heavy turnout pleases him.

“I don’t believe you can complain if you don’t vote, no matter whom the candidate is,” he said. “It’s a great privilege to vote. So, why is it that people stay home and don’t vote? I don’t know.”—Mary Kekatos

 

 

 

 

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