This article is an installment in The Five Borough Ballot, a collaboration between City Limits, City & State and WNET's MetroFocus. In each edition of the print and video series, we return to a location in each of the five boroughs to ask real New Yorkers their take on the 2013 election as it unfolds. For a complete overview of the series, go here
Bill de Blasio successfully framed his campaign as a "tale of two cities" — a metropolis of haves and have-nots.
Mott Haven, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods, would seem ripe for his message. But interviews last week in and around Camaguey restaurant on 138th and Brook Avenue suggest the Democratic candidate for mayor still has hearts and minds to win.
Even among those who cited monetary concerns as the most important to them, a focus on poverty did not necessarily translate into votes for de Blasio. Some didn't believe politics would help solve their problems. Others were still deciding which candidate would most improve their lives economically.
Awilda Cordero, a community leader whose boyfriend owns a nearby barber shop on East 138th Street, campaigned for Anthony Weiner until the bitter end, putting signs in the windows there and at Camaguey.
She will not only vote in November but says she will volunteer for whichever remaining candidates wins her over and bring "over 100 people if they need ‘em" as foot soldiers for the cause.
"We want to campaign for somebody," she said.
But she hasn't decided whether to support former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión — who is running on the Independence Party line — or de Blasio.
De Blasio made it clear that would represent whites and blacks, she said, but she's not yet convinced that he will stand alongside Latinos.
"Basically, we're looking for somebody who's really going to help everybody out," she said.
Meanwhile, she has worked with Carrión and has seen him "giving back to the community" through toy drives and other charitable activities she helped organize as founder of the non-profit Emergency Rights, an organization that, when operational, helps victims of crimes and disasters.
"Every time my organization called him, he was there as borough president."
"I don't know de Blasio the way I know Carrión," she said.
In addition to wanting to bring prayer back into public schools, Lefty Tony — who was selling DVDs at Camaguey last Tuesday— rattled off a list of economic concerns when asked which issues he cares most about. Wages and salaries seem stagnant despite increased costs of living, he said.
But Tony said he will still not vote in November and that the last time he cast a ballot was in the 1980s.
"I'm a poor person. Their voices don't count in the United States," he said.
While he watches the evening news on a variety of channels, he says he mostly hears candidates attacking each other. With the exception of stop-and-frisk, he said he learns little about where they stand on the issues.
"I don't see no difference," he said.
Fernando Santiago, 39, lives in a building adjoining Camaguey at 518 E. 138th St.
He said rent control, as well as the price of food and cost of living in general, were his biggest concerns. But he could not name or speak specifically about any of the candidates.
He tends to lean Democratic, he said, but needs more information about the mayoral candidates. To get it, he said he'll turn on the Channel 7 evening news and begin paying attention to direct messages from the campaigns before Election Day.
"I wouldn't just vote. I would see what's going on, what they're talking about," he said. Asked if race would influence his choice, he said politicians are "all the same" and that "color doesn't play a part in it."
Gloria Cruz, a Mott Haven resident and anti-violence advocate, is also still vetting the candidates.
"As a Democrat, you always go with the party. But if I don't feel comfortable, I just won't vote at all," she said during a telephone interview.
She was considering de Blasio, but when she learned that Carrión would also be on the ballot come November, she gave him serious consideration.
"You know, he's a hometown boy and he understands a lot about where our people are coming from and what they need," she said. But, she added, "I don't know where his mindframe is right now."
She said the next mayor should focus on funding youth programs, investing in mental health and helping young people "find peace within themselves so they don't pick up a gun."
Not everyone was on the fence when it came to the candidates. Sergio Rodriguez, who works for the NYPD, cited de Blasio's stance against "stop, question and frisk" as the reason he would be voting for Republican candidate Joe Lhota.
And Lillian Garcia, 55, who believes de Blasio is "more for the poor people," has made her choice. But even though her candidate won the Democratic primary, she wasn't getting her hopes up.
"I think the Republican's going to win, though," she said. "It's just a feeling… it always happens like that."