Hopes for De Blasio: High and Low, Specific vs. Sweeping

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The voting site at Van Dyke Senior Center was used by three election districts on Primary Day (above) but only two on general Election Day. That and other polling site changes caused confusion.

Photo by: Kirsti Itameri

The voting site at Van Dyke Senior Center was used by three election districts on Primary Day (above) but only two on general Election Day. That and other polling site changes caused confusion.

This article is the final Brooklyn installment in The Five Borough Ballot, a collaboration between City Limits, City & State and WNET’s MetroFocus. For a complete overview of the series, go here

About five hours before Bill de Blasio took the stage at the Park Slope Armory YMCA on election night to talk about his expectations for the mayoralty, Elliot Trivio walked out of his polling place at the Van Dyke Senior Center on Dumont Avenue and outlined his own.

“I’m looking for an even field,” he said. “Give everybody a shot. I hope he brings jobs to the community for these young black men.” Teach people skills, he urged. Give kids a place to play basketball. “Because, you know, you want to see change.”

Dusk was falling on Brownsville on Election Day and hopes for de Blasio were all over the map.

An elderly woman came out of the voting site leaning on her walker. She couldn’t really say what issue she hoped the new mayor would focus on. “I don’t know,” she said. “They’re all interesting and we have to take care of them.” A woman in her 40s simply said “I’m a Democrat” when asked about her vote. A guy in his 20s said he voted for de Blasio “because he’s got a black wife.”

“Seriously?” asked a friend walking with him. He answered: “Yes.”

A yellow cab and a private car collided in the nearby intersection of Blake and Powell. Kids who’d had the day off played amid gathering darkness in a playground just west of the senior center.

“Oh my God, there’s so many. There’s so many,” said Marilyn, when asked what issue she most wanted the new mayor to address. “That minimum wage business, that’s the top of the list. The top of the list. Because look what’s happening,” she said, gesturing at kids passing by on the sidewalk and to the NYCHA buildings behind them.

A middle-aged couple came out of the center without having voted. They were two of many residents whose polling place had switched, and they were on their way from the senior center—where people from the 65th election district had voted for years, including as recently as Primary Day—up to their new polling place at P.S. 150, four blocks away.

Up on Blake Avenue, a police van, lights flashing, pulled over to drop off four uniformed cops who strode down a pathway into a courtyard on the NYCHA grounds. An unmarked police vehicle swung to the curb so a detective could talk to a community leader. A block away on Sutter Avenue a police car flashed its lights from the spot where it had sat all day at the foot of an NYPD watch tower. P.S. 150 was right across the street.

As was the case at almost all the other nearby voting places—the senior center on Dumont, Betsy Head Pool, P.S. 284, the Seth Low Community Center—the signs ordering “No Electioneering!” were unnecessary. No one was in front of P.S. 150 handing out campaign literature. Other than the Re-Elect D.A. Hynes flyers stuck under windshield wiper blades and a smattering of Ken Thompson for D.A. posters on the lampposts of Mother Gaston Boulevard, there were few indications that there was an election going on. A lone Hynes volunteer stood outside the Tilden Community Center with handbills.

At 6 p.m., poll workers at P.S. 150 were expecting an evening rush that, by 7 or so, never really materialized. According to preliminary results provided by The New York Times, of the 2,330 active registered voters at the three election districts voting at P.S. 150, only 384 cast ballots—a turnout of 16.5 percent.

In the two election districts assigned to the Van Dyke Senior Center, it was a much stronger but still low 24 percent.

Joe Lhota received no more than 1.6 percent of the vote between the two polling sites. De Blasio won 97 percent of ballots cast.

“I voted for him when he was public advocate,” said Terence Watford, a 20-year resident of Brownsville, as he emerged from P.S. 150 and began listing his reasons for voting for the Democrat. “I’ve met him once or twice. I’m a Democrat, and don’t usually switch my vote.”

Did he have any specific expectations of de Blasio? “I know better than that, man.” He hoped de Blasio would accomplish something but “the mayor and the president don’t really run the city and the country. They can’t just come in and say, ‘Change things.'”

But Daniel, who’d lived nearby for a decade and came to vote with his wife and two children, did have a list of things he wanted de Blasio to tackle. “I’m just hoping for change. Gun violence. Jobs. Eliminate drugs. Gang violence.”

Linette Espejo also had a lengthy wish-list. “Better schooling. Less guns. And a better minimum wage for the upcoming generation. A lot of kids are helping their own parents,” she said, and needed to make more money to support their folks.

Did she think de Blasio would accomplish all that? “You can only hope for the best. You always hope everything they say will come to be. The only way we can do that is by voting,” she said.

Since he took charge of the race for mayor with a surge in opinion polls in August, de Blasio has been managing expectations—whether about his share of the vote or his agenda in City Hall. The biggest question hanging over his transition to office is whether he can deliver on his promise of sweeping change. If he falls short of voters’ expectations, the thinking is, he’ll fail.

But in Brownsville, at least among voters we interviewed, those expectations were so varied it might be hard to measure how well or poorly the new mayor meets them. Some of the people who voted for him didn’t seem to have any firm idea of what they wanted him to do. Others had a vague desire for change.

And some had specific ideas. One of those was Lisa Kenner, the head of the Resident Association for the Van Dyke Houses, a 22-building, 5,000-resident complex that is just one of several NYCHA developments in Brownsville.

“The first thing [de Blasio] can do is make sure he’s not making a mistake letting Commissioner Kelly leave the NYPD, and make sure he gets the right chairperson for NYCHA,” she emailed the day after the election. She also wants de Blasio to reopen small community centers in the neighborhood for teenagers who “are unable to go outside their development because they have beefs with other teenagers.”

“Finally, they can hire more staff to do the repairs at NYCHA,” she said, noting that hiring more residents to do that work could solve maintenance and employment problems at once.” This way the family can start rebuilding their lives and the community becomes more independent.”

Kenner said on Election Day that she’d met de Blasio the previous weekend while out with some teenage girls she is mentoring. One of the girls is very tall and self-conscious about it. She confided in the lengthy candidate, and de Blasio told her, “Good things come in big packages.”

Kenner, mum about her own vote, liked the line. She hopes it’s true.

“We will see what he does for Brownsville,” she wrote.