Mitt Romney had already settled into his status as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee long before his five state primary sweep last night and his wide lead in Empire State polls made his victory in New York a foregone conclusion. However, The Politicker still decided to stop by our local polling place in Times Square to see the democratic process at work in a place where the stakes might have been low, but at least one of the constituents was high.
The closest polling place to Politicker headquarters was The Times Square Hotel on 43rd Street. When we got there shortly after five p.m. yesterday evening, we saw eight poll workers seated at folding tables waiting for voters to show up. A lone policeman who was there to stand guard over the proceedings sat in a chair playing a bowling game on his iPad. After about a half hour, the cop switched to Scrabble. There were no voters in sight.
Times Square Hotel was built in 1922. In the lobby, the walls are adorned with gold painted statues and promotional materials from the hotel’s heyday including a flyer that boasted of the hotel’s central Theater District location and its proximity to “the subway that goes to the grounds of the New York World’s Fair of 1939.”
“No taxi fares, nor journeying of any sort. The very air at your door is alive with the gaiety of the Great White Way,” the flyer said.
Since then, the hotel has fallen on harder times. In the 1980’s, The Times Square was purchased by Covenant House, which made the space available to 700 mostly homeless and transient residents. In 1991, the hotel was sold to another charitable organization that opened its doors to AIDS victims and refugees from the City’s homeless shelter system. A New York Times article on the second sale noted the troubled history of the hotel, which by then had earned the nickname the “mother of all S.R.O.’s.”
“It has had problems,” reporter Alan Oser wrote.
After our first half hour in the lobby, we walked up to the poll workers to inquire about the turnout. One man was sleeping on the table. They directed us to the coordinator of elections for the poll site, James Alston, who wore a red-striped three piece suit and fedora with a matching red hatband who sat on top of a motorized scooter.
“For a general election it’ll be moving all day. People come from all over this area,” Ms. Alston said. “It’s just a little slow today.”
Despite the lack of voters, Mr. Alston said they were expecting “a rush” later in the evening when people got off work. So, we went back to Politicker headquarters and returned shortly before 8 p.m. to stand outside the lobby and see if things had picked up at the Times Square Hotel.
After about 20 minutes, we spotted our first voter, an assistant art teacher named Nancy who declined to give her last name. Nancy said the forms she filled out at the polling place indicated she was the 18th person who showed up to vote there. She told us she cast her ballot for Mr. Romney because “he’s good at business and the economy” and that, though yesterday’s primary was hardly high impact, she showed up to vote because she considered it a privilege.
“They say that you should do it no matter what,” Nancy said. “I guess it’s a privilege that people in other countries don’t have.”
Soon after, we spotted voters number 19 and 20, a man named Robert who said he was the general manager of a local nightclub and his wife. The couple was accompanied by their two children, a boy and a girl, who were riding scooters. Robert declined to tell us his last name or who he cast his ballot for, but said he showed up because “I vote every year.” Though he was eager to participate in the primary, Robert admitted his vote wouldn’t affect the outcome.
“Romney’s going to win, the other two have to bow out, it’s inevitable.”
As we finished talking to Robert, his daughter piped in.
“Did you just interview my dad?” she asked. “Can you interview me too?”
She was obviously about a decade under the minimum voting age, but we played along and asked who she cast her ballot for.
“I can’t vote,” she said. “If I could, I would vote for what my dad voted for.”
Not to be outdone, her brother also let his opinions on the election be known.
“I want a new president,” he said. “If I could, I would vote for a new one. I don’t like the one we have.”
Robert, who was clearly amused at his childrens’ precociousness, presssed his son to explain why he dislikes President Barack Obama.
“The things he did,” the boy said with a smile.
“Like what?” Robert asked.
“I don’t know, he’s planning something,” the boy said.
After Robert and his family went on their way, the only people we spotted entering the building for the next half hour or so were building residents and food deliverymen. Eventually, we encountered a twentysomething woman named Daisy with dramatic eye makeup, a fur-trimmed hoodie and a prominent nose ring making her way into the lobby. We asked if she was their to participate in the primary. Daisy, who said she was there to visit a friend, was surprised to learn the hotel was a polling place.
“Fucking crackheads live in this building,” she said, before hastily adding her friend was not “a crackhead” and was simply benefitting from the low, subsidized rents in the building.
“He pays like 200 a month, but I’m serious, fucking crackheads,” she said. “You should see the shit she has to deal with.”
Before she went inside, Daisy asked us if we had a lighter. We handed her one and she pulled out a small, cigarette-shaped marijuana pipe and offered us a hit. Though there were still about twenty minutes left before the polls closed, we decided it was time for us to leave.