To Ohio and Back
by Joe Jackson
Ellen Enders knew she was a long way from her Brooklyn home when Ohio locals she recruited to join the Barack Obama campaign were ostracized for crossing the political divide.
The freelance fashion designer from Greenpoint has just returned from another stint campaigning in the industrial heartlands of the Buckeye State, where she found resistance to the Illinois senator. “One local woman in her 60’s joined the Obama campaign and soon found life-long friends would no longer talk to her,” she says. “But it had got to a point where her love for our country and the need for change made this a risk worth taking. It’s sad but she was resigned to it.”
Enders, 43, began campaigning in Ohio in January, tying in the work with visiting her ailing grandfather who lived in Ashland, Ohio, until his death in May. Since then, she has made numerous visits there, including a trip over the Columbus Day weekend with 10 other New York volunteers, predominantly from Brooklyn. “We visited small towns where most of the factories and manufacturing have closed down. It was typical Midwest,” she says.
Enders revealed the volunteers, who were of all ages and backgrounds, faced low-level racism, doors slammed in their faces and comments such as “I’m not voting for a terrorist.” “It was, and is, a very Republican place,” Enders says. “I was initially surprised the Obama campaign even had an office there.”
The fiercest opposition, she adds, came from National Rifle Association (NRA) members. “The NRA has done a good job distorting Obama’s record on this,” she adds.
Enders enjoyed the experience most for the friendships she made with the other volunteers and their shared sense of purpose. They all stayed in her grandfather’s old house and ate dinner together each night. Although she has spent up to $1,500 of her own money on campaigning Enders feels good about having made the trips - regardless of the outcome of the election. “It’s been one of the best things I’ve done in my life and that’s got little to do with Obama himself,” she says.
Republicans Will Come Back
By Katya Wachtel
Two devout Republicans are holding down the small red fort in Kings County, aware that the last eight years have devastated the base, but convinced a Republican resurgence will occur once memories of Bush fade.
New York’s Last Republican
By Jake Pearson
This is Republican Bob Straniere’s last stand.
He sits with the three other candidates running for U.S. Congress and tries to make a case for keeping the city’s only Republican district red. This race shouldn’t be so hard. But it is.
The 13th Congressional District includes Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights and Gravesend neighborhoods in Brooklyn, as well as all of Staten Island. It votes Republican, or has, until now. “This is the only Republican seat in the city of New York and it is vitally important that we keep it,” Straniere says in closing statement at last night’s debate.
Lately, his tone has been one of pleading. It has not been working. Tonight’s audience of perhaps 200 people applaud loudly for the democratic candidate, Mike McMahon. One of them is Chris Waymer, who comes from a Bedford-Stuyvesant and now drives a city bus on Staten Island.
“Staten Island bus drivers are behind McMahon 100 percent,” says Waymer. “He’s been talking to us about things and we believe the words he’s been speaking.”
Republicans have held this district since 1981. But then, in May, Representative Vito Fossella, who had been arrested for drunk driving, was discovered to have fathered a child by a mistress. Things have been in shambles for the Republicans ever since. The GOP candidate to take Fossella’s spot, Frank Powers, died suddenly this summer from a heart attack. Then Straniere, who served 24 years in the Assembly, won the Republican primary despite lacking the full support of his own party.
“New York City has no Republican voice whatsoever,” says Sean O’Sullivan, one of Straniere’s campaign managers. “How can the voice of the people be heard if MacMahon is elected?”
So now Straniere is doing all he can to link himself to John McCain—his strategy is to rely as much as he can on the district’s traditional support for Republicans in presidential elections. His message is as much a warning as anything else.
Breeding Young Republicans
By: Lina Ejeilat
Jonathan Judge, president of the Brooklyn Young Republicans Club, has no illusions about where his candidate John McCain is standing in the race. He and his colleagues just want November 4th to come and go so they can focus on what they regard as a more pressing issue - building a Republican base in Brooklyn.
“Once the campaign is over, focus on high schools,” Judge tells an audience of eight at the monthly club meeting last week. “That’s where your political socialization begins.”
Sam Rivera, the club vice-president, speaks about visiting a high school in Bedford Stuyvesant recently how he explained to students what it’s like to be a young Republican in Brooklyn. He asked the students what they thought being a Republican meant. “Party of rich,” they told him. This concerns Rivera. “None of my Republican friends are rich,” he says.
Judge speaks about branding — “Democrats and the press are defining the Republican party,” he says. “We’re not doing enough of that.”
The meeting goes on for three hours during which the presidential elections are seldom mentioned. Still, Judge says it’s important “to give people the message that there’s still a choice, there’s still a Republican base in Brooklyn.”
But attention is otherwise devoted to local races. As it happens, three of the members of the audience are candidates for the state assembly, each running against the Democratic incumbent in their district.
“Bring the undecideds out for the local candidates,” says Yvette Velázquez Bennett, who’s running in the 44th assembly district against Democrat James F. Brennan, who has been on the assembly since 1984. Velazquez Bennett believes that for many of the undecided, the election is not a question of Obama or McCain, but whether or not to go out and vote. “Get them out to vote for local candidates and when they’re in that booth they’ll pull it for McCain,” she says.
Still, the local candidates face long odds, and, Judge admits, little assistance. “The Republicans, even in the very strong holds, are killing themselves to find volunteers this year,” he says.
His view is echoed by Russell Gallo, who is running for the assembly in the 47th district. “The Republican party needs foot soldiers,” he said. He believes New York can be a lot more of a red state if Republicans knew how to reach out to the immigrants and conservative Democrats. “Immigrants live very Republican social values,” he says. “But they register Democrat and vote Democrat.”
“We’re inheriting this thing,” says Judge, who continues to update his Facebook with messages of support for McCain and Palin.
The County McCain Forgot
By Joyce C. Tang
Lucretia Regina-Potter makes a sudden left in her minivan and pulls into the parking lot behind St. Finbar School in Bensonhurst, the Italian, and Republican, heartland of Brooklyn. In a cavernous, defunct gym, about a hundred white-haired seniors from St. Finbar’s Golden Age have gathered for a Halloween party, even though Halloween is more than a week away. Less costume party than kid’s birthday party, colorful balloons have been strung up and the dish du jour is cheese pizza. Pennies are collected on paper plates littered among the long cafeteria-style tables, signs of a game to be played later.
Chatter echoes throughout the gym, but Potter is on a mission. She’s here for a quick and dirty stump speech. “You are worth a lot more than that,” Potter’s gravelly voice booms, as she walks through her senior citizen talking points: inadequate emergency services, long ambulance rides, keeping money in the district. “You’ve already paid your dues,” she says to the distracted crowd. “Nobody should take the hard-earned money you’re entitled to. As seniors, you’re the veteran,” she says, before panning out to the big picture, a vote for the McCain-Palin ticket.
“Please consider your choice very carefully.”
Potter, 43, is running for Assembly in the 49th Assembly District, and her sidekick is 18-year-old Peter Cipriano, or, as he bills himself, director of youth operations. They make an odd couple, but they’re the perfect duo in a grassroots Republican campaign to get McCain–and Potter herself–into office. Both were born and raised in Bensonhurst, where the devout Republicans combine Potter’s campaign with efforts to get the vote out for McCain, pounding the pavement and going door-to-door a few nights a week, weekends too. “It’s that guy on the phone that’s going to get me into office,” Potter says, pointing a polished pink nail at a man walking down the street as she speeds past him in her white minivan.
Two years ago Potter spoke at St. Frances Cabrini in favor of Education Tax Credits when the private parochial school was in danger of closing down. It has since shut, forcing Potter’s own children to be diverted to another school in the area. “No child should be subjected to that,” Potter says, with a fierce protectiveness in her voice.
“I was drawn to her,” says Cipriano, a former student at St. Finbar, another obsolete private parochial school. “I felt she could do a better job.” He’s deferred a year of college to help Potter’s campaign. With his neat brown hair, modest glasses, and enunciated speech, Cipriano makes for a good poster boy. He’s wearing a starched white oxford button-down, gray blazer with an American flag pinned to the lapel, khakis, and brown loafers.
With no McCain headquarters in New York City, the nearest one being in New Jersey, Cipriano thinks the Republican party gave up on Brooklyn prematurely. “It’s very shortsighted,” he says. The McCain campaign also decided not to fund any campaign efforts in Kings County, so Cipriano’s involvement has thus far been limited. McCain supporters in search of posters to display in their windows or on their lawns would have to spend money out of their own pockets. But a drive through the neighborhood shows that people haven’t been deterred from digging into what these days are likely very shallow pockets.
After barely fifteen minutes of face time with the seniors, Potter rushes to gather her zebra-print, studded purse. The grommets on the hem of her black pants swish back and forth as she practically sprints out the gym door, eager to beat the impending rain so she can spend the afternoon canvassing the neighborhood. “They’re my running mates,” Potter says of McCain and Palin. Unable to separate out her campaign from the presidential one, Potter estimates that she spends 12 to 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, fighting for the cause. Cipriano was up until 2:30 in the morning folding literature. “I get paid in love and respect,” he jokes.
With a light patter of rain, Potter has returned to Bari Tile & Stone, her family-owned and run business on 17th Avenue. She hovers at the doorway, peering up at the sky and pacing about the store, waiting for the rain to pass.
Nader Sets World Record
By Celeste Hoang
The paperwork is still going through but this past Saturday, Ralph Nader set a Guinness world record for the most campaign speeches in a 24-hour period—and Josh Starcher was with him every step of the way.
We last saw Starcher, the campaign’s New York volunteer coordinator, working hard at Nader’s Union rally last week and then at his Wall St. bailout protest. But it was over the weekend that Starcher clocked in some serious overtime when he traveled with Nader to 21 cities in Massachusetts in just one day. The plan included stops in, among many others, Boston, Cambridge and Lexington. Nader spoke for about 10 minutes on a different topic at each location, from single payer healthcare to poverty and the Palestinian Territories.
The morning started off beautifully, but rain started to hit at midday and by evening it was a torrential downpour. “We were driving at 40 MPH with rain pummeling down and you couldn’t see anything,” Starcher recalls. “But everybody made it. The energy was high.”
There were five cars in total, all of them “leapfrogging” from stop to stop, where half of the cars stayed at one location while the other half moved on to set up at the next destination. Starcher spent the day helping the driver navigate and, when they reached a stop, he set up tables, blocked out areas for the media and pointed to where Nader and his crew would go once they arrived. “It was surprisingly great,” Starcher says. “People traveled with us from stop to stop and noted that each speech was unique. When Ralph went to a library he spoke about library issues. When he went to an energy awareness fair [at Lexington High School] he talked about energy. People responded really well to it and everything ran really smoothly.”
Nader’s stops ranged from the Federal Reserve Bank to coffee shops and bookstores, where people crowded out into the streets to hear him speak. Turnout varied from location to location, peaking at about 100 at Clark University in Worcester. What surprised Starcher was the fact that people in the audience started volunteering at the stops and continued on with him. “They were from all over, not just Massachusetts,” he says. “They were so excited.”
The campaign sold out of its entire stock of 1300 blue buffalo Nader ’08 T-shirts recently and there has been an encouraging response to the campaign’s request for supporters to send in videos explaining why they believe in Nader. Just this morning, well-known historian and social critic Howard Zinn announced he would be voting for Nader.
With six days left, Starcher and his team are focusing on the New York City Village Halloween Parade on Friday. They’re preparing a big banner for the parade, printing more fliers, creating more yard signs and working the phones. “I’m on cloud nine,” Starcher says.
Transportation Confusion for Obama Voters
By Alexandra Cheney
With a week until Election Day, the Obama campaign’s vaunted reputation suggests it has every detail organized and under control. After a day of phone tag with campaign representatives and affiliates, we’re not so sure.
According to the 2000 New York City Counties Census, approximately 455,000 disabled people live in Kings County, Brooklyn. Many of these people cannot use public transportation. Curious, we phoned the Obama headquarters to understand the logistics behind shuttling those in Brooklyn who have difficulty traveling to polling places.
A volunteer who could not state his name, took a message for Blake Zeff, the communications director, and Sarah who’s last name he did not know, the ground operations director. He said their system for reaching directors included taking messages and having Zeff and Sarah return calls. In the span of 48 hours neither director called us back.
We then phoned the New York State Democratic Committee, the official state political party that aides the Obama campaign in “getting wise, getting local and getting involved.” New York Democrats also coordinate with individual county committees to get out the vote. According to Carly Lindauer, a spokesperson for the New York Democrats, county committees work predominately with local voters on day-of transportation to polling places, not the New York Democrats.
At 4:00 p.m. on the Tuesday before the general election, the Brooklyn County Committee was closed. We left a voicemail. We then phoned Lindauer back. “The state party is working with our partners on the ground to ensure people have rides to polls,” Lindauer says. Asking for specifics, Lindauer tells us to call party headquarters. When we mentioned we already did, she replies, “It is a week out of the election, we have plenty of time. The New York Dems election center is going to be passing out information on voting rights and places to find polling locations.” But what about getting there? “Call the state senate, the congressional and local campaigns and get information,” she says.
Determined to find a ride, we then phoned several churches, senior centers and grassroots organizations to see if they were offering any type of busing service.
Marvin Wasserman, executive director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled told us that polling places are usually close and convenient, and that transportation is often times unnecessary. “It’s easy to vote in New York, Wasserman says. “I just walk downstairs and vote in the lobby of my building.”
But what about the people whose polling places are further away? “We drive vans to polls on election day – in Wisconsin and Ohio,” says Heather Box, a spokesperson for the League of Young Voters, a grassroots organization that focuses on empowering non-college youth and youth from low-income communities and communities of color. “But we do not have any plans to do it in New York.”
With six days to go and no clear plan from any organization, we’re still wondering how people without access to public transportation are going to reach the polls.