The hurricane’s direct hit on the infrastructure and psyche of New York and New Jersey has positioned Election Day as a test of collaboration amid crisis, an exercise of mind over matter, a balance between survival and citizenship.
Forty-eight hours before polls opened, near the West 80s in Manhattan’s Riverside Park, some volunteers sawing through downed tree branches were anxious about how curbed turnout would nudge the popular vote. Downtown, at Hamilton Fish Park at Pitt and E. Houston streets, hundreds of people in line were focused solely on picking up boxes of emergency rations and warm clothing as FEMA, the National Guard and the New York Police Department managed the distribution.
The election “is on nobody’s mind,” said Madge Jones, a school lunch helper who lives in a Lower East Side public housing complex that she says regained electricity Friday but still doesn’t have heat. “Everyone’s trying to live. They got kids. How’s anybody gonna go out and vote?”
Yet every one of a dozen motorists interviewed while they were waiting in a long line for gas Sunday in downtown Newark said they intend to vote. Nelson Viera, 47, said that power has finally been restored to his home and that he intends to be at the polls Tuesday.
“It’s one of our rights,” said Viera, who works for a mapmaker. “It deserves to be protected.”
The New York region continued to stagger to its feet Sunday, a bright and cloudless day with a chilling breeze. Con Edison has restored power to about 70 percent of the nearly 1 million customers who lost it, and the subway and school systems were expected to be 90 percent operational Monday, according to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I). But some residents were entering their second week without electricity or heat.
The election seemed trivial in the tattered landscape, especially in coastal towns of southern Brooklyn and Queens, where Sandy’s surge ruined homes. The polling station at Bay Academy, the local high school in Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, had been submerged. There were rumors of contingency plans, but nobody knew for sure.
“I heard on the radio that some kind of National Guard trucks are coming and they are going to set up some polling booths in front of the school,” said Barry Weinstein, 60, a credit manager at a Long Island City limousine company. “But why would we want to vote for anybody? No one has been here. Where’s the governor? Where’s the mayor?”