Turnout in the Eye of the Beholder

Categories: On the Stump
From its buzzing nerve center under the elevated tracks at Westchester Square, Fernando Ferrer's GOTV operation in the Bronx says it saw turnout at 2001 levels this morning. But a local city council campaign tells the opposite story: record low numbers of voters—around half the usual amount—had come out during the morning rush. What gives? In fact, there might be no contradiction: The districts Freddy needs probably are different from the ones that a candidate in the largely white East Bronx cares about. On the other hand, the Ferrer GOTV team knows that the excitement over Freddy could mask a paltry turnout, if his voters come out strong early in the day and then the polling places stay quiet tonight.

From 3 p.m. on is when the real pull will begin. But after the morning rush, Primary Day in the Bronx was quiet. A number of Bronx polling places had been abandoned by palm-carders, including one in the midst of the Gouveneur Morris houses, the one at Bronx Lebanon Hospital, another at the corner of Vyse and Tremont, and one on Franklin Ave. Near Bronx Democratic Committee headquarters at Westchester Square, on the other hand, the contest was high-profile. Firemen were seen walking with Weiner signs. DC37 was handing out Norman Siegel lit to cars stopped at the traffic light. A sound car came through for former Assemblyman and City Council candidate Steve Kaufman. Betsey Gotbaum signs rubbed shoulders were Ferrer posters on nearly every lamppost.

At the county HQ itself, there were tables along two blocks for workers to check in, get their T-shirts, lunches, and assignments to one of the 25 vans that Bronx GOTV coordinator Nathan Smith says he hoped to have running by the end of the day (Smith was seven vans short at 10 a.m. He was also trying to juggle a computer crash, missing literature, a shortage of cups, and a glut in the T-shirt supply). Each van was to carry seven canvassers who—armed with a packet of names— were to be dropped off to go door-to-door, with the van circling to keep the volunteers supplied. By the peak of the voting rush after folks get home from work, Smith predicted he'd have 500 people churning turnout in the Bronx. He expected 300 to be on the move by late morning.

Some of them were gathered outside, wearing the trademark red T-shirts of Bronx Democratic activists. The Transit Workers Union was represented, and Smith says ACORN and other grassroots groups were the heart of the operation. Across the street, an unruly line of about 100 people was being sent in small batches to the HQ. Asked what the line was for, its members said it was to work for Freddy Ferrer. Asked if they were volunteers, they chortled. "You think I stand in line to volunteer?!" scoffed one worker. Oh no, friend: It's $100 a day. Already, Ferrer was taking a bite out of the joblessness problem in some of the Bronx's forgotten neighborhoods.

Nothing wrong with that; it's old-fashioned politics. But the labyrinth of electioneering in the Bronx can be tricky to follow. At a polling place in the northwest Bronx, site of Councilman Oliver Koppell's tough re-election fight, one volunteer handed out flyers that had Ferrer aligned with Ari Hoffnung. Another worker stood next to a poster declaring that Congressman Jose Serrano and Bronx Beep Adolfo Carrion backed Koppell. Ferrer and Carrion are longtime allies but made different picks in this one, and Serrano and Koppell have both been often at odds with the Bronx organization but are together with Carrion (backed by the county) on this one. Go figure.

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