Polish elections in Greenpoint
Reported on July 11, 2010
If the Polish voters in Greenpoint had had their say, Poland’s new president would be Jaroslaw Kaczyński, the twin brother of the late president.
Instead, voters elected Bronislaw Komorowski, the interim president who served for four months following the plane crash that killed the president and 96 others including the first lady, the army chief of staff and the president of the National Bank of Poland.
The much-anticipated election saw the highest voter turnout among Greenpoint’s Polish community since 1989, according to the Polish Consulate. More than 5,000 voters from across New York and neighboring states including New Jersey, flocked to the largest of the region’s voting stations. Any Polish passport holder who had registered could vote there. Greenpoint voters gave Jaroslaw Kaczyński 73 percent of the vote. In Poland, Komorowski won 53 percent, according to the Polish Consulate. He took office on Aug. 6.
Greenpoint voters chose Kaczyński not just because he is a spitting image of his brother but, as former prime minister, they also thought that he had the political resume to carry out the late president’s work. Many said they wanted a watchdog president outside the governing party: a politician who would put national interests above European Union ones; who would protect the needs of middle and lower classes; and maintain ideals of Polish independence, as the late president did. They also felt strong, sentimental feelings for the former president, who visited Greenpoint on a trip to New York. Many voters hoped Kaczynski would carry out his legacy.
“He’s truthful, moral, honest and patriot,” said Jadwiga Wroblewska, a 77-year-old clothing designer.
But, it was not just sentimentality that drove Greenpoint voters to the polls. Waldamor Majchrzak, a 49-year-old on disability, disliked Komorowski’s stance on trimming welfare benefits. “Kaczyński cares much more for the class middle and poorer,” said Majchrzak.
Others such as a 57-year-old business owner, Honorata Pierwola, voted for Kaczyński because she said Poland needed a strong president unafraid to veto the majority party’s platforms. “I choose Kaczyński only for the reason that one party control another,” she said. “We had a very bad experience working with one party. Many corruptions going on if it’s one party.”
While some Greenpoint voters preferred Kaczyński’s conservative stances, others thought they held back the country. Komorowski’s few supporters in Greenpoint thought Kaczyński could hurt Poland’s international standing and saw Komorowski’s plan to strengthen European Union ties as a step forward for the country.
“For me Kaczyński seems narrow-minded. It seems he doesn’t like our neighbors like Germany and other countries,” said Lucas Bielak, a 34-year-old store manager.
Bielak’s perspective matches the larger electorate’s take on the election, but it is a stance unpopular with Polish immigrants, who tend to be politically conservative, said John S. Micgiel, an adjunct professor of international affairs and the director of Columbia University’s East Central European Center.
“Most of the people who vote for Kaczyński are from the more underdeveloped, rural parts of Poland, whose population is more prone to seek employment opportunities abroad,” he said. “They are more conservative, more religious and more apt to support candidates who are perceived as being tough on security and defending Polish interests in Europe and elsewhere.”
Bronislaw Komorowski’s win may have disappointed many Greenpoint voters, but the record turnout was itself a victory in the eyes of Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, Consul-General of the Republic of Poland in New York. Gathering at voting stations, she said, only strengthens people’s ties to their home country.
“They see that they belong to a group, which is good. It unifies the community and this is what I like,” she added.