Election 2016: Small Town Rebels
Mary Mountain stands outside with her Hillary sign, which has made her a pariah in her small town. Photo by Hattie Burgher
In the small town of Belfast, New York, population 1,600, Jim and Mary Mountain have become outcasts in recent weeks, shunned by their neighbors. Their sin: they are the only residents with a “Hillary” sign on their front lawn.
“We are kind of the exception to the rule,” chuckled Mary, 80, a retired postmaster and a lifelong resident of the town. “My daughter’s friend drove all the way from Rochester to Friendship and the only Hilary sign she saw was on our lawn.”
The Mountains live right along the major road in the area, Route 19, so if you need to get anywhere in the county, chances are you will pass by their yard.
Her husband Jim, now 82 and also retired, worked for Dresser-Rand, an industrial equipment supplier, and served on the Belfast Town Board. In his 12 years of service, he was the only Democrat.
Belfast is located in Allegany County, the third poorest county in the State. The county’s population is around 47,000 people, and its per capita income is $20,000 a year. Though economically poor, Allegany is rich with rolling hills, dairy farms, and pick-up trucks. According to the New York State Board of Elections, there are twice as many registered Republicans than Democrats in Allegany County.
So why do the Mountains vote left in a region that is a predominantly conservative? Jim says that he believes the Democrats are “for the poor guys, they are the first ones to help out the small guy.” He continued, “I don’t believe in giving everything to the rich, I’ve always been a Democrat for that reason.”
Mary said that she doesn’t understand why a lot of people don’t trust Hillary. “I think she’s a good person and they have given her a lot of trouble to get to where she is today.”
The Mountains, who are elderly and rely on many medications, fear that if Trump gets elected he will abolish Social Security and Medicare. “Those are good programs,” said Jim. “It would kill us if we didn’t have the Medicare. It would take everything else we got, it’s a big help.”
Their neighbors have not reacted well to the couple’s Hillary sign. “Yeah, they holler at us,” said Jim, who seemed to brush it off easily. However, Mary has experienced more severe taunts. One day she was out retrieving her mail at the end of their gravel driveway when a driver in a big truck yelled “F–K YOU!” at her. “I’m surprised someone hasn’t shot bullets through it yet,” said Mary of the sign.
The Mountain’s sign has certainly caused a stir in the area.
“I don’t know them, but I think it’s stupid to vote for Hillary,” said neighbor Anne Chamberlain,30 a stay-at-home mother and a registered Republican. “She scares me and I don’t have a good feeling about her. She reminds me of Hitler.” said Chamberlain.
Asked why she plans to vote for Trump, Chamberlain responded, “I guess he is the less of two evils.”
Darlene Redance, 34, another neighbor, is aware of the Hillary sign and does not approve.
“I don’t like it, I just don’t want Hillary as president. I don’t like her, she should be in jail,” said Redance, “I think Trump will bring this world where it needs to be.” She does not understand why the Mountains approve of Hillary, adding, “I’m confused about that one, doesn’t make any sense to me.”
A little bit further north along Route 19 lives Chuck Babbitt, a crop and dairy farmer. Babbitt, 63, is very enthusiastic about the GOP candidate and is baffled that his nearby neighbors don’t feel the same way.
“I think everybody ought to be voting for Trump,” said Babbitt. “I’m voting of Trump because I don’t want Hillary.”
Babbitt believes that Hillary would be just the same as President Obama.
“Obama doubled the debt in his term, where was the change we were supposed to be believe in?” said Babbitt. “I think he has been one of the worst presidents ever.”
Chamberlain, Redance, and Babbitt couldn’t exactly articulate reasons why they believe that Trump will help the residents of Allegany County and the country as a whole. Asked why Republican candidates are good for farmers and people in poorer counties, Babbitt replied “I don’t know about that one, I haven’t thought about it.” Chamberlain said that Trump wants to bring back the “Old America.” But what does that look like? “Basically before Obama” said Chamberlain.
Being a Democrat in a small town is like showing up to an Adidas PR Party decked out in Nike apparel. The Mountains are surrounded by people who may never see this side of the coin.
Residents of rural areas tend to vote Republican, a perpetual reflection of the urban-rural divide in politics. According to a an NBC/ Wall Street Journal poll, Trump leads Hillary 64% to 27% in rural areas across the states. Trump particularly does well among older, white Americans. Considering both Jim and Mary are in their 80s and white, they are defeating yet another stereotype.
Just as the Republicans in the town can’t wrap their heads around how the Mountains can vote for Hillary, the Mountains can’t wrap their heads around how their neighbors can be for Trump. “I have no idea why people are voting for him in this community” laughed Mary. “Maybe it’s because he has driven into people’s heads that Hillary is evil.”
Even though Jim is used to being outnumbered by his conservative neighbors (He and Mary both voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012), he is surprised by the large number of Trump signs he sees in his neighborhood.
“I don’t understand how there are so many. He has said so many things that are just off the cuff, not things that you would want to hear from a future president,” said Jim.
“Anybody that could vote for Trump could vote for that dog right there,” said Jim pointing to their dog, Milly. His wife interjected quickly, “Milly probably wouldn’t vote for him either!”