This article is the first 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
There is tranquility to the regular Friday bingo game in the cafeteria of the Van Dyke II senior center on Dumont Street in Brownsville. There are the gentle sloshing of dishwashing in the kitchen, the raindrop patter of bingo balls churning in their dispenser and the rhythmic cadence of the game caller. “B … 17. The number 17.” Pause. “N … 5. The number 5.”
Hanging plants dangle from the ceiling. There is a sign that says “Happy Kwanzaa!” and another that reads “No person will be denied service because of inability of unwillingness to contribute.” There is a photograph of President Obama and a painting of an alternative Mount Rushmore featuring Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Frederick Douglas and W.E.B. Du Bois. Brownsville is 80 percent black. In the Census block where the senior center sits, there are 3,800 black people and 29 whites.
One Friday in January, one of the players is named Joyce, and she has lived at the Van Dyke development for 34 years. Eighteen thousand people live in 15 public housing developments in Brownsville, but Van Dyke is the biggest, with 22 buildings and 4,200 residents. Joyce says she always votes. Like most in the room, she's not familiar with the names of anyone running for mayor. Of the neighborhood, she says. “It was worse, then it got better. Now it’s going back. Too many guns on the street.”