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New York's state of mind? Kerry

IAN BROWN finds the view from ground zero isn't favourable toward Bush presidency

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

New York — The polling stations in Manhattan opened at 6 a.m. on election day; by 10, the line into the 107th-district polling station snaked all the way along West 13th Street to the corner of Seventh Avenue in Greenwich Village. From there, looking south, you could see the space in the sky where the World Trade Center towers once stood. George W. Bush's most repeated claim to re-election was that he had acted decisively to protect the country from the very act of terrorism that most of the voters in line had experienced up close and lung-first. If anyone knows what terrorism feels like, it's people in south Manhattan.

But the view down Seventh wasn't working in George's favour. "This is the longest I've ever seen this line to vote," a 58-year-old nurse named Donna Laffredo said. She was wearing a black fleece jacket and an ivory Chinese headband. Like nearly everyone else in line she was openly, fervently rooting for John Kerry.

"Oh, you should've seen it this morning at 8:15, when I took my kids to school," an African-American woman with orange hair and a purple coat, classic Village stock, said. "It went all the way around the corner."

"People are scared and disgusted and disappointed," a younger man named Marc Karascu spat out. He certainly qualified as disgusted. "To me, this isn't about terrorism, as much as it's about lying. Bush is pandering to . . . fears and inflating them."

"I think Bush's appeal is to what's least in us," Ms. Laffredo said.

Unlike much of the rest of the country, New Yorkers weren't afraid of terrorism. They were afraid of the war in Iraq. "With the policies Bush has," a yoga teacher named Theresa Herron added, "it's going to make us even more vulnerable than we are."

The line lasted 10 minutes outdoors -- no hardship, on the crisp New York fall day -- and then wound inside to the voting machines, a 20-minute circuit.

As soon as people stepped out onto the street after voting, they flicked open their cellphones; the air was full of the need to communicate.

One man was wearing a T-shirt that read, "Bye-Bye Bush," but it was a respectful crowd, at least until an elderly woman in a grey overcoat said, to no one in particular, "Why do the gays and lesbians force their agenda on us? Why do we have to vote here?" She meant the building that held the polling station, which the rest of the time is headquarters of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center.

"Yeah," said a young man with in front of her, mocking her. "This is where all the orgies are held." Then his girlfriend gave a little laugh: "Heh heh heh."

The old lady finished her voting, and began to walk away. Then she covered her mouth and whispered: "I voted for Mr. Bush."

So did a young mother named Natasha Dombrowski, who went shopping at the discount Century 21 department store with her two small children. The only other Manhattan people Ms. Dombrowski knew who voted Republican -- aside from her own four-year-old daughter, in kindergarten -- were colleagues of her bond-trading husband. They wanted the Bush tax cut. "Just because of the taxes," she said, "It's a lot of money. You could lose a lot of money."

"All relative," someone said.

"But still," she said, "money's money." Until yesterday, that sentiment would have defined Manhattan.

All day, all over the city, people were talking politics. On Grove Street, a man with a bag of onions over his shoulder was saying to a middle-aged woman, "Bush has one idea. But John Kerry, he has like 25 nuances in every idea." And the woman was nodding. In Mary's Fish Shack, a local joint in the Village, waitresses were wearing T-shirts that said "Regime Change Begins at Home." Even on Chambers Street, deep in the financial district, a 50-year-old lifelong Republican named Chuck -- he wouldn't give his last name -- had voted for Mr. Kerry, Democratic for the first time ever, even though the act physically sickened him. "I didn't particularly like either one of the choices," he said. "But I think we need to send a better message to the rest of the world."

Some New Yorkers felt the rich and the ethnic vote would betray their liberal push. "The guy who repairs my espresso machine, who's from Ecuador?" a man named Mark Brown said, as he watched his daughter's doughnut stand outside the Greenwich Village Middle School polling station. "He thinks Kerry's totally a wimp. He's totally bought the Bush message."

Meanwhile, at the polling station at Primary School 234, the scrutineers were waiting for the local residents, mostly a Wall Street crowd, to get off work.

Outside, on the busy street, one of New York's so-called Hercules tactical squads had taken up positions in front of the school: two heavily armed police officers, a canine officer with a very large dog, and a giant in full riot gear cradling an M-16-style machine gun in his arms like a baby. The 400-member Hercules team was trolling Manhattan throughout election day, visiting polling stations and letting New Yorkers know that they were there to protect them from the threats that no doubt existed everywhere. (Manhattan's police and fire departments endorsed the Bush campaign during the Republican national convention in New York last summer.) "We're here to reassure people at the polling stations," the officer with the submachine gun said, and refused to give his name. He admitted, there was "no specific threat." Fifteen minutes later, having shown the anti-terrorist colours, he took off his flak jacket, high-fived his fellow Herculeans, jumped in his police-issue Chevy Suburban, and sped away.

Even on Lexington, where a pair of sunglasses can run $250 (U.S.) and where the entranceways to the tonier apartments have discreet red lights to hail passing taxis, where rich people tend to vote with their pocketbooks, there were signs that something original was happening. Roseann Hirsch was haranguing her husband Barry as they made their way to the polling station in their comfy neighbourhood on New York City's upper east side late in the afternoon. Mr. Hirsch had just popped out with the revelation that he was planning to vote for Mr. Bush. "I thought, this can't be." So she started hectoring him. She was no shrinking violet. All the way up Lexington from her work as a book producer, from his work as a TV commercial producer, she hammered him: bam, bam, bam.

"But what about the taxes?" Mr. Hirsch said. It was a reasonable thing to say. The Hirsches just bought the late Richard Avedon's river-view apartment. They stood to make more than $500,000 profit on their old place, and be liable to capital-gains tax -- though not if Mr. Bush were re-elected. Hence Mr. Hirsch's question.

"Taxes?" Ms. Hirsch. "If we're all dead from a war, who cares? I can't vote for a guy who thinks he talks to Jesus." Two minutes before he stepped behind the iron-gray curtain of the voting machine, Mr. Hirsch still hadn't made up his mind. But then he saw the red lever in the voting booth, and holding his nose, voted for Mr. Kerry.

Later, of course, as New York's Kerry supporters gathered for what they hoped would be a victory rally in the East Village, the results came in. The surge of hope caused by the huge turnout at the polls drooped as fast as the early predictions of a Kerry victory.

The Hirsches had spent the evening with a "huge Republican supporter" whose enthusiasm dropped and rose as theirs did the opposite. Afterward, walking home down Park Avenue, Ms. Hirsch felt "sort of disheartened." But she always thought Mr. Bush would have the edge. Maybe a narrow margin would convince him he still didn't have a mandate. "It's always very intense during these elections," she said. "But then the dust settles, and everyone just gets along."

Maybe. David Bergstein, a therapist who'd been in line to vote in the 109th district 12 hours earlier, wasn't so hopeful. The gap between New York, fearless but outraged, and the rest of the country, fearful and complacent, "makes me sad," he said. "To me, the scariest thing is Bush thinking that if he wins, it's God saying, 'George, I gave you the country for the next four years.' " Even New York might tremble.

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