US Presidential Elections 96: Condo Commando mobilises his blue- rinse army

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Dressed to relax in matching cotton shirt and shorts, Amadeo Trinchitella - Trinchi to everyone who knows him - does not look especially intimidating. He is a 78-year-old with heart trouble. Appearances can deceive, however; he is also a "Condo Commando", one of the best.

The nickname makes Trinchi wince - "I don't think it's very flattering" - but the image of warfare is not entirely misplaced. In retirement condominium complexes in Florida, Trinchi and others like him are organising fellow residents into going to the polls next month.

And they are sending them into battle for a single cause: the re-election of Bill Clinton and the preservation of federal assistance to the old, which, they contend, would be slashed by Bob Dole.

Trinchi's pool of voters is the 15,000-strong population of Century Village, a closed retirement community near Miami, a collection of low white blocks with names like Richmond, Upminster, Swansea and Berkshire. There are 14 swimming-pools and 47 tennis-courts but it is not a place for the affluent. Admission to the Saturday-night dance in the Village Club House is 50 cents; disco night on Monday is a quarter.

Trinchi calculates that 12,500 of the residents are registered to vote. "I get a little over-enthusiastic about this but I think that of those, about 12,400 will vote for the President." Trinchi, a former New York nightclub owner who has been a Democrat activist most of his life, will stage a pro-Clinton rally on the eve of the election. On the day, he will ensure everyone who wants to can get to vote.

There is nothing trivial about his work and he knows it. In terms of electoral-college votes, Florida is the fourth most important prize after California, Texas and New York. It has not been won by a Democrat for 20 years but in 1992 Mr Clinton lost to George Bush by a bare 100,000 votes.

Polls suggest Mr Clinton is ahead in the state by about 5 per cent. And the difference is apparently being made by retired people, almost a quarter of Florida's population. A poll of likely voters in the state aged 65 or over suggested 49 per cent would vote Clinton, over 40 per cent for Dole. That is the widest gap in the President's favour of any age group in the state.

In the Club House card-room, the reasons for Mr Dole's difficulties become apparent. Six ladies are playing canasta. At 73, Mr Dole could theoretically take his seat here but at the very mention of his name, these gentle faces suddenly go sour.

"He is just too old," ventures Jeannette. She is not deflected by the observation that she perhaps is a touch older than Mr Dole. "That may be," she retorts, "but I don't want to try and run the country."

The mirth around the table is punctured by Rae, who registers her complaint over Mr Dole's temerity in calling himself disabled. "He is not disabled." Everyone loves Vice-President Al Gore - he speaks so clearly.

Above all, there is the claim - denied by Republicans - that Mr Dole would ravage social-security and Medicare programmes. Fear of such cuts is expressed by all these women, most of whom are on modest fixed incomes.

"People say that this is like a block vote, but it isn't," Trinchi insists. "We vote together because we believe in the same things. We are from the Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy era. Most of us lived through two wars and the Holocaust. We are all concerned about our Medicare. And we are worried about the education of our children and our grandchildren".

He labels Mr Dole as "treasonous". "We are both veterans, but for me, self-preservation is about today and about living my life in dignity."