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Hurricane Sandy's Impact Felt at Red Hook Ballot Box

By Leslie Albrecht | November 6, 2012 5:37pm

BROOKLYN — Red Hook residents had Hurricane Sandy on their minds at the ballot box Tuesday, and some said the disastrous storm gave their votes new meaning.

The hard-hit neighborhood is still cleaning up from the hurricane, which gutted businesses up and down Van Brunt Street and left much of the Red Hook Houses without power or heat.

But the devastation didn't stop voters from lining up at the former P.S. 27 building on Huntington Street, just a block from where free hot meals were being doled out to hurricane-ravaged residents.

Voters said casting their ballots went smoothly even though the school was also hosting the polling site from P.S. 15 on Sullivan Street, which was flooded and will be relocated to the P.S. 27 building.

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez visited P.S. 27 early Tuesday morning and was pleased to find that Sandy didn't seem to be putting a dent in turnout.

"It's higher than expected, given the challenges we're facing, especially here in Red Hook," Velazquez said. "People are frustrated. People are tired. But I hope they don't give up exercising their right to vote, especially at a time when President Obama needs the emotional support to know that people, even in despair, still support him."

Poll worker Gloria McWilliams said she worried that some voters from Red Hook Houses might not make it to the polls, especially elderly or disabled people who might be stranded in upper floor apartments with no elevator service.

"They're unaware of the different polling options because they don't have access to their computers because there's no power," McWilliams said. "People are crying in their homes because they won't be able to vote. I know a lot of people who were looking forward to this day, and I'm sure they're in dismay."

To make sure voters could get to the polls, volunteers with Red Hook Initiative ran a shuttle service driving people from the Red Hook Houses to P.S. 27. The shuttle also picked up residents who were evacuated to two emergency shelters in Park Slope and delivered them back to Red Hook for voting.

Volunteers delivering free meals to the homebound also reminded people that it was Election Day and asked if they needed rides to polling places. A few declined because they were leaving the neighborhood to get out of the path of the nor'easter expected to hit the city on Wednesday, RHI volunteer Hannah Temple said.

In one case, a Time Warner Cable employee with a mobile charging station helped a wheelchair-bound woman reach the polls, a Time Warner Cable spokesman said.

A couple saw the mobile charging station in the neighborhood and told Time Warner Cable employee Robert Levy that a Red Hook Houses resident wanted to get to the polls but couldn't because her electric wheelchair had run out of juice. Levy ran an extension cord through the window of Kacania Taylor's apartment to power up her wheelchair.

Some Red Hook voters said Sandy figured in their choice of candidates.

Red Hook resident and Community Board 6 member Lou Sones, whose home suffered $70,000 in damage in the storm, said Hurricane Sandy reinforced his lifelong commitment to voting straight Democrat.

"There's a drastic, drastic choice," Sones said. "All of Red Hook got hit by this storm and at one point Romney said he would dismantle FEMA. I believe we need government to do things individuals can't do. We need safety nets.

"Can you imagine if FEMA was privatized? Who would handle (Hurricane Sandy)? Halliburton? Blackwater? We'd have guys down here in military uniforms."

Mike Jones, a 32-year-old Ikea security guard who lives at Red Hook Houses said he was excited to vote for Obama in part because the president had sped federal disaster aid to the region. "He's the one who helped us with everything — the hurricane, and he caught Bin Laden," Jones said.  He said he worried a Romney presidency could mean cuts to Medicaid, which would make it more diffcult for families to get by.

Red Hook resident Milton Perez, a 50-year-old nightclub bouncer, said he voted for Obama because he thinks the president has been good for low-income residents like himself.  Perez said he received a check for about $100 because of Obama, though he wasn't sure why or whether the money was associated with a specific government program.

"He's about the only president I know that gave checks to poor people," Perez said. "When he got elected I started to see good things happening. I don't know no president that ever did something like that for low-income people...Republicans don't care about the poor. They care about people that already got money, got jobs, got houses."

But one 43-year-old Red Hook resident offered a dissenting view. Luz, a paralegal who lives in the Red Hook Houses and didn't want her last name used, said she voted for Mitt Romney because she thinks he best represents the interests of the "working middle class."

Luz said she believes some people in her neighborhood get public assistance even though they're healthy enough to work, and she doesn't like her taxpayer money being spent that way. "Right now it's all about giving people public assistance," Luz said. "Ever since Obama got into office, every time you look at your paycheck, your taxes go up."

She added, "You see young people now getting Social Security who have never worked. I don't have a problem giving (public assistance) to the elderly or ones who really need it, but it's like a joke now."

Luz said she's a political minority and Red Hook and was glad poll workers didn't ask her to declare out loud which candidate she was supporting. That's what happened in 2008, she said, and when other voters heard her say John McCain, they yelled at her.