by Christina Dun and Evgeniya Zolkina
Video by Joanna Bouras
Story by Stacey Kilpatrick
The midterm elections are scheduled for Tuesday, but whether or not scores of New York University’s students will hit the polls is still undecided.
“I think that it’s important for Americans to vote,” said Nicole Horowitz, 21, a student in the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, living in the West Village. “Ideally they should be well-informed on the issues, but I think that no matter what state you live in, it’s important to do what you can.”
But Horowitz’s ideals are not shared by everyone on the sprawling Greenwich Village campus, in the heart of Washington Square. NYU has 58,547 students.
Utkarsh Saddi, 21, a Leonard N. Stern School of Business student, living in New Jersey, said he will not vote.
“I do care what happens,” Saddi said. “But I’m just not interested in taking time to go vote. I have better things to do.”
Saddi added that he doesn’t care for either candidate on either platform, which, according to an analysis by The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University, is why 5.8 percent of registered voters ages 18-29 didn’t vote in the 2010 midterms.
Midterm elections occur halfway through the president’s four year term.
While President Barack Obama still has two more years in office and his name won’t be on a ballot at the midterms, the elections are considered a thumbs up or thumbs down on his performance. Government gridlock has plagued his presidency and the vote on Tuesday could either ease the gridlock or tighten it. On the ballot will be all 435 seats in the House of Representatives up for re-election, along with 36 Senate seats and 36 gubernatorial seats. Currently the House is controlled by Republicans and the Senate by Democrats.
Voting on who will fill the seats in the midterms, in addition to Horowitz, (who cares about environmentalism and sustainability), will be Francesea Querci, 20, a journalism student in the College of Arts and Science, living in Chinatown. Querci said she will fill out a ballot because she finds political participation extremely important. She’s interested in housing reform.
“Especially as somebody who is considered part of a younger generation, we should participate because we’re going to be the future leaders of this country,” Querci said. “And we need to put people in offices where we can get our voice out there.”
Since 1964, young voters ages 18-24 have consistently voted at lower rates than other age groups, according to an April 2014 report released by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the United States Census Bureau.
Nationwide, young voting rates dropped from 50.9 percent in 1964 to 38.0 percent in 2012. According to CIRCLE’s May 2013 fact sheet – with data obtained from the Current Population Survey (CPS) November Voting and Registration Supplements – the 2012 voter turnout of those aged 18-29 in the state of New York was at 42.4 percent versus 63.4 percent for those aged 30 and older.
The Commerce’s report also mentioned that voting and registration rates are historically lower in non-presidential election years, which we are currently in.
In addition, the number of votes cast during presidential election years from 1972-2012 also show shifts. CIRCLE reported that in the 2000 presidential election, 8.6 million votes were cast by 18-24 year-olds. Numbers increased in 2004 to 11.6 million and again in 2008 to 12.5 million before dipping in 2012 to 11.3 million votes cast.
Michael Pernick, 26, a School of Law student and active member on the NYU Law Democrats board, agreed that numbers have been rising in the youth vote and youth turnout in recent years, but he’s not sure if that will continue after Obama finishes his term.
“That’s a trend that I believe maintained itself that the youth vote has turned out more in recent elections, especially post-2008, than it has previously if you isolate all other variables,” Pernick said. “And that might just be the result of having Barack Obama on the ballot.”
With uncertainty of voter turnout in a non-presidential election year, another obstacle for students is them not registering in their new state. Adam Schulz, 19, a Gallatin student from Chicago, Ill., living in Union Square, said that he’s not voting in the midterms because he never registered in New York. About 10 percent of registered voters in the CIRCLE’s analysis didn’t vote in the 2010 midterms because they were out of town or away from home.
“I could see myself [registering] in the future possibly,” Schulz said. “It’s good to have a say … and I’m going to be spending the majority of my life for the next four years in New York City, so I think I should start getting involved with the voting process.”
Schulz being an out-of-state student represents much of the NYU student body, as the university is home to students from across the globe and across diverse backgrounds.
All 50 states embody the undergraduate student population, international students make up 20 percent of the university’s student body (8.954 students), and the 2013 freshmen class is 18 percent international from a record-breaking 87 countries.
Anibal Suriel, 19, a Stern student from Miami, Fla., living in Chinatown, said that he never planned to vote and isn’t interested, a reason why 17.2 percent of registered voters in 2010 didn’t make it to the midterm polls.
“It’s kind of a hassle, well not a hassle, it’s a process that I’m not familiar with,” Suriel said, adding that he doesn’t know how to register.
Also too busy with classes and extracurricular activities, like 33.5 percent of registered voters in the CIRCLE’s analysis, Suriel, said that he could be interested in voting in the future.
“I definitely would be interested in [voting], especially because political science is my second major,” Suriel said. “So I guess that’s something I should look into.”
Joanna Bouras contributed to this report
by Megan Jamerson and Neil Giardino
Staten Island is only a short ferry ride south of Manhattan, but when it comes to Superstorm Sandy recovery, the distance feels great. Since the storm, the hardest hit borough is stuck in a slow recovery.
Last week marked the two year anniversary, and Staten Islanders are still mucking out homes along the Island’s Eastern shore. And with a critical midterm election looming, the issue of recovery is more political now than ever.
by Ben Shapiro and Virginia Gunawan
By Mireia Triguero
Public support for the education policy known as the Common Core standards has been free falling in New York State since Governor Andrew Cuomo implemented it in 2012. For Cuomo, it has become an issue in the upcoming elections.
Cuomo, a Democrat, leads his Republican opponent by 21 points, according to the latest Siena poll. But the question is what mandate he will have after the election, said Lawrence Mead, New York University professor and expert on American politics.
Teacher unions, which hold a lot of power in the Democratic Party, now oppose the Common Core. New York State United Teachers withdrew their support at the beginning of the year and asked for “major course corrections to its failed implementation plan,” in an official statement. Depending on the electoral results, Cuomo could face pressure to act on the Common Core issue.
The opposition against the education standards, a set of academic goals from kindergarten through high school, began on the Republican side but has moved to be an issue in both major parties. According to Mead, Republicans think the federal government is overstepping and prescribing what teachers should teach. Democrats feel that the policy was developed through an undemocratic process that benefits big corporations and that it has been poorly implemented, with little preparation for the teachers or students, he added.
Common Core has become a buzzword over the past month. In 2013, 62 percent of people polled nationwide had never heard about it; in 2014, 80 percent of those polled said they had heard about it, and 47 percent indicated they had heard a great deal or a fair amount, according to a PDK/Gallup poll. Opposition has increased hand in hand with awareness: five out of 10 New York State residents answered that the implementation should be stopped in New York, according to the latest Siena Poll.
Cuomo has been challenged about it multiple times during the campaign. In the Democratic Party primaries, Zephyr Teachout, professor at Fordham University, campaigned against Common Core implementation. Cuomo won the primary but still faces opposition on the Common Core, this time from his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, who has launched a “Stop Common Core” effort to rally voters against the cause.
After many months of not taking any clear stance on the matter, the Cuomo campaign released an ad on Monday pledging to “stop using Common Core scores for at least five years, and then only if our children are ready.” The campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
The implementation of the standards
Katie Lapham, a first grade teacher at P.S. 214 in Brooklyn, says she understands the benefits of standards as a framework that gives teachers “freedom to teach and students … freedom to learn,” but she strongly opposes the Common Core standards as they are.
“Our schools need smaller class sizes, common sense curriculum, teacher-created curriculum and teacher-created authentic performance based assessments, project based, meaningful, inspiring work,” she said, adding that New York State has created fixed curricula, instead of only giving a general set of goals.
Lapham, member of the Movement of Rank and File Educators caucus within New York State United Teachers, worries that the curricula do not help her students, adding that the ReadyGEN ELA English Language Arts program is “dull and uninspiring.”
“The vocab is not appropriate for the lower grades,” Lapham said. “Spending five to seven days closely reading a picture book is boring; an ineffective way to promote literacy.” She has many English-language learners in her class and is worried that taking a test that reflects negatively on their learning will impact their confidence and increase the number of dropouts.
Garth Wolkoff, a teacher at the High School for Public Service in Brooklyn, said that a set of standards that helps the students “be more analytical thinkers rather than to memorize … can’t be bad.” He likes the idea of teachers teaching less subject matter, but more in depth, giving students more analytical skills, but he finds the standards oppressive at the elementary school level.
The standards are “asking very young students like Lucy to read and do more math,” Wolkoff said, referring to his 6-year-old daughter. “Playtime has been taken out of kindergarten, for example, and she is learning ‘Common Core’ math.”
Parents and teachers are uniting to fight the Common Core tests. In April 2014, some teachers opted out of the test and many parents pulled their kids out of school the day of the test. Although there are no exact statistics yet, there were some 1,000 students who refused to take the math test in New York City, according to City Councilman Daniel Dromm. The Journal News reported that more than 3,000 students in the Lower Hudson Valley opted out, a fourfold increase compared with the previous year, according to the newspaper.
The MORE caucus within the teachers union is one of the most outspoken critics of the Common Core. The testing was “produced not by teachers, but by corporations,” MORE’s official statement reads. The movement argues that the standards “were written without meaningful teacher input, and educators do not have the freedom to use them as they see fit.”
Teachers and parents fear that the standards are too focused on “college and career readiness” to the detriment of “civic-mindedness, student health, and social and emotional growth,” according to the MORE statement.
Lapham said that, because of the emphasis on the tests, students “are not getting what they need both academically and emotionally.”
“If Cuomo is re-elected, expect more of the same,” Lapham added. “However, parents and teachers will continue to speak out. (The) grassroots movement is growing. Expect more and more opt-outs in the spring.”
Education standards are unlikely to be a decisive factor in the elections, but the Common Core will continue to be an issue in the political arena.
Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke with journalists after an event with Vice President Joe Biden in New York City on Oct. 20. Photo by Dennis Van Tine / ABACAUSA.com
By Carmen Cuesta Roca
A new political party will appear on ballots come Nov. 4: the Women’s Equality Party.
Governor Andrew Cuomo is the mastermind behind this creation, despite already belonging to the Democratic Party. The new group – an extension of his Women’s Equality Agenda, which the state legislature has not passed – has received mixed reviews not only from the Republican opposition, but also from women whose lives Cuomo proposes to better.
The 10-point Women’s Equality Agenda seeks to improve many aspects of women’s lives, including pay equity, access to abortion and protection for domestic abuse victims. The state legislature has not adopted any of the 10 points since Cuomo introduced them in January 2013.
With campaign season in full swing, Cuomo is once again promoting this agenda. The governor has visited Albany, Syracuse and Rochester in his tour bus, the “Women’s Equality Express.” He has also released a campaign ad with his three daughters and Sandra Lee, his girlfriend.
“New York State is the equality capital of the nation, but we still have more to do,” Cuomo said in a speech announcing the Women’s Equality Act. “Not everyone has reached full equality in our society.”
Gena Lovett, president of New York Women’s Agenda, supported Cuomo saying, “What is needed is a vigorous, collective effort to make New York the best place for women. Governor Cuomo’s 10-point Women’s Equality Act will help make that a reality.”
Cuomo’s opposition disagrees. Zephyr Teachout, who lost to Cuomo in the Democratic primary, said, “A lot of times I just see it as half a million dollars to get the name ‘Women’s Equality Party’ next to ‘Andrew Cuomo’ on the ballot—a high-priced advertisement.”
New York has not updated its abortion laws since 1970. The access to abortion provision of Cuomo’s agenda would permit late-term abortions on the grounds of preserving the mother’s health, including emotional and psychological factors. The current law allows abortions after 24 weeks only in order to save the mother’s life.
Support for Cuomo comes from those who are thrilled finally to have a prominent elected official who isn’t running away from the more controversial women’s issues, such as access to abortion.
NARAL Pro-Choice New York has publicly endorsed Cuomo. Tara Sweeney, director of communications for the organization, said, “It is absolutely right and necessary that he championed a bill and a provision that will improve women’s lives and set a precedent for the kinds of legislation we should be passing.”
The anti-abortion community has spoken out against the bill. Executive director of NYS Right to Life, Lori Kehoe, said, “It makes clear the reality that this abortion ‘rights’ movement cares as little about women as they do about children.”
The Women’s Equality Agenda has been a hallmark of Cuomo’s work from the beginning of this legislative session, and “that stayed exactly the same when he transitioned into campaign mode,” according to Sweeney.
Under New York election law, candidates can run on multiple party lines, allowing their names to appear more than once on the ballot. Electoral fusion occurs when two or more political parties list the same candidate, pooling the votes and giving minor parties more influence over the results.
With the creation of this new party, the governor will appear on four ballot lines on Election Day: Women’s Equality, Democratic, Independence and Working Families. The last of these parties endorsed Cuomo after he suggested undoing his previous refusal to support a Democratic takeover of the Senate leadership. Cuomo said in a video shown during the Working Families Party convention in June, “To make this agenda a reality, we must change the Senate leadership.”
Cuomo recently endorsed his first Democratic candidate for the State Senate, Adrienne Esposito. But at a rally on Oct. 11, she was not offered a speaking spot. The rally promoted the Women’s Equality Party, a ballot line on which Esposito will not appear.
Supporters of Teachout issued a statement opposing the Women’s Equality Party: “This new party is not for women; instead it is using women for political play.”
Cuomo has exhibited strong leadership on same-sex marriage and gun control, but his economic policies have not always been favorable to women. Earlier this year he blocked New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to raise the city’s minimum wage. More than six in 10 of those workers are women, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Women are also the majority of workers in the hospitals that Cuomo has allowed to close.
Caron Gentry , an expert in feminist theory and gender studies who taught at Abilene Christian University in Texas and is now a lecturer at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said, “I think it’s great to raise awareness about issues, but if it is a ploy or a manipulation, then there is a problem in that the issue of gender is not understood in all its complexity or the promises will be abandoned.”
Dominicanos USA volunteers register voters in New York City.
Photos courtesy of Dominicanos USA
By Nicki Fleischner
The speaker looked up at a PowerPoint slide that showed a funnel with two labels: “Latino population” at the wide top and “Latino voters” at the narrow bottom.
“The funnel is just how I think of it,” Angelo Falcón, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, a nonpartisan group, told the audience. “Up top we have this enormous Latino population in the U.S., but then that trickles down to the number that are eligible to vote, fewer that are registered, and even fewer who actually cast a ballot.”
As Election Day, nears, questions of how to increase Latino voter turnout and address obstacles facing Latino voters have been pushed to the forefront. Falcón was one of four speakers at “The Latino Vote In 2014” panel on Oct. 15 hosted by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan institute affiliated with New York University School of Law.
In the recent past, Latinos have strongly supported Democratic candidates — with President Barack Obama winning 71 percent of the Latino vote in 2012. But, with the failure of the Democratic Party to pass comprehensive immigration reform, the Latino vote may no longer be taken for granted.
On Nov. 4, the U.S. will hold midterm elections for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 33 of the 100 seats in the Senate, as well as other regional positions on a state-by-state basis. Democrats could lose their majority in the Senate, further polarizing the legislative and executive branches and impeding action in Washington.
As their population grows, Latinos have become an increasingly important voting bloc. According to the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan group, Latinos make up 11.3 percent of eligible voters. Between now and 2030, Latinos are expected to account for 40 percent of the growth in the U.S. electorate.
Latinos have historically failed to turn out to vote, however. During the last midterm elections, in 2010, only 31.2 percent of eligible Latino voters cast their ballots, as compared with 44 percent of black voters and 48.6 of white voters.
The reasons behind this funnel effect are numerous, and Latino organizations are striving to combat this trend. Some organizations have used National Hispanic Heritage Month, which is celebrated from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, as a platform for mobilizing the Latino community. Groups that work to educate and empower Latino citizens, such as Voto Latino and Make the Road New York, have held voter registration drives and used social media to encourage Latinos to make their voices heard.
“For our heritage, let’s defend our rights/reshape our Government #PowerofOurVote,” Rosario Dawson, Latina actress and Voto Latino chairwoman, tweeted on Oct. 10. Latinos are the nation’s youngest ethnic group, with the median age at 18. The #PowerofOurVote hashtag has become a part of the mobilization effort as organizations use Twitter to connect with young voters.
Daniel Altschuler, a coordinator for Make the Road New York, has registered over 5,000 Latinos since August.
“Our message to the people in the community resonates,” Altschuler said. “It is that people need to go out in November to vote for their families. The Latino community needs to expand its political muscle.”
Latinos have failed to register and vote for legal and logistical reasons.
“As a general demographic, Latinos and other low-income groups tend to move a lot and are unaware of the change-of-address forms necessary for renewing their voter status,” Altschuler said.
Myrna Peréz, a director at the Brennan Center for Justice, said that there is “a partisan and racial component” to new, stricter voter identification laws in states such as Texas.
Jorge Mursuli, a panelist representing Dominicanos USA, which works to educate and mobilize Dominican American voters, said that the issue goes far beyond “red” versus “blue” state, however.
“You would think that in a state like New York where Latinos have a relatively sure political footing things would be better,” Mursuli said. “But there have been many challenges.”
Mursuli described his experience during 2010 midterm elections when poor signage, lack of Latino poll workers and utter incompetence at poll sites deterred many registered voters. Of the dozen or so voting sites Mursuli visited in the Bronx, a borough of New York that is over 50 percent Latino, he saw not a single Latino poll worker.
“I saw voter suppression first hand,” Mursuli said. “And voter suppression does not happen to eighth generation white people. It just doesn’t.”
Beyond registration and Election Day issues, the national spotlight on immigration concerns may further impact Latino turnout on Nov. 4.
In a 2013 poll conducted by Latino Decisions, a nonpartisan think tank dedicated to Latino political opinion research, 75 percent of Latinos surveyed said it was extremely or very important for Congress and the president to address immigration reform within the year, even in light of other issues facing the government.
One year later, comprehensive immigration reform remains an unresolved issue. After Obama did not fulfill his promise to provide deportation relief to undocumented immigrants by the end of the summer, many Latinos became disillusioned.
“There is obviously grave disappointment with Congress and the Obama administration for not taking proactive steps to stop the separation of families,” Altschuler said.
According to Gallup Polls, Obama’s approval ratings have varied the most with Latinos over any other group since he won re-election in 2012. In December 2012, Obama had 75 percent approval rating among Latinos; his rating is now at 48.
Falcón said that there is no way to determine how Latino voters will respond to the immigration issue on Election Day, but it has become a large part of the conversation, with individuals and organizations promoting conflicting messages.
“Some say that now more than ever Latinos need to prove their political clout by voting,” Falcón said. “Others are as extreme as to say we should hold sit-ins this election, refuse to vote and prove to Democrats how much they need us.”
People walk past Rep. Michael G. Grimm’s Brooklyn district office. Grimm’s reelection campaign for the 2014 midterm elections is one of several in the Republican Party working with data analytics firm VoterTrove to target potential voters. (Photo/Thomas Brant)
By Thomas Brant
Consumer data, the catnip of credit card issuers, online advertisers and any other business that wants to find new customers, has quickly become a weapon in the toolkit of political campaigns.
President Barack Obama’s campaign staffers point to their ability to use data to target potential voters as a key factor in their 2008 and 2012 victories. In France, the technique helped sweep the Socialist Party to power and elect President François Hollande in 2012.
But harnessing big data’s power for local elections and other grassroots campaigns has proven difficult. The data available in national campaigns, which can include such minutia as a potential voter’s magazine subscriptions, is harder to sift through with a smaller staff and budget. The Republican National Committee has spent years developing its own voter targeting tools, but many of its candidates are not using them in their midterm election campaigns.
“It’s a huge challenge to filter the tools for the 50 state parties,” said voter targeting expert Justin Gargiulo. “The RNC is really not going to do that. It’s not scalable for them.”
Instead, many Republican candidates up for reelection on Nov. 4 have turned to smaller startups like VoterTrove, which Gargiulo founded in Austin in 2012. Its clients include Sen. Thad Cochrane of Mississippi, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Rep. Michael Grimm of New York.
“The challenge is having a system that keeps it all in one place,” said Garguilo. Moss local campaign staffers won’t use voter data unless they can quickly access and easily understand it, he said.
Solving these problems is what has voter targeting pioneers excited. At a conference in October at New York University, several strategists sat down to explain why they believe that, despite its current challenges, data-driven campaigns will become the future of politics in the U.S. and abroad.
Anne Filipic, who directed Obama’s Iowa field campaign in the 2008 presidential elections, described that race as one of the early successes in using data to target voters. “When we started in Iowa, nobody knew who [Obama] was,” Filipic said at the conference. “The political pundits all assumed he had no chance.”
Realizing that the campaign was fighting a losing battle, Filipic’s team hitched the data and analytics that the private sector uses to target consumers to tried-and-true grassroots campaigning. Obama supporters were soon knocking on doors whose owners were more likely to listen and to vote. “We had, in some ways, revolutionized electoral campaigns,” Filipic said.
The Obama campaign’s success in harnessing big data to get out the vote inspired two Harvard Business School students, Guillaume Liegey and Vincent Pons. They brought political targeting back to their native France, where they designed and implemented a voter mobilization project for the French Socialist Party. It got the party leaders’ attention and landed their firm a job running François Hollande’s successful 2012 presidential campaign.
“We did not invent door-to-door,” Liegey said at the conference. “What we tried to do was scale it using data and scientific experiments. You use data to know where you’re going to find the voter, and then you use science to find out the most effective technique to change their behavior to what you want.”
Eighty percent of the campaigners had never knocked on doors before, so Liegey and Pons told them to do three things: introduce themselves, listen to the voters’ concerns, and share a personal story about why they decided to get involved in politics.
“It’s very hard to get a French Socialist to listen,” Liegey said, but in the end the strategy worked just as well as it had in Iowa in 2008.
After the presidential campaigns in France and the U.S., targeting pioneers were eager to branch out from the election cycle and turn their data prowess to political challenges. In 2013, Filipic became president of Enroll America, a non-profit that helps Americans enroll in health coverage made available through the Affordable Care Act. She quickly realized the challenges of using data to find the uninsured.
“What struck me was the enormity of the task,” she said at the conference. “At least on an electoral campaign, you have a voter file that you can use to track folks down who are registered to vote. There’s no magical list of the uninsured.”
Overcoming skepticism was another problem. Once they identified the uninsured, Filipic’s staff found that the best way to convince them to enroll was through family members or community leaders, something other non-profits were already doing. Enroll America reduced its staff and forged partnerships with other advocacy groups, but Filipic still sees potential in her approach.
“We recognize that we were never going to be as big as the Obama campaign,” she said. “We were able to engage over five million consumers in this first enrollment period, but we’re just beginning.”
For Donald Green, a professor of political science at Columbia University who also spoke at the conference, the problem is not necessarily the data itself, but how campaigns use it. As targeting and other tools make it easier for Republicans and Democrats to find and mobilize their supporters, the parties are more likely to ignore people who don’t hold strong political convictions.
“They’ve focused their attention on getting a bigger army of their supporters to the battlefield,” he said. “They’ve been able to play increasingly to their activists and their extreme funders, which is why the polarization of American politics has been accentuated by the advent of mobilization-oriented campaigns.”
Pons, the French campaign strategist, is more optimistic.
“We are not yet at the stage where science is determining all the aspects of the campaign,” he told the conference attendees. “But to some extent science has taken power, and the answer to the question of should we regret it is going to be a resounding ‘no.’”
Avenue U in Gravesend, Brooklyn where conservative residents often vote Republican (Photo: Jesse Coburn)
by Jesse Coburn
Gary Carsel knows he is a long shot.
The former playwright and contracts administrator is running for the New York State Senate in Staten Island, in a district that Republicans have controlled for over 50 years. His current opponent, Andrew Lanza, beat Carsel in the same race in 2012 with nearly 75 percent of the vote.
“It’s an uphill battle,” Carsel said.
The district is one of a handful of areas in New York City that, despite their largely Democratic electorates, regularly vote Republicans into office. Only 10 Republicans currently hold city, state or federal elected positions in the five boroughs, and nine of them represent neighborhoods in Staten Island and south Brooklyn. In a decidedly left-leaning city, these Republican enclaves are exceptions, demonstrating the cultural, social and, yes, even political diversity that defines New York. With midterm elections set for Nov. 4, the political make-up of these neighborhoods stands to remain more or less the same.
Carsel isn’t the only one fighting an uphill battle on Staten Island. Democrat Domenic Recchia is attempting to unseat Republican Congressman Michael Grimm in a district that encompasses the island and parts of south Brooklyn. Grimm currently holds a slight lead in the polls, despite a spate of scandals this year that included televised threats to throw a reporter off a balcony and a 20-count federal indictment on fraud charges related to his local restaurant chain, Healthalicious.
And Democrat Marybeth Melendez is taking on State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis. In Malliotakis’ last election, in 2012, she won 61.5 percent of the vote in her Staten Island district.
Explanations abound for the borough’s conservative politics. “I tend to think it’s old world values,” said Nick Purpura, 41, a lifelong Staten Island resident, who cited the deep-rooted communities of Irish-, Italian- and Russian-Americans in the borough. “A lot of people grow up on this island and never leave it,” he said.
Doug Muzzio, a political scientist at Baruch College, agreed. “Staten Island is, no pun intended, insular.” Muzzio mentioned high rates of homeownership, a large middle class, and active religious communities as other factors that might be fortifying these conservative bastions.
Gravesend, Brooklyn, is another neighborhood with conservative voting habits.
Michael Bavalsky, a 20-year-old Gravesend resident, attributed this to the growing communities of Sephardic, Orthodox and Russian-American Jews in the neighborhood. Bavalsky’s parents and grandparents immigrated to the US from the former Soviet Union, an experience that he said shaped the political outlook of many in the community. “They know what socialism is like and they want the opposite of that,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gravesend’s Sephardic Jews often vote Republican for other reasons. “It really mostly has to do with Israel,” said Elliot Gindi, 22. “For the most part, the ethnic community of Sephardic Jews will generally vote for the same guy.”
Since 2002, that guy has been Martin Golden, a Brooklyn-native whose impressively gerrymandered state senate district includes sections of the Gravesend, Marine Park, Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge neighborhoods. In the last election, in 2012, Golden won 57.7 percent of the vote, and it seems unlikely that his current Democratic challenger, James Kemmerer, will unseat him on Nov. 4.
But even in these strongholds of conservative politics, Republicans shouldn’t get too comfortable. According to the political consultant Jerry Skurnik, these neighborhoods are undergoing demographic transformations that are changing their political landscapes.
“Bay Ridge,” he said, by way of example, “because of younger people and Asians moving in, is a lot less conservative than it used to be.”
Nick Purpura sees similar developments brewing in Staten Island. “There’s a lot going on here that is the antithesis of Republican belief,” he said, mentioning that most of the younger people he knows in the borough have liberal political views. “I think it’s a generational split.”
But local politics have never been set in stone. Skurnik mentioned that former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat, carried Staten Island in the elections of 1981 and 1985. Fellow Democrat Andrew Cuomo also won a majority of votes in Staten Island during the gubernatorial race of 2010.
Even Anthony Reinhart, a spokesman for Andrew Lanza’s re-election campaign on Staten Island, acknowledged this fact of political life in New York City. “Local concerns transcend political ideology,” he said of Staten Island, mentioning bridge toll prices and transportation as important political topics in the borough.
“Political views change over time,” Skurnik said.
Gary Carsel agreed, saying, “It’s not going to be today or tomorrow, but I do see [Staten Island] changing eventually.”
Just how fast that change will come is one of many questions that stand to be answered on election night.