Rockaways Voters Turn Out Despite Sandy's Destruction

By Joe Parziale and Aidan Gardiner  on November 6, 2012 4:05pm

QUEENS — Roseline Onoyne has been without power for more than a week after monster Hurricane Sandy ripped through the Rockaways last Monday.

Her house is in shambles and she had barely any gas in her car.

But she decided to make the mile-long drive to P.S. 180 to vote, after her original polling site was destroyed in the storm surge, to demonstrate the strength of the neighborhood.

"We have to move on, and show people as a community we're ready to move on," said Onoyne, a registered nurse.

Onoyne, 52, said she cast her vote along the Democratic party line, from President Barack Obama through State Sen. Joseph P. Addabbo, the incumbent trying to fend off a tenacious and well-funded Republican challenger to represent the 15th State Senate district, a swath of southern Queens that includes many areas badly battered by Hurricane Sandy.

In what has become one of the closest races in the state, Addabbo is squaring off with city Councilman Eric Ulrich, who represents the Rockaways and Breezy Point.

The boundaries of the senate district were redrawn in the latest statewide redistricting effort. Before, it merely covered mainly inland areas of southern Queens but now it also includes areas within Ulrich’s city council district.

The Republican party has made a concerted effort to oust Addabbo, but the devastation wreaked by Sandy could hinder their efforts as many of Ulrich’s strongholds are still reeling, according to the campaign.

On Tuesday, many voters in the district waited in line for hours to cast their ballots. At Far Rockaway High School, frustrated voters gathered in a dim auditorium said they had waited for more than two-and-a-half-hours.

“It’s just so frustrating,” said Theresa Morris, 50, as she waited with her husband along with about 400 voters Tuesday evening. At the scene, police and voting officials struggled to explain the wait.

Morris said she saw some people leave early because they couldn’t stand the wait.

“It’s an hour already but it’s worth the waiting,” said Morris, who lives on Ocean Crest Boulevard.

The station had 11 scanners for thousands of people who had been redirected from stations closed because of flood damage.

Voter Rose Otts, 37, said that after the struggles of storm recovery, waiting to vote seemed insignificant.

"If I can wait a day and a half for gas, I can wait a few hours to vote for Obama," she said.

Outside the school, Roberta Harris, 47, who lives in on Beach 59th Street, said she had waited two hours for her turn to vote.

“It’s crazy,” said Harris, whose polling site was moved from Ocean Village because of the storm. “They couldn’t find my name and I had to sign an affidavit. It’s a mess."

In an effort to ensure people in storm-ravaged areas will be able to vote, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared Monday that New Yorkers can use a special affidavit ballot to vote at any polling place in the state.

But there’s still a catch: people voting by affidavit can only cast ballots in their local elections — like the state senate race — if their new polling place lies within the same district.

The Board of Elections also relocated many polling places in the area, and around the city, which Republicans fear could confuse voters and cause lower turnout for Ulrich.

"The Board of Elections' decision to move the polling places presented a unique challenge for people who don’t have access to vehicles or public transportation," said Ulrich spokeswoman Jessica Proud. "It’s very difficult in a lot of these places because they’re without power, vehicles, and even gasoline. There’s sand in the streets in many of these places still."

Democrats have controlled both the governorship and the state Assembly for the past several years, but Republicans are looking to build on their 33-to-29 majority in the Senate, which they won 2009.

Addabbo won his seat in 2008 after defeating the 10-term Republican incumbent Serphin Maltese.

Since then, state Republicans have aggressively tried to reclaim the seat. By Oct. 30, Ulrich’s campaign had spent $929,000 to Addabbo’s $310,000, the New York Times reported.

An Ulrich supporter voting at Joseph P. Addabbo Public School, named for the candidate’s congressman father, said he felt the incumbent was aloof and rested on his laurels whereas Ulrich has tried to meet constituents and learn about their needs.

“I’ve expected a little more from Addabbo over the years. So, I figured it’s time to give Eric a shot,” said Jose Santos, 32, of South Ozone Park, who generally votes Democratic. “He’s a little more connected.”

Suzanne Corrigan voted for Addabbo at PS 180 — a super polling site in Rockaway Park allowed voters in several storm-ravaged districts to vote — because she said he's a household name who she trusts, and she usually votes along Democratic party lines anyway.

"Addabbo is kind of a familiar face around here," said Corrigan, 60. "I think people know him and his father, and they just trust he'll do his job.”

Lenoorth Burnett, a 47-year-old carpenter, and his wife Margarine, 45, said they didn't vote in any of the local elections when they visited Far Rockaway High School, because they feel local government has done little to help them cope with damages to their home.

They had several feet of flooding in their basement and some on the first floor, destroying much of their furniture and other home items.

"FEMA was there within two days, three days to give us their support," Lenoorth Burnett said. "We haven't seen anything from local governments at all."

With Andrea Swalec and Tuan Nguyen

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