Debate Night in the City

Where New Yorkers watched the debate and what they saw

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On Monday night New Yorkers, like many Americans, gathered at home and in public to watch the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. It was expected to be the most watched presidential debate in U.S. history. NY CityLens staff spread out across the city to find out where New Yorkers were watching, and what they were seeing.

The view from the bar

Over tater-tots and beers, Dan Flemming, 23, and Emily Bennet, 25, watched the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Monday night at William Hallet, a local bar in Astoria.

“I don’t think Hillary’s the answer, but definitely not Trump,” Bennet said. “I was for Bernie.”

William Hallet bar in Astoria, Queens.

William Hallet bar in Astoria, Queens.

A projector illuminated the debate onto a big screen on the back wall of the bar, allowing patrons to witness the contentious exchange from all the tables–if they wanted to, that is.

While some watched intently, barely exchanging words with their friends at their sides, the majority tuned in and out as the debate rolled on for almost two hours. The reactions from the mostly young, diverse group of bar patrons leaned more against Trump than Clinton. Many people laughed when Clinton jabbed him repeatedly throughout the night.

Marissa Collado, 24, had nothing but negative things to say about Trump. “I think he’s really dumb. He’s very rude and really patronizing,” she said. On the other hand, she added, Clinton seemed to go negative too by emphasizing Trump’s lies and making strong comments against him..

Emmannuelle Biyogo, 28, and Annabelle Kondja, 25, both international students from Gabon, Africa, were also disappointed with Trump. “He can’t talk about the Chinese people like that, because Chinese people are here,” said Kondja. “I think Trump is not in reality.”

As for the co-owner of William Hallet, Craig Davis, 44, said he can’t understand how Trump arrived where he is now. “I always get perplexed about how people think that this millionaire represents them,” he said. “To me, it’s baffling.”

He crossed his fingers. “I just want it to be over so the nightmare can pass,” he said. — Hillary Marie Ojeda

A big Bronx cheer for Hillary

Members of the Bronx Young Democrats gather at Beso Lounge to watch the debates.

Members of the Bronx Young Democrats gather at Beso Lounge to watch the debates.

On the night of the first major presidential debate of 2016, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s one-liners were greeted with laughs, hollers, and statements of confidence by some of her most enthusiastic supporters: the Bronx Young Democrats. After an hour of phonebanking, about 30 Bronx Democrats gathered at the Beso Lounge in the neighborhood of Bainbridge to watch Clinton take on her Republican opponent, Donald Trump.

As attendees munched on pizza and wings courtesy of the Bronx Young Dems, they offered candid remarks on the debate — “that’s our leader right there!” “she’s takin’ the high road,” “keep diggin’ that hole, Donald.” Their comments left little mystery as to which candidate these voters will support this election year.

Eric C. Henry, 33, the president of the Bronx Young Democrats, said that the Bronx is one of Clinton’s strongest support bases — during the April primaries, she received 70 percent of the Democratic vote in this borough. For Henry, the most important issue in this election is addressing the cost of higher education, and he believes that Clinton is better fit to do this than Trump.

“Hillary does have a stance on reducing college debt,” Henry said.

Since April, Henry has been leading Bronx Young Democrats in an aggressive, get-out-the-vote campaign. Because Clinton is likely to win the New York election (the latest NBC 4 NY/WSJ/Marist poll gives her a 21 point lead), the executive board of the Bronx Young Democrats is encouraging members to participate on trips to states such as Pennsylvania, where the race is much tighter.

Prior to the start of the debate, many attendees expressed concerns that Clinton would be overshadowed by Trump’s typically boisterous personality. “It’s such a shame that we’re at this point,” one attendee said to another. “Remember when we thought it was a joke?!”

During the first half of the debate, the crowd seemed to particularly like Clinton description of Trump’s economic plan as “Trumped up, trickle-down” economics. Upon hearing the pithy remark, one attendee shouted, “Hashtag that!”

As the debate continued, attendees gradually relaxed, confident that their candidate was holding her own on stage. There were roars of laughter and clapping when Clinton responded to Trump’s criticism that she was publicizing her plans to fight terrorism on her website with a pithy comeback: “A least I have a plan to fight ISIS.”

Perhaps the most tense moment in the room came when the moderator, Lester Holt, brought up the controversial practice of stop-and-frisk. The program, which was instituted by the New York City Police Department, allowed police officers to stop pedestrians on the street, question them, and frisk them for weapons. It was largely criticized for perpetuating racial profiling. When Holt pointed out that the practice had been ruled unconstitutional in New York, Trump said, “You’re wrong.” The remarks prompted groans of frustration from the audience.

But after the debate ended, many were pleased with Clinton’s performance. Ashlee Bolton, 24, who works at Bank of New York Mellon Corporation but lives in Bainbridge, summed up her opinion clearly: “Hillary definitely won.”

“Trump avoided questions, shamed others and didn’t offer solutions,” she continued. “He really doesn’t have plans for our country.”

For many of those in the crowd, the fact that Donald Trump only recently backed down from the “birther” issue — the myth he perpetuated that Barack Obama was not born in the United States — has been unforgiveable. Gerry Fortuné, 50, who works at a Bronx community center in Mount Eden, said he appreciated Clinton’s handling of this issue.

“The ‘birther’ issue really touched me personally because my father was an immigrant,” said Fortuné. “That [discrimination] has happened to black people since we first came to this country.”

Fortuné did give Trump credit for one thing, however. “There’s no doubt he’s a great promoter, and he doesn’t lack self-confidence,” he said. “He is not a shrinking violet.” — Courtney Vinopal

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Gung ho for Trump

Drinks were flowing and the crowd was cheering as they packed the second floor of Tonic Times Square Bar, shoulder to shoulder staring at the big screen televisions. No they weren’t excited about Monday night football. Instead, the New York City Young Republicans were pumped for the first presidential debate and more specifically, to cheer on their candidate, Donald Trump.

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“I’m hoping to see Trump bash her and take her down,” said one of the debate watchers, declining to give her name.

Not everyone was as combative. “I hope Trump is on his best behavior,” said Niki Sappo, who traveled from New Jersey to watch the debate with her friends.

Unlike Sappo, many of the attendees who openly supported Donald Trump and didn’t hesitate in expressing their opinions on the debate, held off when it cam time to give their names for fear of backlash from friends and acquaintances.

“It’s bad out there. When people hear you support Trump they don’t realize it’s because it’s in the best interest of the people. I have friends that have lost their jobs because they openly supported Trump,” said one supporter. While another man said, “If it gets out that I support Trump I’ll be painted as a bigot or a racist, and I’m not.”

Supporters didn’t let this slow their evening though. Many said they came to the bar so they could have the opportunity to enjoy the debate with like minded people, and enjoy is exactly what they did. When Donald Trump first spoke there were immediate cheers, and they didn’t fall silent when Hillary Clinton spoke. The cheers and clapping automatically changed to groans, boos, and eye-rolls.

At the end of the night a lot of the debate goers said they were happy to watch the debate in a setting where they could openly discuss the issues. “Politics is not in your home,” said Joe Zhao. “It’s out in society.” — Margie Merritt

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At the Apollo, Cathy Monte made up her mind

It was a hot crowd at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem Monday night for a free public viewing of the most watched political debate in the history of the United States. The theatre’s gilded decorations and rich red carpets combined with the raucous atmosphere to give the event a celebratory feel.

Hundreds of people were lined up around the block an hour before the doors opened. Once inside, people lined up for the bar, focused on their phones, or had loud political discussions over the blaring music as they waited for the debate to begin.

Hundreds of people were lined up around the block an hour before doors opened at the Apollo Theatre.

Hundreds of people were lined up around the block an hour before doors opened at the Apollo Theatre.

Cathy Monte sat alone in the back left corner of the center section on the main level. She peered around through her spectacles, and alternately crossed her arms and chewed her nails.

Monte had not come to the debate with friends, she had not come to watch a show, she had come because she hadn’t yet decided who to vote for.

“It’s not the policies, cause I don’t believe them,” she said. “It’s whoever seems more like a good person.”

Monte, 68, is retired after a career in customer service. A lifelong New Yorker, she lives on the Upper East Side. She follows the news closely.

Monte carried a large blue plastic bag containing an empty yogurt container and other mysterious objects. More than once, she wondered allowed if her political opinions might get her in trouble with the FBI. She feared that her comments weren’t valuable or articulate. But she was quite sure of one thing. She is going to vote, even if, at the start of the debate she wasn’t sure who she’d support.

As the event got underway, the crowd was — on the whole — good humored. A couple of angry hecklers interrupted a pre-debate panel. But when the host asked any Donald Trump supporters in the house to cheer and just one person clapped there was a chorus of friendly laughter. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Jill Stein of the Green Party each had a handful of partisans. Hillary Clinton received the loudest support.

In large part, this set the tone for the evening. The crowd cheered every one of Clinton’s punch lines, and shouted down many of Trump’s contentions. It was sometimes hard to tell the difference between the sound of approval and the sound of condemnation. Often the crowd was simply loud.

The only quiet moment of the night came as Lester Holt turned the debate to the subject of race in America. There was a long silence during Clinton’s answer. Someone in the crowd muttered, “Not bad.” The silence broke as Clinton turned to gun control. Trump’s statements were drowned by boos after he mentioned stop and frisk.

In her seat in the corner, though, Monte didn’t cheer, she didn’t boo, and she didn’t laugh. She was quiet and looked nervous.

After the debate, on the fringe of the crowd on 125th Street, it became clear what Monte had been doing. While others reveled in the spectacle and tweeted out their forgone verdicts, Monte had made up her mind.

“Definitely without a question Mrs. Clinton won,” she said. “She was so powerful.”

Monte said she disagrees with much that Clinton said. But she found Clinton was not strident, as she had feared, and was obviously qualified to be president. That is why, she said, Cathy Monte will vote for Hillary Clinton.

Joshua Oliver

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