By the Staff of NY City Lens
Competing with the hair-whipping winds that preface a New York autumn, Isabel Fermin, a 46-year Dominican resident of Washington Heights, punched her fists in the air, eyes wide. She was listing facts and figures in staunch support of a state senate candidate, Robert Jackson, who isn’t Dominican.
“I want to elect a good representative for Dominicans like myself. Robert Jackson does good for the people,” Fermin said. “I’m not lying! I pledge to you, by God.”
Meanwhile, a self-described laborer and union member, Leonardo Naranjo, had come out at 6 a.m. to support Jackson’s competitor, Adriano Espaillat, for reelection to state senate.
He worked the subway crowds. “We decided to set up near the train stations so that we can hand out flyers,” Naranjo explained. “Some people take them and say they’re going to come back in the afternoon to vote.”
Jose Perez, meanwhile, was the campaign point person for Guillermo Linares, who was vying to reclaim his former seat as 72nd District state assemblyman. Perez was a realist about the information he is handing out. “I see people throwing the flyers away in the garbage can over there,” Perez said, pointing across the street. But he thinks some people toss them because they realize they are not citizens and cannot vote.
Campaigners from competing camps marked their ground, precariously close to the polling establishments where signs warn against loitering. According to Bruno Rathier, another campaigner for Linares, overwhelmingly more women than men were voting. His theory is that more men are out working. As if to prove Rathier’s point, his fellow Linares-volunteer and fellow Dominican, Jose Perez, asked not to have his photo take. “I took off from work,” Perez explained.
—Reshmi Kaur Oberoi
THE SOUTH BRONX
It may have been primary day in New York City but on the streets of the South Bronx you could be forgiven for thinking it was just another Tuesday morning.
Along the Grand Concourse, crowds gathered to buy fresh bread and produce at the farmers’ market; outside Yankee Stadium, tourists took photos and marveled; elsewhere residents simply go about their business.
As late morning turned to early afternoon, Santiago Ramirez, a local resident and the designated Spanish interpreter at the polling station at Walker Memorial Church, on East 169 St., took a short break outside. The workload on election day, he said, had been “moderate.”
Resting on his walking stick, Ramirez spotted a woman passing by and urged her to vote, explaining the value of engaging in the political process. She declined, with the air of somebody with more pressing matters to attend to.
“She’ll vote in November,” said Ramirez, with a wry smile. “The primaries aren’t important to most people.”
David Solomon, who is a retired clothing manufacturer, is a self-described typical New York Jew. He cares about politics and said he has voted in every New York election since he was 18. This includes primaries.
On Tuesday, Solomon set out for the Leadership and Public Service High School, the spot designated for Community District 1 voters, which includes the residents of the Financial District. It was raining, but that didn’t matter to Solomon.
“I vote in every election,” he said. “Rain or shine.”
On Tuesday, Solomon said he would not be voting for the current New York governor, Andrew Cuomo. “Don’t get me wrong, he’s going to win,” Solomon said. “But this is my way of registering my displeasure.”
Solomon takes issue with a number of Cuomo’s policies and practices. In particular, Solomon said he was frustrated by Cuomo’s most recent visit to Israel. It was inappropriate of the governor, “to not, in any way, show respect or engage with the Palestinian population,” he said. Solomon is also upset about the governor’s choice to disband the Commission to Investigate Public Corruption.
Although Solomon said he had resigned himself to another term for Cuomo, he was saddened that the governor’s opponents don’t even have a chance. “There’s not a shot in hell,” he said. “And that’s awful.”
But he’ll vote anyway—and wished more New Yorkers felt the same way.
“People in this city don’t vote,” he said. “But then they still complain all day long.”
Sitting on beige foldout chairs in a beige room, poll workers at a voting place in Hell’s Kitchen chatted and waited. And waited. Voters were few and far between on Tuesday.
“Some people I spoke to said that they didn’t even know Cuomo was being challenged,” said one poll worker, Dale Lashomb, who has helped out at polling stations for nine elections. This year he worked as a scanner inspector. He was also reading Fairyland: A Memoir of my Father.
Another poll worker, who introduced himself as Pastor Jack Royster, and who was wearing a forest green suit, a DKNY diamond watch, and shoes of what looked like crocodile skin, worked the front door along with his wife and several other women. He said he is the pastor of Reach Out Baptist Church, in Harlem.
“If you don’t do anything and the process rolls over on you, you can’t say anything,” he said.
Royster’s wife, Joanna Morgan, a first time poll station worker, agreed: “People don’t vote in the primary and then don’t understand why they have slim pickings on election day.”
By noon, fewer than 50 people had come to the polling station to cast a ballot. Royster joked that his hat was keeping him from resting his head against the wall and falling asleep.
Even though the Democratic Party nomination for governor was supposedly at stake on Tuesday, you’d hardly know it by the turnout at Central Harlem’s polling station at the Adam Clayton State Office Building. The few people milling about seemed surprised that there was an election underway.
“I’m not interested in voting. I don’t partake in any of it and I’m not a fan of Cuomo,” said Joy Israel. Others said they declined to vote because in their eyes, the election had already been determined. “Who’s running? Oh, Cuomo,” said Alvin Taylor. “It’s a done deal. It’s just protocol.”
On West Tremont Avenue, primary voters from election districts 86 and 77 got detoured Tuesday morning to the gym at P.S. 306, because their usual voting site was closed due to construction. The shift of venue caused some confusion for the few voters that ventured to the polls.
“There are more workers than voters in there!” said a local voter from Andreous Avenue, as she left the building. A poll worker confirmed the low numbers. “I guess people will come only in November,” he said. “A primary is not important to them. You can’t force people to vote.”
Hector Perez, 24, a poll watcher at P.S. 306 for candidate Fernando Cabrera, voted—not surprisingly—for his candidate. He spent the morning tallying votes every hour, but mostly tried to sort out confusion among voters. For example, he said one voter was upset that the candidate he wanted to vote for was not running in his district. People meet candidates and read flyers and want to vote, he said, but then find out they can’t.
Since 6 a.m., Perez had tallied 99 votes, a number later updated to 135 by his colleague, Tabita Rivera, by around 1 p.m. Even for a primary, Tabita found the day “slow.”
It was her third time as a poll watcher. That morning at 3 a.m., she said, she had been at Cabrera’s pre-election meeting, at the old Immigrants Savings Bank on the Grand Concourse. “There was a crazy line,” she said. “It is the first time I see a candidate with so many followers.”
Dozens of young people trickled into the Grace Dodge Vocational High School polling site on Crotona Avenue in the central Bronx Tuesday morning, but they weren’t headed to the gym to vote—they were headed to class.
“It’s been a little slow,” the door clerk, Diana Green, said at 9:30 on election morning. “People come in dribs and drabs.” A few young folks had come before work, Green said, but most voters she had directed to the polls were senior citizens: “Boy, they show up!” she said.
And indeed, after hitting the polls Tuesday morning, 71-year-old Rosa Gonzalez marched out of the gymnasium, plopping down her wooden cane with purpose. “I want Cuomo to win,” she said. “He’s done good things for the community.” Through a Spanish interpreter, Gonzalez said that she lived down the block in a senior housing complex.
Polling Coordinator Frank Forlini, 85, of Crotona Avenue, said his voting site had tallied 44 ballots by 10:15 a.m. His site hosts voters from election districts four, six, eight, and twenty-four—all represented by assembly district 78.
Forlini said he’d been working this polling site for 10 years. He said he didn’t expect to be too busy for this primary, not like like he had been in years past. “When Obama ran the first time, we had over 1,400 people here. Line out the door!” Forlini said. “But it’ll pick up.”
It was 11 a.m. and on the corner of Bryant and Spofford Avenue, “Vote Here” signs were spread across the gates that enclose I.S. 74. The streets were empty but inside, election volunteers conversed with one another, waiting for voters. At one table, two election volunteers, Michele Lawson and Regina Berkley, who had met for the first time a few hours before, were laughing.
Lawson, 48, a long-time Hunts Point resident, said she votes with her daughters every year and has made efforts to speak with local activists and politicians. She had a message to members of the community that do not cast their votes: “Realize and pinpoint what is important to you. This is a chance for you to have a voice and make a decision on who runs the district,” Lawson said. “Do you even know who is running?
Although plenty of signs alerted those walking past to “Vote Here!” the traffic in and out of East Harlem’s Terrence Cooke Health Center, one of the neighborhood’s many polling sites on Tuesday, was practically nonexistent. Save for a few stragglers, the center’s main visitors on this cloudy day were nurses and those going to visit loved ones in their care.
Those few who did vote seemed passive about the activity. When a student was asked how she felt about voting for the first time, she merely shrugged and walked away. A man walking past the poll site seemed to mirror the student’s sentiment. “Maybe I’ll vote later,” he says. “I haven’t made up my mind.”
And in response to a question about how she felt about the absence of voters at the site, a city police officer standing guard in front of the center had just a few short words: “One hundred feet from the area, please.”
THE WEST VILLAGE
At P. S. 41 on West 11th Street on Tuesday morning, an elderly woman sat at the door, her eyes watchful. She introduced herself: “I am Marie Benoit,” she said, showing the badge that marked her as a polling official. “I am here to help the disabled get inside and vote.”
A registered Independent and a lifelong West Village resident, Benoit stood up each time people came to the door. She made sure nobody had campaign materials on them. (Someone was electioneering and handing out leaflets in the corner, not far from the polling site.)
Much later, in the evening on a nearby corner, one of Governor Cuomo’s primary opponents, Randy Credico, 60, also handed out campaign material. He announced to passersby that he was on the ballot against the governor. “Help me defeat Andrew Cuomo and the Vermont carpet-bagger Zephyr Teachout, folks,” he told them.
A one-time comedian, Credico spoke with such verve that he was able to command the rapt attention of some of the people who passed by. He said unlike Governor Cuomo’s main challenger, Zephyr Teachout, he was the “real” New Yorker and the “real” progressive.
—Cherno B. Jallow
UPPER EAST SIDE
Hunter College, one of the oldest public universities in the nation, is almost always busy. The main building is right above the 68th Street subway station. Commuters pass by all day long and students go in and out. At 3 p.m. on Tuesday, students chatted and squeezed through the revolving door. Almost none paid any attention to the other side of the hall, where 15 people sat and stood quietly at what for the day was a voting site for the primary election.
A coordinator, an information clerk, and two inspectors stood in the front, waiting for voters. A police officer walked back and forth, talking with the coordinator. Eight other inspectors sat at five tables. Some talked to each other, while others just sat, doing nothing. Eight booths filled the site, but most were not in use.
Between 3:15 p.m. and 4:15 p.m., the room got some action. Around 15 people voted, all of them senior citizens. “When I vote, I feel it’s a privilege,” said Elizabeth Kwavanqelos, a senior citizen with an “I Voted” sticker on her sweater. Another voter, Patricia Langer, said she had seen somebody wearing such a sticker and had been reminded to vote.
By 4:15 p.m., the school building became quiet again. A poll worker stood up and stretched his legs.
By noon, the polling site at JASA Community Center seemed like a ghost town. Only about 100 voters had cast ballots, according to poll workers.
But those that did come seemed to agree: they were unhappy with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Christine Finn, 82, was one who pointed out that she did not vote for the governor. Another voter, Tony Geballe, 55, also came to vote against Cuomo, noting he’s very unhappy with his stance on fracking and corruption.” What corruption? He was asked. Corruption in general, he replied.
“I know Cuomo will win,” he said, but he hopes voters send Cuomo a message.
It was nearly 2 p.m. and the voting coordinator at the polling site in Mitchell Community Center, Cecelia Mack, said, “It’s been slow this morning. Primaries always are. They come in drips and drabs.”
Indeed. By 2:30 p.m., only two residents had come to vote. The volunteers stood outside the desolate gymnasium on Alexander Avenue and chatted. They still had six and a half hours to go before the polls closed.
As the ominous sky threatened to open up, the lines at the M.S. 301 voting center were scarce. As of 2 p.m., only 150 people had come to vote in the dimly lit gymnasium. The polls had been open since 6 a.m.
“It’s been pretty slow,” said a volunteer, Rosa Sims, 38, who lives off 165th Street in Morrisania.
Meanwhile, outside, Danielle Bristol, had been canvassing the neighborhood, passing out flyers for a New York State Assembly candidate, George Alvarez. “We need to vote someone in that can do something for our children.” One of her children suffers from autism, she pointed out, and “I couldn’t get him into a school.This needs to change.”
She continued: “My kindergartener’s school doesn’t offer an after-school program. And people wonder why our kids run around the streets.”
Across the street at the McKinley housing projects, a maintenance worker, Michael Stewart, said he also believes that if the smaller, but important, issues were addressed more people would come out to vote. “I don’t normally vote during small elections,” he says. “Candidates come out during community day, they wave, they smile, and yet nothing has changed.”
The bell rang and middle school students ran out of the building, past piles of trash in large clear bags, to the big yellow school buses waiting for them. The buses pull off and a silence took hold.