Election takes backseat for many storm-hit voters

 

New York

As the rest of the nation frets about a nail-biter of a presidential race, this city and its surroundings are still wracked by the effects of Hurricane Sandy nearly a week after its landfall.

 On Sunday, many New Yorkers and New Jerseyans were occupied by tasks more elemental than preparing to vote: namely, staying warm, seeking gas and helping their storm-swept neighbors get through another cold day.

"I'm not even thinking about the election," said Bob Quigley, 42, a police officer who was helping clear storm debris from his father's home in Belle Harbor, a quaint island community on the Rockaways in Queens, N.Y., where floodwater reached the second floors of some homes. "It's kind of like the Third World" here, he added.

The hurricane's direct hit on the infrastructure and psyche of New York and New Jersey has positioned Election Day as a test of collaboration amid crisis, an exercise of mind over matter, a balance between survival and citizenship.

Forty-eight hours before polls opened, near the West 80s in Manhattan's Riverside Park, some volunteers sawing through downed tree branches were anxious about how curbed turnout would nudge the popular vote. Downtown, at Hamilton Fish Park at Pitt and East Houston streets, hundreds of people in line were focused solely on picking up boxes of emergency rations and warm clothing as FEMA, the National Guard and the New York Police Department managed the distribution.

The election "is on nobody's mind," said Madge Jones, a school lunch helper who lives in a Lower East Side public housing complex that she says regained electricity Friday but still doesn't have heat. "Everyone's trying to live. They got kids. How's anybody gonna go out and vote?"

Yet every one of a dozen motorists interviewed while they were waiting in a long line for gas Sunday in downtown Newark, N.J., said they intend to vote. Nelson Viera, 47, said that power has finally been restored to his home and that he intends to be at the polls Tuesday.

"It's one of our rights," said Viera, who works for a mapmaker. "It deserves to be protected."

The New York region continued to stagger to its feet Sunday, a bright and cloudless day with a chilling breeze. Con Edison has restored power to about 70 percent of the nearly 1 million customers who lost it, and the subway and school systems were expected to be 90 percent operational Monday, according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I. But some residents were entering their second week without electricity or heat.

The election seemed trivial in the tattered landscape, especially in coastal towns of southern Brooklyn and Queens, where Sandy's surge ruined homes. The polling station at Bay Academy, the local high school in Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, had been submerged. There were rumors of contingency plans, but nobody knew for sure.

"I heard on the radio that some kind of National Guard trucks are coming and they are going to set up some polling booths in front of the school," said Barry Weinstein, 60, a credit manager at a Long Island City limousine company. "But why would we want to vote for anybody? No one has been here. Where's the governor? Where's the mayor?"

They were on Twitter, at least.

"I still don't have power in my house," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, R, tweeted at 3:52 p.m. Sunday. "I'm not happy about it either but that's the way it goes. It was a major storm. We have to be patient."

Bloomberg, who visited the devastated Staten Island, tweeted at 10:42 a.m. that "our focus today is checking in on people and seeing who else needs a warm place to sleep tonight. Shelters are open."

New Jersey's Department of State announced Saturday that displaced residents can vote by e-mail or fax, though more than half the town of Long Branch was without power Sunday, Mayor Adam Schneider said on 101.5 FM.

Sixty of New York City's about 1,300 polling sites have been relocated or combined ahead of Tuesday, an adjustment that affects about 143,000 voters. Affected polling sites can operate without power because the paper ballots can be optically scanned elsewhere, but election officials were ensuring that such sites at least have light so voters can see. Generators were being trucked in from other states, and the National Guard may provide glow sticks to voters if necessary, said John Conklin, director of public information for the New York State Board of Elections.

Relocating polling sites off the hard-hit Rockaway Peninsula in Queens would essentially disenfranchise voters, Conklin said. Places such as Long Beach, a barrier island of 35,000 residents in the Nassau County constituency of Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., are "basically locked down," the lawmaker said. "It seems almost every home is without power, people have left, polling locations may be in other communities, and people may have to get off the island to vote."

A reduced turnout in New York and New Jersey matters little to the presidential candidates vying for the states' combined 43 electoral votes, which are solidly in President Barack Obama's column, but local races could be affected. The contest between Rep. Timothy Bishop, D, and repeat challenger Randy Altschuler in New York's 1st Congressional District — the eastern end of Long Island, with 300 miles of affected coastline — was decided by several hundred votes in 2010, and both men found themselves manning a hybrid operation in the closing days of this campaign.

"The first question we're asking when we talk to a voter is, 'How are you doing and what do you need?' and the second is to make sure they're in a position that they can get out to vote," says Bishop, who thinks his race will hinge on turnout and estimated that half of Long Island was still without power Sunday morning. "But people without power are worrying about power; people without gas in the tank are worried about how they're getting to work on Monday. . . . The variety of really, really serious needs that people have" trump voting.

Altschuler, a Republican businessman whose home near Smithtown is still without power, has toured damaged areas in the event that he is elected and recovery becomes his mandate in January. His campaign manager, Diana Weir, said their headquarters in Brookhaven is accepting food and water donations and is coordinating with the town's Republican committee, which has chartered six buses to take voters to the polls Tuesday.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is "extremely concerned" about Election Day — and considers New York City's Board of Elections "troubled even under the best circumstances" — but was otherwise heartened by his interactions with residents.

"When I was out on the Lower East Side talking to tenants in public housing a couple days ago, people were waiting hours for food and water," Stringer said. "It looked like soup lines in the Depression. But I cannot tell you how many people came up to me and asked, 'Are we going to be able to vote?' It's heartwarming to look at our democracy through the eyes of people who are truly suffering and still concerned about voting."

But Jones, the school lunch helper and public housing resident waiting in one of those lines Sunday, was more concerned about the nor'easter predicted to whip up high seas and gusty winds in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast the day after the election.

"We're in a home with no heat, and we're coming to another storm," she said. "That's crazy."

---

Carol Morello in Newark, N.J., contributed to this report.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

News
people

Life and Style
fashion

News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
Life and Style
Passing on: George Washington died alert, aware and in his own bed. This is the kind of of death most people would like to have
health
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tv
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Production Planning MRP Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's most progressive and innovativ...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Sales Executives

£19000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to our clients continuing s...

Recruitment Genius: Tyre Technician / Mechanic

£15000 - £16800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Tyre Technician / Mechanic is...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Internal Sales - Technical Solutions - £26,000 Basic

£26000 per annum: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Reading , Southend, Aldershot, Luto...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game