By Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz
NEW YORK – A second wave of voters hit the ballot box at Brooklyn’s 43rd district at around 9 a.m. yesterday. The rectangular box, which over the course of the day gradually filled up with presidential voting slips, was positioned in the cellar of an old public school at the corner of Brooklyn St. and President St., in the heart of Crown Heights, with its mixed population of blacks and ultra-Orthodox Jews, mostly of the Lubavitch-Chabad sect.
The first wave was made up mainly of early voters who came in on their way to work. The second wave was larger, and the cellar filled up, compliments of the extended line. But despite the congestion, the process proceeded smoothly. Heavily made-up African-American women rubbed shoulders with yeshiva students, and black men – mostly elderly – dressed in jeans and cheap sweaters.
Behind them were Orthodox Jewish women attired in long black dresses and bonnets. An older Jewish man just back from morning prayers clutched the bag holding his tallit and tefillin as he checked the voters list for his name.
“My parents are long-time Republicans, but I’m going to vote for Barack Obama,” said Charles Jackson, a 44-year-old African-American. He was standing by a building whose interior yard boasted campaign posters urging voters to choose Republican hopeful John McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin. But Jackson is no starry-eyed fan. He said that he supports Obama as a lesser evil. The problem, he explained, is a method of government in the U.S. that gives the rich preferential treatment. “McCain is the successor of George Bush – the man who brought America to its knees.”
Simcha Mienkovitch, 19, approached the voting booth curtain, about to exercise her democratic franchise for the first time in her life. A resident of Crown Heights, she recently returned from Israel, where she attended an ultra-Orthodox girls seminary. She intended to vote for McCain, she said. “I don’t like Obama’s friends,” she explained. “And I don’t agree with his position on abortions.”
In a sense, the Crown Heights ballot box is unique in the visibility of its voter distribution. Random inquiries among the people waiting to vote line revealed that the overwhelming majority of African-Americans in the line were Obama voters – at least, among those who agreed to say for whom they intended to vote. When asked, all Jewish voters said they intended to vote for McCain.
Standing in line together, the two populations seemed to perfectly reflect the two extremes of the current campaign – the hope for change, on the one hand, with expectations of a new and surprising tomorrow with Obama, and reliance on the tried and tested familiar, which only John McCain could offer in this campaign.
“It’s an accurate electoral picture of Crown Heights’ voting distribution,” said one local Democratic politician, a long-time resident of the neighborhood. Most Jewish residents, he said, are coping with financial difficulties. But even though Obama is perceived by many as a defender of the poor, they would vote for McCain. This, the politician elaborated, was because Israel’s security is their primary concern, and local Jewish voters perceive a White House under Obama as a threat to Israel
Obama voters spoke of hopes for a change for the better on the verge of materializing. McCain supporters spoke about the future with trepidation. “I support Obama because he will take care of the lower classes,” said Simone Walderon, 41.
In keeping with the Crown Heights fault lines, Levy Pikorsky – who said he was registered as a Democrat – voted McCain. “I fear Obama’s foreign policy, which will harm Israel,” he said.