The midterms: from the farmers market to Trump Tower



With the midterm elections barely a month away, New Yorkers in Midtown West get ready to cast their ballots — and talk about what matters most to them:

Journalist refrains from finger-pointing on lack of subway reform

By Sophia Ahmadi and Emaad Akhtar

Commuters board the 1 train at Penn Station. Photo: Emaad Akhtar.

“I’d rather not say how I’m voting because I’m a journalist,” said Evan Hughes, who has lived in New York City for 17 years. His primary concern ahead of the midterms is health insurance. “Access to affordable medical care is something that I think everyone should have,” he said. “I’m interested in candidates who make that a priority.” While he’s concerned about the transit system, he doesn’t blame Governor Andrew Cuomo for its current state. Hughes doesn’t think it’s that simple. “Deferred spending on maintenance has been a problem for 25 to 30 years now, so I don’t think it falls on Cuomo’s shoulders,” he said. “He inherited a big problem, and for some reason it has reached a crisis point.” Overall, Hughes still retains an optimistic outlook. “The system is still a miracle, we have express trains, no one else does, but yes it’s worse than it ever was.”


First-time voter seeks healthcare, subway reforms

Aboard a packed 1 train, mid-afternoon. Photo: Emaad Akhtar.

“I still don’t know which way I’m leaning yet, I have some research to do,” said Thomas Pearlstone, a third-year student at Hunter College and first-time voter in the midterms. “What I do know is that I want to vote Democratic,” he said. Pearlstone’s two main concerns: transit woes and the nation’s flawed healthcare system. He cited friends who “can’t go to classes” because they aren’t well and can’t afford a doctor’s visit, and family members who “don’t have great insurance.” On the failings of the city’s subway system, Pearlstone has to “wake up 30 to 45 minutes earlier than normal” every day to make up for frequent train delays from his residence in the Upper West Side to school in the Upper East. “The transportation system in general is problematic,” he said. “It’s chaotic and unorganized.”

Women’s rights take precedence for retail owner

Jason Alexander next to a clothing rack in his Chelsea store. Photo: Emaad Akhtar.

“My main concern is that there is just no balance of power,” said Jason Alexander, who owns a clothing store called Chelsea Exclusive. His primary concern, heading into the midterm elections, is women’s rights, but he’s pessimistic. Citing the refusal of Republicans to allow a hearing for President Obama’s 2016 Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, Alexander  worries that the confirmation of current nominee Brett Kavanaugh would tip the scales unfavorably towards the Republicans. “It’s like one side dictating their own rules, however, when the reverse is happening they are all up in the air,” he said. They “just want to drive through someone of their choice because they want to make the Supreme Court very conservative for the next 30 to 40 years.” He believes Kavanaugh’s appointment is almost a certainty now and would be detrimental to women’s rights, which “are (already) on shaky ground,” he added. “What if Roe vs. Wade comes up for a re-vote?”


Healthcare counts for Chelsea small business owner

“I’d be happy to pay a few tax dollars more if I knew I could get healthcare,” said Henry Stozek in his shop, Nest Interiors, in Chelsea. Photo: Emaad Akhtar.

“The thing that’s going to impact small businesses the most is healthcare,” said Henry Stozek, who owns a small furniture store in Chelsea. “I’m very happy for the Democrats to get back into office to sort that out.” With no healthcare options for small businesses like his, Stozek is unable to provide a plan for himself, his wife, who co-owns the shop, and his part-time employee. “It’s a basic human right,” said Stozek, who blames the monetization of the industry on the collective greed of “the medicine, the doctors and the hospitals,” who “can’t seem to get on the same page.” Despite his concerns, Stozek acknowledges that small businesses rank low on the government’s list of priorities. “They don’t care about little tiny brick and mortars, we are the last thing on the list, so I don’t expect anything,” he said. “We just fend for ourselves and figure it out.”


#Metoo finds support in Union Square

By Brianna DeJesus-Banos, Martin Rather, and Janet Lie

Katrina Heilman poses with her jams, having already voted in the Midterm primaries and planning on casting her ballot in November. Photo: Brianna DeJesus-Banos.

At Josephine’s Feast at the Union Square Farmer’s Market, Katrina Heilman shares her affinity for the #metoo movement as she sells slow-cooked jams and jellies. “I mean, the thing that’s going on with Kavanaugh right now… #MeToo is gaining steam and it’s a really relevant issue,” says Heilman. She intends to vote in the Midterm elections, and did so in the New York State primaries in September. “Even if my vote is a drop in the bucket, a couple of drops can change things,” she said“It’s important to make our voices heard.”

Bakery workers wants infrastructure reform

Kieren Rhe stands behind Body and Soul’s all vegan baked goods at the Union Square Farmer’s Market, she is ready to vote in this year’s midterm elections hoping it fixes the city’s infrastructure. Photo: Brianna DeJesus-Banos.

“I’m a hipster, I’m big on human rights issues: immigrant rights, women’s rights and healthcare are really important to me,” said Kieren Rhe, who worked at the Body and Soul Bake Shop at the Union Square farmers market onWednesday morning. She also thinks that the city’s infrastructure is a pressing issue. “I think everyone – Democrats, Republicans – can agree that we want the infrastructure to improve,” she said. Rhe believes in voting for someone who both aligns with her personal values and is committed to improving the city, “We live in New York City, the greatest city in the world, and we have potholes everywhere. When I’m driving down the Delaware bridge, I’m thinking: is it going to collapse?” she said. “I’m not going to vote for someone that promises infrastructure improvements if I don’t agree with their other policies.”


Polish visitors visit Trump Tower, support the President

Andrew Novak, from Poland, stands in front of Trump tower with his wife, both proud supporters of Trump’s trading policies to bring more jobs back to the U.S. Photo: Brianna DeJesus-Banos.

Andrew Novak stood across the street from Trump Tower in midtowntaking pictures with his wife. “I like Trump,” says Novak, a visitor from Warschau, Poland who has been travelling in the U.S. for three weeks.  They came to New York City to see Trump Tower before heading back to Poland. Novak believes Trump will bring back jobs in the U.S. “Many people in here lost their jobs – everything moved to China. If you buy a TV here, it’s from China. Fifty years ago, products were from this country,” he said. According to Novak, Trump is the best president the U.S. has had, ‘But Reagan is good too,” he added.

Israeli visitors consider the President “unique” 

Shmuel Lik from Israel poses with his wife in front of Trump Tower. Photo: Brianna DeJesus-Banos.


Shmuel Lik, visiting from Israel, is a big admirer of the president. “Trump is unique, he’s a brave man,” he says. Lik just finished a 30-day U.S. trip with his wife, where they traveled to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and Washington D.C. When asked about the Israeli public’s general opinion on Trump, Lik says “it’s divided.” He is mostly excited about Trump’s plan to relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing the city as the capital of Israel. Though Trump’s decision was criticized by many other countries, Lik remains hopeful. “What’s good for Israel, is good for me,” he says.

Spanish tourists: In a democracy, it’s up to the voters

By Akintunde Ahmad, Lizzie Mulvey, and Christina Shaman

Angel Gutierrez and his wife Fabiola Fernandez, a psychology professor from Seville, Spain. Photo: Christina Shaman.

Taking off his glasses and motioning his finger to his own eye, Angel Gutierrez says a political leader needs clean eyes, integrity, motivation and honesty. He looks for leaders who can build teams and come together.  “Trump is a good leader,” said Gutierrez. “It’s a democracy. The American people voted for him.” Gutierrez, a lawyer from Seville, Spain, added that Americans have the opportunity to vote Trump out during the next presidential election. Visiting New York for the first time this week, Gutierrez said he doesn’t think about American politics much. But compared to the United States, he says Spain is more open to immigration, and taking in immigrants from across Africa.


A Jordanian tourist’s perspective

Main Qawasmi in Times Square. Photo: Christina Shaman.

“In Jordan, people liked Obama more,” said Main Qawasmi, a 22-year-old engineering student, who explained that since Jordan is a monarchy its citizens don’t vote for the king. But they do vote for parliament, he said, which has a minimum quota of fifteen women out of 130 seats. “I would want more women to be in power.” After spending three months in Tennessee as an exchange student from the University of Amman, Qawasmi said America is “perfect” despite hearing that the economy was not strong. “For us, it is good.” But Qawasmi added that an American leader should be diplomatic.


Pro-Trump veteran talks foreign policy

Tony Manfredonia

Tony Manfredonia from the Bronx strikes a pose at Smith’s Bar in Midtown. Photo: Christina Shaman.

“I agree with everything Donald Trump says and does,” said Tony Manfredonia, who served in the military for less than six months after being dishonorably discharged for beating up a staff sergeant. Manfredonia likes Trump for his foreign policy. “We are not taking shit; we ain’t soft. We’ve got better technology.” After being incarcerated, Manfredonia said he got his voting rights back in time to vote for President Trump. He could not vote during Obama’s election, but said he would have voted for him as well. As a veteran, Manfredonia said he fought for his country, but the services provided to him are limited. “We should get what we deserve.”


A veteran’s quest for medical marijuana

Veterans Harvey Selesky and Tony Manfredonia

Childhood friends and veterans Tony Manfredonia and Harvey Selesky at Smith’s Bar in Midtown. Photo: Christina Shaman.

Harvey Selesky, recently released from the Veterans Affairs Hospital, spent his afternoon at Smith’s Bar in Midtown. He hasn’t voted in a while and doesn’t plan to vote in this midterm election. “I don’t like Trump. I think Obama was the man,” said Selesky, who served in Desert Storm from 1990 to 1994. In the U.S., he said veterans are treated “like shit.” After witnessing his sister’s murder by a Vietnam veteran, Selesky said he experiences night terrors, racing thoughts, and insomnia, which he treats by self-medicating with marijuana. “I look for somebody who’s going to legalize weed,” he said, adding that he takes a number of prescription medications. His time in the military has changed his political beliefs. “I felt like there wasn’t enough help when I got back. I’m still patriotic. I just think we need a better president.”


Hard-working and uninsured

Working multiple jobs, including a nanny, actor and after school teacher, Brenna Hughes worries about health care amongst others issues, and how she will be able to afford it.
Photo: Tamara Saade.

“Next year, when I’m not on my parent’s insurance, I’m really unsure how I’m going to afford health care,” said Brenna Hughes, who works three jobs as a nanny, after-school teacher, and actor.

Hughes, 25, rolled a ball to the young child she was looking after while discussing the challenge of affording health care on a young actor’s salary. She is still registered to vote in Oregon, her home state, but was aware of some crucial issues in New York’s upcoming midterm elections.

“The MTA is not in the condition it should be for how big our city is,” she said. “I have to leave my house an hour ahead of time to avoid being late.”  She lives in Washington Heights and said the A train is often delayed, which causes her to be late to work at her various jobs.

Education at the heart of the midterm elections

One of nanny Pattie Singh’s main concerns for the upcoming elections, is the improvement of the educational system in some New York communities that “aren’t doing as well” as the overall educational system. Photo: Tamara Saade.

On the first Wednesday morning in October, Pattie Singh pushed a toddler on a swing in Central Park and talked about what issues matter to her in the upcoming midterm elections.

“Education is important to me,” said Singh, a New York native. “I think the city has a good education system overall but it may vary from community to community. I would like to see those communities that are not doing as well come up to the standard.”

Singh said she raised her own children in Cypress Hills and didn’t think the public schools were up to par, so she decided to enroll them in private school. Singh, whose children are now in their 20s, said she would also like to see a boost in the economy lead to more opportunities for jobs.

Truth vs. mistakes

Gabriela Robins, a Bushwick native and bartender at Times Square’s Hard Rock café, will vote for the Socialist Democratic Party. Her parents are Republicans. Photo: Tamara Saade.

Gabriela Robbins, a bartender at the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square, watched “all eight” hours of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearings on Thursday.

During a break in the hearings, Robbins went to her local gym.

“It was all women,” says Robbins. “There were 25-30 women, all on treadmills, and all watching Kavanaugh. I felt like we were all running for democracy.”

Robbins says her personal experience, as a woman and a bartender, influence her thoughts about the hearings. Her main concern is reproductive rights, an issue at stake in the upcoming elections. She’s also concerned about Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s drinking, and his qualifications to serve on the Supreme Court.

“From my experience, anyone who gets too hot like that has personal issues,” says Robbins about Kavanugh’s testimony.

“We all drank and made mistakes growing up,” continues Robbins. “If he had better temperament, he could own his truth and learn from his mistakes.”


A bartender’s perspective

Jenna Daubenmire, a 26-year-old waitress in Times Square’s Hard Rock Café, doesn’t watch TV. She follows the news carefully by reading the newspaper. Photo: Tamara Saade.

“I don’t think of them as professionals,” says Jenna Daubenmire, a waitress at The Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square, about the guests who nitiate bar fights while intoxicated. “That’s not professionalism. That’s just not what I see.”

Daubenmire was chatting about the recent revelation that Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trumps second nominee to the Supreme Court, had started a bar fight as a Yale undergraduate after a UB40 concert in 1985.

Daubenmire asserts it is “extremely important” Kavanaugh is not ultimately confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice due to serious allegations of sexual violence.

“(Bill) Cosby gets ten years, (Larry) Nasser gets 175 years, and (Harvey) Weinstein’s case is still active,” says Daubenmire. “Why does he get the best seat, while these men have the worst, and they’ve all committed the same crimes?”


The sounds of silence

By Sophie Ladanyi, Nicole Soviero and Emily Paulin

The David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. Photo: Emily Paulin.

Arts funding hasn’t been widely discussed in advance of the midterms. Peter Boal, former New York City ballet dancer and former faculty member at the School of American Ballet, does not think any of the candidates have been vocal enough about arts funding. “I don’t think it’s at the forefront of pressing concerns for politicians,” he said. In choosing who to vote for, Boal has paid close attention to candidates who’ve spoken about the arts. “There are other issues that are perhaps of greater concern for me, but I look to see what kind of art support there is.” Regardless of which candidate wins, Boal thinks everyone should vote. “You can’t contest the issues that weren’t in your direction unless you show up to vote.”


Arts funding is a priority for some New Yorkers 

The Metropolitan Opera House, home to many performers, moved to Lincoln Center in 1966. Photo: Emily Paulin.

Maggie Lacey, who’s lived in New York for over 20 years, said continuing arts funding is a key issue for her. The young mother says it’d be “really tough” for her to back a candidate who doesn’t understand the value that the arts bring to society. Lacey said she believes an appreciation of the arts is deeply intertwined with being a New Yorker, and brings people together. “I feel like our country’s in dire need of a shared civility.”


Who’s campaigning for LGBT rights?

West 13th Street’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, a not-for-profit hub providing health, wellness and community connection programs. Photo: Emily Paulin.

For the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center on West 13th Street, underrepresentation of LGBT issues in America’s political discourse, and a lack of LGBT politicians are common concerns leading up to the midterms.

Transgender female Jahaira Diaz expressed the need for “more sensitivity on trans rights” from all political parties. “We’re really discriminated against and we’re not really talked about much in the media or in politics,” she said. “They kind of just push us aside.”

A registered voter herself, Diaz is encouraging others in the LGBT community to vote. “It’s very important because that one person may not vote, and then it’s like a ripple effect; another person won’t vote, and those no-voters add up and our voices aren’t heard,” she said.

with ‘Satan-incarnate’ and in with Julia Salazar

The pride flag proudly marks the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center on West 13th Street. Photo: Emily Paulin.

LGBTQ New Yorker Nick Walther is hoping the Democrats retake the House of Representatives or the Senate. “The Republicans are trash,” he said. “Democrats have problems, too, but are certainly better than the Republicans. Anything that makes it harder for the Republicans to enact their extremely destructive agenda would be an improvement.”

While Walther believes LGBTQ representation in American politics is lacking, he’s optimistic about specific people and policies within the Democratic party, especially New York City candidates who care about his community.

“I’m very much excited about people like [Alexandria Ocasio]-Cortez and Julia Salazar,” he said of the two New York City candidates running for congress and state senator, respectively. “That’s exciting to me, even though neither of them are LGBTQAI people. From what I know, what they represent and the policies they support would absolutely improve the lives of so many LGBTQAI people and just everyone really, unless you’re rich.”

Walther is encouraging people to vote in the midterm elections. “The Republicans are basically like Satan-incarnate right now on so many issues, on climate change alone,” he said. “So, go vote. I’d say it’s worth doing.”