If Midtown West Manhattan’s voting patterns were color coded, the neighborhood would be a shade of Navy blue. From Fifth Avenue to the Hudson River, and 14th Street to 66th Street, more than 60 percent of registered voters came to the polls for the 2008 election, and almost 80 percent of them voted for President Barack Obama. As our accompanying graphs show, the community of residents, employees and tourists filling the sidewalks in the neighborhood on any given day is a diverse sample of New York City. While the political identity of the neighborhood hasn’t changed much in the last four years, with more than 60 percent of resident voters registered Democrat as of April 2012, attitudes about the fate of the nation have changed.
The Midtown Gazette editorial staff walked the neighborhood to find out what issues are weighing most heavily on voters as they head to the polls. We spoke to healthcare employees, union workers, small business owners and members of different religious communities, to older adults and first-time voters. While 2008 showed a huge outpouring of voters enthusiastic for change, 2012 may prove to be different: Many of the people we spoke with expressed disdain for both President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney. A couple said they won’t vote, while others said that voting was just choosing between the lesser of two evils.
Despite the stark differences in the communities we spoke with, almost everyone mentioned one area of greatest concern: the economy. Whether speaking of their own unemployment or a friend’s, concerns about the federal debt or cuts to social programs, or a potentially unstable future for the younger generation, the Americans of Midtown West are still feeling the effects of the 2008 economic crisis. Fear about the economic situation in the next four years is leading people to vote, along with worries about healthcare, education, and an array of social issues. The data we’ve compiled, along with comments from an array of locals, combine to provide a comprehensive look at what Midtown West has on its mind.
The people we talked to:
We looked for voters – or people who are sitting this one out – who represent Midtown West because they live here or work here or both. We spoke to women, who outnumber men at the polls, to immigrants trying to get a business off the ground, to older adults trying to navigate their lives with dignity, and more. What follows is not a large enough sample to be of statistical significance, though you can find all the data you need in our accompanying piece. It’s intended, instead, to give our neighbors a chance to speak up about what worries them, just days before the 2012 presidential election.
And while almost everyone mentioned the economy as a primary concern, from there the list broadened – usually, understandably, aligning with whom we asked and what they do or want to do.
Contributors include Kamakshi Ayyar, Anna Cooperberg, Qi Chen, Morgan Davis, Emmanuel Felton, Mei-Yu Liu, Ashwaq Masoodi, Gregory Moomjy, Stephanie Ott, N.G. Onuoha, David Palacio, Valerie Prassl, Simone Scully, Claire Stern and Annie Zak.
The younger the woman, the likelier she is to worry about the economy and education; the older she gets, the more she thinks about social issues and personal rights.
“[I’m worried] that people don’t realize that there’s more than two choices, and the media controls who’s in the top.” — Chelsea Hodgdon, 19, student at Borough of Manhattan Community College, from Colorado
Women’s rights and gay marriage. — Erin Fabian, 23, student at The Bard Graduate Center, from L.A.
Education, women’s rights, the economy: “[I’m worried] that neither candidate is good enough.” — Corinna Lander, 24, photographer
Women’s health. — Alexandra Owens, 24, editorial assistant from Florida
Education. — Kate Coza, 25, works in museum arts administration, from Jacksonville, Florida
The economy and women’s rights. — Rebecca Handler, 32, book publisher from the Upper West Side
Education, the economy. — Lissa Rivers, 32, banker
Employment: “People aren’t spending money on things that aren’t necessities.” — Estrella Martinez, 35, dental hygienist
The economy. — Joanna Reyes, 36, salesperson for a telecom company
Healthcare. — Elizabeth Mason, 41, lawyer
Women’s rights/abortion: “They keep talking about the economy, and women already make less than men.” — Christine DePedro, 48, creator of iPad apps
Women’s rights, gay marriage: “I’m afraid that if it goes in the Republican direction that he will reverse gay marriage, and I think [gay marriage] was an incredible thing.” — Sindi Kaplan, 50, group fitness instructor
Women’s rights — Norma Kesselschmidt, 64, retired teacher
Women’s rights, abortion rights, equal pay, the Supreme Court — Georgette Jasen, 65, journalist
Energy shortage, food shortage, infant care and paid parental leave — Barbara Gilbert, 68, social worker
The fine arts community:
While threatened arts grants pose an immediate concern to the fine arts community, people in this field tend to take the long view; they appreciate that they are hardly alone in wondering what the future holds.
NEA funding cuts: “I think if the Republicans get into power, there will likely be budgets cuts to the NEA (NEA: national endowment for the arts) and arts nonprofits because they are not perceived as moneymakers or having tangible, revenue producing, benefits.” — Katja Zigerlig, art insurer
A global worry list: The economy, healthcare, foreign policy, the state of small businesses, the military. “Other countries have their own military; our men shouldn’t die for them. First of all we should fix what’s broken in this country.” — Tatjana Hochrein, 23, singer, artist, art greeter for the Public Art Fund
A Republican victory and our international status: “Romney beats around the bush in the debates. The job situation is terrible; the government should help create more jobs. . . . China is taking over in terms of being the economic world power.” – Shomari Grant, 25, music producer
Election outcome: Governor Mitt Romney’s policies on reproductive services, healthcare, renewable energy, arts cuts. “Regulating the pharmaceutical industry – it’s a multi-billion dollar industry and if it’s not properly regulated, money will be used inappropriately.” — Alexandra Plotnik, 21, graphic design student at Parsons
Not enough of a commitment to change: “Obama is the lesser of two evils; the government structure should change. . . .If people contribute to a certain area in the city, they should be allowed to live there. But, for example, Koreans in Korea Town work long hours every day, but then have to travel a far way home because they can’t afford living in Midtown.” — Rudy Bravo, painter and Arts Student League employee
Contraception, the economy, and an end to “intervention in tumultuous areas.” – Diane Fitzpatrick, Pace Gallery employee
The economy: “It won’t get better.” – Jessica Kitz, Betty Cunningham Gallery employee
The environment: “Local environment should trump foreign intervention.” – Andrew Liss, Gallery Henoch assistant director
The economy: “Finding a permanent job nowadays is nerve-wracking.” — Talia Sabag, 20, MagnanMetz Gallery employee and art history student at Purchase College
Healthcare professionals and activists:
This group expressed a wide range of concerns, from an obvious preoccupation with healthcare to worries about peace and gay and religious rights.
Election outcome: “I’m worried that Obama won’t be reelected, that Democratic control of the Senate will be lost, and I’m a big supporter of the Affordable Care Act, so I’m worried about that. . . and about social issues like abortion and gay rights.” — Pharmacist, who asked not to be identified by name
Employment and reproductive services: “I’m concerned with getting jobs, especially because I graduated college in May and it took me this long to find a job. It’s really hard to find one in general. . . . the availability of birth control is a big issue… if Romney is elected he plans on cutting Planned Parenthood’s funding.” — Regina Deap, pharmacist’s technician
Health and peace: “I’m a med student and I want to do research, so I’m concerned about NIH funding. . . [and] I don’t want to be paying taxes that go to war.” — Anjali Jacob, Boston University medical student
Voter turnout: “I’m worried that people that voted for Obama in 2008 won’t be motivated to go out to vote for him, and . . . . I’m concerned about Mitt Romney repealing the Affordable Care Act… it’s such an overdue piece of legislation that does immeasurable good.” — Anna Blasco, works for a nonprofit in Washington, D.C.
A liberal agenda: “It’s the first time I’ve watched or cared genuinely. . . the liberalism that Obama brings to the table is revolutionary. Our generation, we need more of a liberal person [in office].” — Emily Anello, part-time psychology student at Hunter College; unemployed and collecting unemployment for two months
The economy and a rights agenda: “Jumpstarting the economy, creating more jobs. . . .reducing the deficit. Foreign policy, in particular getting out of overseas conflicts (or at least continuing to significantly reduce the number of troops abroad) as soon as it is reasonable to do so. Keeping the Supreme Court fair and balanced, especially in preserving a woman’s right to choose as per Roe v. Wade, the repeal of DOMA and the passage of a same-sex marriage bill, improving the American educational system so that we are competitive with other major nations.” — Vern Calhoun, acting executive director and director of communications at Susan G. Komen for the Cure Greater New York City
Religious liberty: “If we don’t have religious liberty, there is no liberty.” Less government and more enforcement: “Health care is bankrupting the country and taking away liberty. Too many things are becoming a matter of “public health” and thus a default for government intervention. I am also concerned that the focus is wrong. I believe in preventive care, but not the way it has been usurped by the government and health agencies.”
“Until the law [DOMA] is changed, the President and others took an oath to uphold the law. They are not doing that. . . . Disregarding the laws, for whatever reason, is a violation of the oath of office. That selectivity breeds a general disregard and disrespect for all law and order and is arbitrary and capricious for it depends on who is in power and their desires instead of objective, general principles. That also does not bode well for the country.” — Bonnie Franz, retired; member of New Yorkers for Vaccination Information and Choice; former social worker, social studies teacher and Virginia State Leader for the National Vaccine Information Center
The Muslim community:
Eleven years after the 9/11 attacks, some members of the community have concerns defined by a pervasive cynicism about how they are perceived.
Religious tolerance: “In America, the hierarchy of power is women, kids, dogs and then men. Men should get more power. I also want a strong legislation that stops anybody from insulting and saying anything against our religion and our prophet.” – Khalid Hasan, 58, runs a halal cart on West 50th Street
Pointlessness of voting: “We are all terrorists to them. Why should I vote? I don’t want anything from them.” – Ali Mohammed, 62, runs a halal cart on West 60th Street
Peace: “I want to vote for the one who ends wars. I like Obama because he is ending the Iraq war. My grandfather was in military. He died during the World War II.” – Bangaly Cisse, 55, taxi driver.
Religious tolerance: “Our holidays should be better recognized in the calendar. There are several Muslim schools across the state which need government funding.” – Imam Omar Abu Namous, 78, employee at the Islamic Cultural Centre of New York
Small business employees:
Beyond a pervasive concern with the economy, small business workers worry about a generalized disregard – for the middle class, for minority groups, for students. Two employees who’ve decided not to vote cite the need for better immigration policies, to help international students applying for citizenship and new immigrants trying to adjust to American culture.
Priorities: “No care on either side for minority groups, but Obama is better than Romney in this respect.” — So Choi, cashier, Kang Suh Restaurant
The middle class: “Romney doesn’t know about regular people’s lives, won’t make policy for middle class.” Kim, counter employee, The Face Shop
The economy: Jeon, manager, European Optical on West 32nd Street
The economy: Jobs for skilled workers, food and grocery taxes, policies to assist middle-class families. — Zia Rehman, building superintendent
The economy: Job creation and a policy to address high student loans and tuition costs. — Edwin Santiago, cashier, Pinkberry
The economy and personal rights: “I don’t vote for an issue, but the overall progress.” – Michael De Filippo, organic food station owner
Health care and education: “I see young people with master’s degree, got no job to do.” – Antonius Luthar, owner of a dry cleaners
The performing arts community:
This group takes a fairly partisan position, worryied about issues far beyond that of arts funding, reassured by the possibility of four more years of a Democrat’s administration.
Supreme Court appointments: “I am nervous about a Romney victory and a Republican takeover of the Senate. . . but above all, whoever wins will get to nominate at least one Supreme Court justice, and the idea of the court moving even farther to the right is quite alarming. Also, I think Obama. . .has earned the right to continue his work.” – Joel Sachs, New Julliard Ensemble conductor and faculty, pianist
Election outcome: The impact of a Romney presidency on gay marriage, global warming, women’s rights, education, health care and social programs. “The greatness of a nation should be measured in how we support each other and are responsible stewards of the earth; the greatness of a nation should be measured in how we support each other and are responsible stewards of the earth; the social Darwinism enacted by the Republican party is the opposite of everything I believe. — Briandaniel Oglesby, playwright
Election outcome: “I fear that Romney’s election would exacerbate the recession at home and endanger the world abroad through his saber-rattling, warmongering policies. On a more spiritual level, I am concerned his election would give further support to this odd idea that America is a business, and that value is determined solely by an allegedly free-market system rigged to support corporate interests and the wealthy. So, yeah, I’ll be voting for Obama.” – Gus Lorkin Schulenburg, playwright
Marriage equality: “I’m worried about the prospect of loosing what ground we’ve gained in marriage equality was well as the cutbacks to the arts.” – Bryan Jagger, production assistant, Ten Chimneys at St. Clements Theater
Turnout: “My biggest fear is that people won’t come out and vote, to allow their voices to be heard and matter.” — John Scutchins, stage manager
Partisanship: ““To think that we can adhere all of our own personal political and moral temperaments to two candidates is absurd. Vote for the candidate you feel is strongest but don’t be afraid to challenge them on issues you feel they misrepresent. If you vote Obama- you don’t have to adopt every element of his campaign. — Brett Dameron, actor
Healthcare: “Since I am a low income earning female individual in the arts, I am scared that funding to Planned Parenthood will be stopped and I will struggle to pay for health insurance, which I’m dealing with right now as my 26th birthday approaches on Friday.” – Caroline Bloom, actor
The Jewish community:
The one place where concern about social issues and programs takes precedence over the economy.
Social policy: “It feels like this country only helps other countries, but where is the support in my area or community? The government should help Americans to be able to live the American dream again.” – David Czegledi, 44, manager, Ben’s Kosher Deli
Social policy: Social security, healthcare, higher education costs. – Rebecca Backmann, IRS employee who is precluded from making election endorsements because she works for the government; this is her personal list of concerns.
Older adults and community organizers:
Even though many of these people are approaching or have passed the traditional retirement age of 65, the economy and jobs run a close second to healthcare on their list of election-related concerns. Seven older adults, ranging in age from 58 to 80, said that their primary concern was the future of Medicare, Social Security, and health care services. Six people ranging in age from 55 to 80 said they were worried, first, about the economy and jobs.
The candidates: “The wrong people are running! If you ask me, we should vote for Lincoln, and Hillary after that!” – David, 67, Chelsea resident
The system: “When he [President Obama] took his oath of office, the Republicans took an oath too, to not work with him. Who pays in the end?” – Michael, 63, Chelsea resident.
The Latino community:
Two residents of a public housing project, permanent Democrats, share a commitment to social programs.
Election outcome: Health care, Social Security, affordable housing, women’s rights – and national security. Voting for Obama “because I’m a Democrat.” — Aida Padilla, who has lived at Elliot-Chelsea public housing for 60 years.
Election outcome: “I’m always a Democrat. My children are going to college soon. I really want an affordable price for higher education.” – Norma Mendez, NYPD officer for 23 years
The homeless community and homeless activists:
Not surprisingly, there’s a high level of why-bother within the homeless community, where thinking about policy issues seems almost a luxury compared to their daily concerns.
Not voting: “I don’t care for any of them. It’s the lesser of two evils.” – Mark Raune, 31, homeless Iraqi war veteran
Not voting: “I’m not concerned about what happens. I’ve never voted.” – Nigel Sharimpton, 40, homeless former landscaper
Micro versus macro: “You’ve got to be kidding me if you’re concerned with something else, and you don’t know where you’re going to sleep or whether you can go to the doctor when you’re sick.” – Ranisha Browder, 35, Covenant House clothing room attendant
The 1 percent: “There is a fear of the rich just running everything. It could be a possibility.” – Alina Pedroso, 20, Covenant House resident
The income gap: “Let the people with low-income live. Give them a taste of luxury! Especially people that’ve worked hard all their lives and still can’t afford that.” – Vincent Martinez, nursing home transporter, Covenant House resident
For union members, jobs are the biggest worry – more of them, more security, union vulnerability in right-to-work states.
Jobs: “I just hope now there will be more jobs.” — Mario Hazraj, 42, construction worker, labor union member
Jobs: “As long as I have my job and eat and drink and pay bills and live happy.”
— Tony Malcolm, mid-40s, construction worker, labor union member
Jobs: “Job creation. That’s pretty much as much as I need or can say.” — Doug Sandner, “between 30 and 40,” union labor manager
Collective bargaining: “One of the things I’m worried about nationwide is what I believe to be a plan to make all states right-to-work. If we were not allowed to bargain our contracts with our employers, what it means is our safety is at risk.” — Tina Turner-Morfitt, mid-50s, AFSCME union member
Anti-union sentiment: “Mitt Romney is anti-union and anti-labor. He claims to be for creating jobs. He’s openly spoken out against teachers unions, and he believes unions stand in the way of capital markets.” — David Willhoite, 32, former auto union member, now in law school studying labor law.
Women’s rights: “The Republican position on that is really troublesome to me. It’s just kind of gross – middle-aged white guys telling women what to do with their bodies.” – Bobby Lamonte, 26, member of Screen Actors Guild and food service employee
Students tend to be as interested in the “how” of the election as anything else — the debate format, the role of media, and the huge national debt they stand to inherit.
“I feel debates are not long enough and they do not cover the majority of concerns we face. . . .moderators (and there should be panels of moderators in this format) should not only fact check, they should interrupt when ‘talking points’ are over-utilized. Moderators should come from various fields as well as journalism. . . candidates should then give answers to selected topics form the electorate rather than sanitized questions chosen by a moderator.” — Alicia Shuford, student
The economy: “I work in a college setting and I still see students who have graduated a year ago and can’t find a job, or a job in which they went to school for in their major. Most of them are ‘too overqualified’ because they have graduated or are older adults.” – Alice Feghhi, 28
Women’s rights: “The issues of the definition of rape, contraceptives, abortion, legal rights in the workplace, and everything else around it. The way the Romney/Ryan campaign have been carrying themselves around in their rhetoric online and on the TV has been extremely frightening.” – Tricialee Friedman, 23, part-time student
The economy: “The national debt concerns me the most as a voter. At $16 trillion and climbing, I have to wonder as an American how the hell are we going to pay that off? I all ready have enough debt for one lifetime from a school I went to that I’m in theory supposed to be paying off for another 18 years or so.” – Joseph Davis, 31, Brooklyn College student
Gay rights: “I feel if you aren’t going to treat everyone equally then you are not a real American.” – Tim Ditzig, 27, student
The process: “I would have to answer that I am most concerned about the lack of democracy that exists in the electoral college system; the inequity of my vote compared to someone who lives in rural Iowa.” — Cliff David, 57, photographer
Healthcare implementation: “The most concerning issue of the election for me is the health care initiative. The current law will have a tremendous effect on my business. It is most interesting that to this day I have been unable to get a clear explanation of the complete financial impact for my company. It seems that the law is so complex that few fully understand it’s true impact. We fall into the “not big enough to get around the law” but “too big to be given a pass” part of the implementation. Companies such as mine with a few hundred people are a major part of our economy and if our President is reelected, we will be hit hard and can end up with major financial difficulties not to preclude going out of business. We all want health care for everyone, but this country needs a more thoughtful and bipartisan law to accomplish that task.” – Cristina Matera, M.D., 52
Attitude: “Quite honestly, the most important issue of this election and these times is the restoration of the greatness of America. This country has always been a land of opportunity for all to succeed……..not a land where almost 50% of the population becomes dependent on the government for sustenance. We must help able-bodied people lift themselves out of poverty and restore their pride by providing them with the proper tools. We have been throwing money at education and healthcare delivery system, without significant improvements. We need to have a deep and thorough re-evaluation so we can truly solve the problems. If not, it will be the demise of this country.” – Yaron Lotan, 20, student
The economy: “I lost one-third the value of my apartment, that I purchased in 2005 at the height of the market. I can’t even think about having another child because I can’t move.” – Jess Reid
Among people who study issues for a living, there’s close to a consensus: It’s still the economy, stupid. Whether they think either candidate will get the work done is another question.
The economy: “I want to see a smaller, leaner, more focused government.” Ken Sanchez, 35, lawyer
The economy: “If you’re not strong economically. . .all these social issues mean nothing.” — Russell Goeller, 44, unemployed
The economy: “I feel like [green jobs] can be the New Deal of this generation.” — Micah Owino, 29, CEO of Young Movement
The economy: “The President’s proposed American Jobs act is probably a good start, but I would expand on that.” – James Parrott, 60, deputy director and chief economist at Fiscal Policy Institute
The economy: “Obama’s economic plans are the best we’re going to get.” —
Harold Sullivan, 64, chair of the political science department at John Jay College
The economy: “This country has been built and continues to be built. . .on the energy of immigrants.” — Elizabeth Economy, director for Asian Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations
The economy: “I haven’t seen any upward mobility for myself but also for my colleagues.” – Gregory Angelo, chairman, Log Cabin Republications for NY