Non-voters weigh in on primary

The Herald conducted an informal poll of Mott Haven residents who said they had no plans on voting in the 8th City Council District Democratic primary. Although the primary winner Diana Ayala won, dark horse candidate Tamika Mapp finished a close second, drawing interest for her proposal to raise the minimum wage to $20 per hour and to prioritize NYCHA repairs over subsidizing new construction.

City Council District 8. Map:

Tamika Mapp came in a close second in an informal poll of non-voters intrigued by her unconventional ideas

Days before the Sept. 12 Democratic primary was scheduled to take place, The Herald dispatched a team of reporters to the streets of Mott Haven with an unusual premise.

Anticipating that we would hear residents offer familiar reasons why casting their votes in the primary would be a waste of time—-“the system is corrupt; politicians don’t listen to the voters; they never keep their promises; no one told me there’s an election”—-we decided that instead of asking them to detail their disillusionment, we would ask them how they might vote if they could be persuaded to change their minds.

To provide our non-voters a boost, our reporters carried candidate guides listing the three main candidates’ positions on key issues in their bid for the 8th District City Council seat and talked to more than 100 residents between 149th Street and 138th Street.

About a third of the non-voters we approached said they wouldn’t vote no matter what—that no candidate would be worth the trouble—but 78 residents agreed to pick a candidate. Thirty-two of them picked the primary’s eventual winner, Diana Ayala. Tamika Mapp, who finished third in the real voting with just 10 percent of the vote, came in second in our unofficial poll with 27 “theoretical” votes, and Assemblyman Robert J. Rodriguez finished third with 19.

Those who said that they would have voted for Ayala or Rodriguez cited similar reasons that led them to favor one or the other, among them previous political experience, promises to protect tenants’ rights, and commitments to build affordable housing.

Jessica, a 22-year-old teacher who declined to give her last name, said she doesn’t “typically vote in City Council. I’ve never been educated on that. The city doesn’t really teach you that there are things to vote for besides the presidential election,” but she said that, if pressed, she would vote for Rodriguez, the assemblyman, “because it feels more official.”

Gerard Little, 25, an actor and singer who was born and raised in the neighborhood but spends his weekends in Williamsburg, said he didn’t know there was an upcoming primary.

“If they want a bigger impact at the polls they need to start reaching out to people like me,” said Little. “I’m on my phone all day. If they do more on social media, we would know what’s going on.”

For Little, it was a toss-up between Mapp and Ayala. He liked that Mapp is a small business owner, something he aspires to be himself. Little wants to bring more music venues to the South Bronx, recognizing that there are opportunities as the area becomes more affluent. Of Mapp, he said “It’s really hard in New York, and the fact that she’s done it makes me think that she can help people out who are also trying to do it.”

Even so, he said he would vote for Ayala if he voted for anyone, because of her history contending with violent crime. “Her family members were slain by gun violence so she can understand what it’s like out here.”

Others said they would choose Ayala because she seemed more visible than Rodriguez during the campaign.

But Mapp seemed to draw the most enthusiasm for some of her more unconventional policy priorities, such as raising the minimum wage to $20 per hour, reforming the Bronx family courts and investing heavily in repairs to old housing rather than subsidizing new developments.

Rafael Martinez, 40, a part-time stocker at First One Deli, said that he liked Mapp’s emphasis on investing in restoring older housing stock.

“If they’re gonna fix up these projects, maybe I’ll vote for them,” said Martinez.

Construction worker And-re Wilson, 31, said he doesn’t vote because it’s futile. But after taking a look at the candidates’ positions in the voting guide, Mapp’s $20 minimum wage plan intrigued him, even if “it seems kind of like a dream, far-fetched.” He called it a concrete benefit for working people, compared with Rodriguez’s proposals for affordable housing set-asides and Ayala’s for tenants’ rights, both of which left him skeptical.

A mother and son selling Central American food from the back of their minivan near Rainey Park in Longwood, said that they were unaware of the primary and uninformed about the candidates, even though they live in Mott Haven. Ronald Rhoden said he used to pay little attention to local elections because he didn’t think they mattered.

“I wasn’t very informed,” he said. “And then I realized you have to vote for these city council [candidates] in order to get things in your community done.”

Upon hearing descriptions of the candidates’ platforms, Ronald Rhoden preferred Mapp because of her position on repairing public housing units.

“Mostly everybody assumes that the votes that matter are going to be for the president, and that’s going to fix everything. But really the votes that matter are the city council votes,” he said, “because these are the ones that determine who will fix things.”

Contributing reporters: Trevor Boyer, Allyson Escobar, Ivan Flores, Jose Giralt, Chris Hickey, Yueh Ho, Scarlett Kuang, Sarah Matusek, Avery Miles, Paula Moura, Carmen Reinike, Kalah Siegel, Kaitlin Sullivan, Andee Tagle, Kevin Wheeler and Reece T. Williams.