Who Are Those People Handing Out Flyers at the Polls?

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Julio Martinez, his mother and aunt all worked on primary day passing out flyers in the Bronx.

Photo by: Rachael Levy

Julio Martinez, his mother and aunt all worked on primary day passing out flyers in the Bronx.

They hand out flyers on a Bronx corner, clad in the same black shirts advertising City Council candidate Cynthia Thompkins. More often than not, passersby at Briggs Avenue and 196th Street don’t stop. But when they do, it’s a chance to engage them with friendliness and information, the campaign workers said.

“Most people that come out to vote only know about the mayor,” said Wilfredo Aponte, 62. “Very few know about council members and senators.”

“It’s the first I’ve heard of her,” he added, referring to the Democratic 15th district candidate he was advertising.

For hundreds of unemployed people in the Bronx, Election Day brings a much-needed temporary injection of cash. The going rate for campaign rate is about $10 an hour or $125 for the day. Although volunteers provide a majority of the staffing throughout the campaign, many candidates use paid workers on the day of the election to staff polling sites.

People like Eric Lewis will earn up to $150 passing out Carlton Berkeley flyers to passersby in the 16th district.

“A job is a job,” said Lewis, who is 55. “Anything is better than nothing.”

Knowing that he would be outside all day, Lewis brought along a lawn chair to sit at the corner of Morris Avenue and East 165th.

Lewis said he met Berkeley when the candidate was campaigning near Washington and Webster in the Bronx. He sought out Berkeley to help him with his housing crisis—his wife can’t walk but lives in a fourth floor walkup. After developing a relationship with Berkeley, Lewis was called at the last minute to help with the campaign.

Berkeley said he hired about 45 people to help him campaign today.

Milton Centeno found his job helping Council District 16 Candidate Carlos Sierra on Craigslist in the Bronx section.

“I’m unemployed, so I gotta do something,” said Centeno, who is a social worker and has yet to meet Sierra.

He was to stand in front of Taft High School from until 6 p.m. tonight, when he will depart to vote. Centeno says he does not have to do much work, because voters already know Sierra.

“I don’t even have to give the flyers out,” Centeno said.

Sierra’s campaign said they had 75 people on staff Primary Day.

For some campaign workers, the day’s work would be the only money they will take from the campaign, even though they have volunteered dozens of hours.

Fifty-eight year old Dennis Baget is currently not working and has volunteered more than 40 hours for Naaimat Muhammed Council District 16 campaign. As a team leader at Forest Houses he was supervising three other staff members.

“She’s going to pay me for today, but I’ve done more than that,” Baget said. Baget added that he met Muhammed through his sister.

Muhammed said her campaign is staffed by more than 100 people today.

Back in the 15th district, a member of Thompkins’ team recruited Aponte and the group members about two weeks ago. All said they had previously passed out flyers for campaigns.

“It’s fine with me, as long as they’re paying,” said Derek Sims, chuckling.

The workers are provided three meals and, for a 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. shift, paid $150 in cash—a key benefit over jobs at poll sites, where payment comes weeks later, Aponte said.

Julio Martinez, 23, said his mother and aunt are also passing out campaign flyers today in the Bronx.

But no matter the money, Sims, a Democrat, insists he sticks to his principles. Two months ago, he refused a Republican candidate’s offer offered to pay him $4 more per hour for a similar job, he said.

Carmen Bermudez, 47, said Thompkins’ pay attracted her but that she also enjoyed politics.

“I’m a Democrat all the way,” Bermudez said. “I’m for my people.”