BROOKLYN— One is a daily carnival watched over by the counterterrorism squad, bulky toughs in plainclothes and a cast of sign-waving protesters bellowing at one another.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton set up their national campaign headquarters seven miles from each other. The journey from a showman’s gleaming showplace to a tired old building where Brooklynites have their bloodwork done is a mere 25-minute ride on the No. 5 Lexington Avenue Express.
But, like the candidates themselves, the nerve centers of the two campaigns could hardly be more different — and that goes for the voters gathered outside them, too. The sidewalk outside Trump Tower is teeming with people who believe the country is close to the edge, barely kept from going under. Outside Clinton's offices at One Pierrepont Plaza, there is no crowd, and the people on the street show no enthusiasm — they're not particularly with her or with him.
Ron Slay, taking his lunch break in the leafy Brooklyn park, hasn’t seen any evidence of the Clinton campaign’s presence. That’s pretty much what he’d expect from Clinton.
“She’s quiet, he’s in the limelight. He’s sensationalism and she’s somebody a lot of people don’t like, so she’s lying low.”
Slay, 70, a college administrator who got jazzed about Bernie Sanders's campaign this year, feels like maybe he should vote for Clinton — "just because I'm scared of Donald Trump." But then he'll find himself flirting with a third-party protest vote. "Why should I vote for Clinton just to stop someone? Why should I let them force me to make a negative vote?" And then again, he'll think about how Trump always seemed to get things done in New York — repairing the Central Park ice skating rink lickety-split and under budget when the city government had failed to do so.
Slay talks through his options for the umpteenth time — and after 20 minutes, he is no closer to a decision.
Seven miles away, no one is talking through any situation for 20 minutes. More like 20 seconds of yelling, finger-pointing and good old New York-style dismissive arm-waves. A guy shaking a Trump-Pence sign shouts about George Soros, the opium wars and, for some reason, Franklin Roosevelt’s grandfather.
Beneath the shouting, there is one area of agreement: The conversations at home have gotten too volatile, too troubling, and many people say they’ve had to cut off all talk of politics.
“We just don’t discuss it anymore,” says Priscilla Allen, a visitor from Dallas who stopped by Trump Tower in search of campaign buttons. “My husband is vehemently pro-Trump and my son is even more conservative, but my daughter is more liberal, and she thinks Trump is crazy.” Allen believes Trump is “the worst person we could have selected — the business with him and those women, well, you don’t talk like that if you haven’t done it.” Yet she supports him because “Hillary is dishonest. But I wouldn’t call her that to her face, like he does.”
She shakes her head. All she could get in the building were a couple of bumper stickers, which makes her wonder. “He’s probably not going to win because he doesn’t know how to run a campaign,” Allen says. “It’s a shame. The whole thing, a shame.”
On the same sidewalk, the same sentiment, from the opposite direction: “We have friends we got into it with, and we agreed not to get together again till after the election,” says Mike Reynolds, a recently retired oil and gas sales manager from the Denver area. “It’s kind of scary how much they hate Hillary. I don’t get that: The last eight years have been great — real estate’s better, my 401(k)’s great. What’s there to complain about? There’s nothing that could make me vote for him.”
His daughter Kelly, a New York nurse, says she’s had to unfollow Clinton-hating Facebook friends who were posting a cascade of “Lock her up” diatribes. Yet father and daughter maintain that all this animosity — even the bloodcurdling shouting they’re watching in front of Trump Tower — will probably drift away once the campaign finally ends.
Try telling that to Barbara Smucker and Amelia Arcamone Makinano, regulars on this sidewalk who have never spoken to one another.
Smucker comes into the city from Levittown, Long Island, three days a week to stand in front of Trump Tower waving her hand-drawn sign: “Trump Will Destroy America.”
Makinano stands 30 feet away, holding an oversize American flag. She has a sticker that says, “Hillary for Prison ’16.”
Even if Clinton wins handily, Smucker says, “Trump and Giuliani and all of them aren’t going away. We’re so divided and Trump is spreading hate. People I know are unfriending everyone who disagrees with them about Trump. When the Trump people yell at me, give me the finger, I just don’t get into debates with them. I just stand and hold my sign.”
Makinano, a retired public school teacher who lives in Queens, campaigned for Clinton in 2008 but has come to believe that the former secretary of state is a criminal. It’s a view Makinano says she cannot express at her union meetings “because we’re so outnumbered, and they boo anyone who’s not for Hillary.”
Living in New York, Makinano says, the only place she feels safe talking about her admiration of Trump is at home, with her husband. “My friends and I don’t talk about politics — it’s the only way we can be friends.” She hopes the animosity she sees every day will subside after November. She’s not sure it can.
Back in Brooklyn, Karen Bissessar stares across to Clinton’s headquarters and shakes her head. The city school system employee is still undecided.
“I’ll end up choosing the lesser of two evils,” she says. “But it’s hard because they’re so, so — unprofessional. If you were interviewing for a job, you wouldn’t act like they do in the debates. All this stuff coming out about her and the emails. And the way Trump talks — it’s playground talk, finger-pointing and name-calling.”
A few park benches away, Lisa King, who works in a real estate office near Clinton’s building, thinks about the Democratic nominee and wonders why “she can’t make people comfortable with her the way Obama makes you feel.” And then she wonders about Trump: “He’s bold enough to say what people think, but he’s an aggressor, and that makes people angry.”
Finally, she thinks about her daughter, who is 16 and following the campaign closely: “She thinks both of them could be cordial and keep away from cheap shots, and just talk to us like we’re adults. All I could tell her was, I wish we could have that.”