NYCHA residents take to the polls

Abraham White, 78, and his daughter Monique White, 51, discuss their vote outside of the polling site at Success Academy Bronx 1 on Morris Avenue. Photo: Mankaprr Conteh

Some vote for change; others stick with status quo

Just a handful of Mott Haven residents came to the Mott Haven Houses Community Center early Thursday morning to vote in the Democratic primary contests, but most of those who did chose to vote for status quo.

This year, several candidates ran as progressive alternatives to Democratic incumbents: actor Cynthia Nixon ran for Governor, City Council Member Jumaane Williams for Lieutenant Governor, former congressional aide Amanda Septimo for State Assembly, and law professor Zephyr Teachout for Attorney General. They challenged their more experienced counterparts on matters like public and affordable housing, MTA management, and ethics.

However, most Mott Haven Houses residents interviewed by The Herald wanted Andrew Cuomo to remain Governor, Kathy Hochul to remain Lieutenant Governor, Carmen Arroyo to remain Assemblymember, and for Public Advocate Letitia James to assume the position of Attorney General.

When the votes were counted, the incumbents had prevailed. Cuomo easily won re-election by a 65.6 to 34 percent margin while Hochul and James won by closer margins. Arroyo tallied 63 percent of the vote in the 84th Assembly district, to Septimo’s 37 percent, easily holding onto the seat she first won 24 years ago.

“Folks just know Cuomo [and] Letitia,” said Shana Rhodes, 42, an inspector-scanner for the Board of Elections stationed at the community center, who voted at the site that morning. Rhodes, who lives in the Mott Haven Houses building across the street, said that all the candidates could have done a better job of outreach there. Although Rhodes said she received some flyers, she said candidates didn’t advertise on television enough or make their positions known. She wished she had more information about opportunities to get to know the candidates, like debates. So rather than voting around issues, she voted for the names most familiar to her. “And that’s not good, but that’s what a lot of people do,” she said. 

Management of public housing is a high priority issue for Rhodes, as it is for Leila Kerlew, 25. Kerlew, who also lives in the Mott Haven Houses, voted for Gov. Cuomo, feeling confident that he’ll tackle the rampant challenges facing the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). “With everything else, I feel like when he said he was going to do something, he worked on it, so I didn’t have any reason to believe otherwise,” she said.

Voter John Pomales cast his ballot for the better-known incumbents.

One voter, John Pomales, voted for Cuomo, Arroyo, and James. “The past administration has been doing a good job for the community, so I assume they’re going to be doing good [in the next administration],” he said.

Carmen Ortiz, 61, voted with her mother, Rosa Montanez, 85, another resident of the Mott Haven Houses. They felt differently about which Democratic candidates would best serve the South Bronx. Ortiz supported Gov. Cuomo and in the attorney general’s race she cast her ballot for Congressional Representative Sean Patrick Maloney because, she said, he appeared well-spoken in his commercials. For State Assembly, she voted for Arroyo, as she said she has done for years. Arroyo, 82, has been in office since 1994. “She used to have an office right here on Willis Ave. If you had something you needed help with you could go right in there and she would be there,” said Ortiz.

Ortiz’s mother, however, voted for 27-year-old Amanda Septimo, community activist and former aide to Rep. Jose E. Serrano. Montanez also opted for a change for governor, and scowled at the utterance of Cuomo’s name. She voted for Nixon. “She said we gotta make a new change,” Ortiz translated from Spanish to English for her mother. 

A few blocks from the Mott Haven Houses Community Center, another parent and child voted together. Monique White, 51, and her father, Abraham White, 78, saw aversion to risk as an asset. Abraham White lives in the Patterson Houses; his daughter recently moved away from there. The pair were gravely concerned about NYCHA, shelters, gentrification, and youth, but placed their faith in the establishment. “I’d rather stick with someone I know, and I know what their capabilities are, than vote for someone new and that I’m not sure of,” said the younger White.