Politics Class for Seniors Gets Heated Over Choices

By Daniella Emanuel

A woman at the back of a classroom in a special class for seniors on the Upper East Side stood up Thursday and told her classmates what she really thought of the Republican presidential candidate.

“I think a lot of the people who are voting for Trump really want to be bullies,” she piped in, after the teacher asked why the students think this election is so close. “He is their bully voice.”

Laughter erupted and voices overlapped each other as the teacher tried to retrieve more viewpoints and move the class forward.

For almost 13 years, Larry Geneen, a 72-year-old teacher and former chief operating officer at the American Management Association, has taught a weekly class on politics to New York City seniors. At the first class of this year’s eight-week fall session, he had one of the biggest turnouts ever – and the discussion it sparked was heated. He credits this year’s heated presidential race and believes what took place in his class is a reflection of the nation’s anger over the election.

“I think this is the least happy election in my lifetime,” Geneen said. “There aren’t candidates that people are happy with and you see that with the negative ratings.”

Larry Geneen teaching the course.

Larry Geneen teaching the course. Photo courtesy of Judy Langer

Geneen said the people who attend the class are primarily liberal, but in the past few years he has seen more conservative people attend the course. He said he doubts many of those individuals will be voting for Trump. If there was a more moderate Republican for president like Gov. Jon Kasich, he said, he thinks a third of the class would be voting Republican, since they are not the biggest fans of Clinton.

Many students in the class like Clinton, but some people planning to vote for her aren’t too happy about it.

Fred Weinberg, an 83-year-old student, who described this election as a “political adventure,” said he will reluctantly cast his ballot for her.

“It’s exhilarating, exciting, depressing. It’s almost like a reality show,” Weinberg said. “I don’t care for either of them, so it’s a matter of voting for the lesser of two evils.”

Many in the group seemed baffled by Trump’s candidacy. Judy Langer, 75, the executive director of the Center for Living and Learning, the program that runs the politics class and various other courses for seniors and retired people, helps lead class discussions. She can’t believe Trump is even in the race, and says many in the class feel the same way.

“Almost every week someone goes, ‘Why, oh why, is Trump up for president?,” said Langer, a Democrat.

When asked whether she thought the older age demographic was being addressed enough by the presidential candidates, 69-year-old Susan Ohringer shook her head.

“Social security hasn’t come up at all,” Ohringer said. “No one’s dealing with the elderly.”

Michael Cohen, a 72-year-old retired salesman who remembers campaigning for Adlai Stevenson in 1952, agreed that social security hasn’t been addressed, but he doesn’t feel left out.

“They really haven’t discussed it too much,” he said. “But, they haven’t discussed anything too much,” he said.