Surrounded by Destruction, Some Sandy Victims Put Voting on Back Burner

By Jill Colvin and Mathew Katz  on November 5, 2012 8:43pm

NEW YORK CITY — Staten Island native Janice Kodetsky had been looking forward to casting her vote on Tuesday — at least until Hurricane Sandy struck.

But as she spent the day Monday gutting the first floor of the South Beach home she’d just renovated two years ago, President Obama’s reelection prospects were the last thing on her mind.

"No! Absolutely not,” she said, letting out a big laugh when asked if she planned to vote.

“I could care less which schmuck is in there,” she said. "I'm 49 and homeless … This is my life right now. I need to make sure I have food, water, heat.”

Election Days are typically spent lining up at poll sits and huddled around televisions, watching results trickle in. But for the tens of thousands of New Yorkers who are still coping with the devastation of the Superstorm — stranded without power or transportation — priorities have changed.

"I don't think people are too concerned with voting at this point," said Gary Sklifas, 27, who lives in Brighton Beach, where many buildings remain flooded and damaged. "It's the last thing on their minds."

For Vlad Klevanskiy, 52, who spent Monday cleaning up his Staten Island home, where ten-foot waters flooded his first floor, voting will take a back seat to recovery work.

"This election isn't my future. My future's here," he said. "No house, no future."

Even those who said they wanted to vote on Tuesday said they had no idea whether polls would even be open — and with no Internet and spotty cell phone service — information is in short supply.

“The only communication with the outside world is wherever we drive or the radio," said Leonidas Sanchez, 40, who lives on Seaside Avenue in Rockaway Park in Queens, and said his top concerns right now are keeping his gas tanks full and making sure his two sons stay warm in a house that has been droppings to 39 degrees at night.

Normally he votes in the lobby of a nearby high-rise. But he said the building was "devastated" during the storm. As of Monday, he said, nobody had told him where else to go.

In an attempt to ease confusion, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced late Monday that he had taken the "extraordinary step" of signing an emergency executive order that will allow New Yorkers to vote at any polling site in the state.

Compared to the last week, he said, going out and voting "will be a walk in the park."

But even before the order, some die-hard voters said they intended to make it to the polls, no matter the challenges.

Joseph Ryzhikw, a loyal Mitt Romney supporter, said that he intended to vote, even as he sorted through the remains of his basement, tossing out sports memorabilia, clothing and more.

"Even with this, I think we need to do everything. I will go vote — for Romney. Otherwise, Obama is going to be back,” he said.

In Brooklyn, Obama supporter Shantel Murphy, 43, a resident of the Red Hook Houses, whose been living without power, heat and hot water for more than a week, also planned to cast her ballot — though she wasn't quite sure where.

"Absolutely I want to vote. But I don’t even know if they've set up," she said. She planned to head to her usual polling place — PS 27— anyway.

"Every vote counts," she said. "We haven’t given [Obama] a chance to see what he can do."

But others, frustrated by the government's sluggish response to their suffering, seemed even more turned off from politics than usual.

"Elected officials should be out here right now,” said Richard Serpica, 38, who had traveled to Staten Island with a group of volunteers from Bay Ridge to help organize food and clothing donations, and was disappointed by the response.

"We've seen no FEMA agents, no politicians," added Kodetsy.  "We're, like, forgotten about. They didn't do anything for me."

But home health care aid Carry Quinones, 45, who lives on Beach 40th Street in the Rockaways said that that's precisely why she intends to make it to the polls.

"If we don't vote," she said, "we don't get all the help that we need."

With reporting from Leslie Albrecht,  Joe Parziale, James Fanelli and Andrea Swalec

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