NEW YORK — It’s the evening rush on the Staten Island Ferry, and Donald Trump’s New Yorkers, spent after a day’s work in Manhattan, are heading home.
There’s the construction worker who is convinced Trump will stop “pussyfooting around” when it comes to terrorism. There’s the Hungarian immigrant tow-truck driver who says Trump speaks his language. There’s the moving-company worker who believes Trump would be the first honest and courageous president in his lifetime, the diamond dealer who respects his toughness and the fashion model in awe of his glamour.
“He’s just the man, right?” says Jimmy Dawson, 20, just back from modeling Givenchy’s new line on a runway in Paris. On the ferry, Dawson looks incognito, save for his red “Make America Great Again” cap.
“It’s his wealth, his attitude,” he adds. “Look at what he’s done. It’s inspiring. Who wouldn’t want to have that life? Who doesn’t want to be rich? This is New York.”
This is Trump’s city, and these are his people. The billionaire real estate mogul is poised to wallop his opponents in Tuesday’s New York primary and record one of the biggest victory margins of the GOP presidential race so far. Recent polls show Trump topping 50 percent in the state, far outpacing Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
To understand why, listen to passengers on the ferry as it cruises across New York Harbor. They see Trump as the human embodiment of their city’s spirit and ambition. He’s big and brash and unafraid.
They say they know Trump and believe in him, even though they’ve never met him. For decades, they’ve been reading about his exploits in the tabloids, staring up at his buildings, spotting his name practically everywhere.
“He’s a New Yorker, you know?” says Frank Manzo, 51, who works for a commercial moving company. “He’s bold in some ways and he’s honest.”
Manzo says he worries about terrorism. It’s everywhere, he says: “Everybody rolls all over us because we’re not tough. They take our hostages and torture us. If somebody’s going to come in here and bomb this ferry, there should be consequences. Trump will stop it.”
That’s what Margaret Power believes, too. “Trump is very tough, real hard, and that’s what we need,” she says. “It’s time to stop pussy-footing around.”
Power is 52 and works in construction. She’s currently building the set for a fashion exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She says she trusts Trump because he’s not like the other politicians, beholden to their donors. “He’s steering himself,” she says.
“He’s done a lot for New York City,” Power adds. “He’s involved in great projects. He’s a stand-up guy. Great quality. He’s done more than most mayors, and it shows.”
Joe Berardi envisions Trump as a jobs president. “He’ll be good for guys like me,” the 33-year-old construction worker says as he finishes off a slice of pizza.
Berardi wakes up at 3 a.m., arrives at his work site by 7 and rides the 5 p.m. ferry home to Staten Island, day in and day out, six days a week. He usually works on skyscrapers, but these days he’s helping build a Niketown on Broadway.
“Donald Trump is a real estate genius, you know?” he says. “It’s not that a billionaire is going to care about me, but as a group, he knows he needs us guys. If he gets rid of all that cheap illegalimmigrant labor, who’s left to do the jobs? Guys like me.”
Josh Shimoni, 65, has the same hope.
“Trump! Trump! Trump! He’s talking my language,” says Shimoni, a tow-truck driver who immigrated to the United States from Hungary at age 22. “He understands our frustration in business, and I think he can help. Business is very, very bad. There’s no work. And he’ll make the system work again.”
There are plenty of Trump haters in New York, no doubt millions of them. Scores are on this ferry — women, blacks, Latinos, millennials. Some laugh when asked whether they plan to vote for Trump.
“I don’t like him,” says Chris Topherbollinger, a middle-aged white man decked out in Yankees garb. “Actually, I despise him.”
But others think Trump is just what America needs, what Staten Island needs. Of New York City’s five boroughs, this is the forgotten one. It’s cut off from the subway system and accessible only by boat or bridge. It’s the least populous borough — home to just fewer than 500,000 people — but also the whitest and most Republican. Trump is scheduled to campaign there Sunday.
As in so many other places across the country, an influx of immigrants on Staten Island has stoked tensions. Debbie Padovano, 59, voted for President Obama but is on the Trump train now. She lives in Manhattan but commutes to Staten Island to work at a food pantry for the homeless. She says she encounters the immigration problem every day at her work.
“They don’t have the right credentials,” she says. “We take them in — and some of them, I’m glad. But there are just so many of them. They’re taking people’s jobs. . . . I think Donald Trump will fix it.”
Padovano says she recoils from Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric and hopes he will “curb his discrimination.” Nevertheless, she has been persuaded that he’s up to the task.
“Once he has it in his hands, he’ll know exactly what to do,” Padovano says. “I know he can handle the job. I really do. There’s only one I listen to. . . . Donald — excuse me, Mr. Trump — would diminish Congress and take control.”
Taking control is what Michael O’Brian, 52, wants the next president to do, and he thinks Trump is the one to do it.
“When [Islamic State terrorists] bombed France, his first reaction was, ‘I’m going to bomb the sh-- out of them.’ I like the way he thinks. He’s got courage,” O’Brian says.
O’Brian lives a hard life. He says he used to build scenery at the Metropolitan Opera but fell off a ladder a few years back, knocked out his teeth and broke his back in three places. He says he can’t work anymore. He walks with a cane and, on this evening, stands in the windy doorway of the ferry looking out at the Statue of Liberty as it passes by.
O’Brian is not one of those Trump backers who applauds everything that comes out of the candidate’s mouth. When Trump recently said women who have abortions should be punished, “I wanted to punch him in the face,” O’Brian says.
But, he adds, “he’s a New Yorker. He speaks his mind.”
This is the kind of attitude that drew Chris Szymanski to support Trump. A Polish immigrant, Szymanski, 62, lives on Staten Island and sells diamonds in midtown Manhattan. He says he wants a strong, almost authoritarian leader. Riding home on the ferry in a suit and tie, flipping through a newspaper, Szymanski compares Trump to Russia’s president.
“There are two men I respect in this world: Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump,” he says. “They are strong leaders with big follow-up. They solve problems. They have a strong mind, resolution, character.”
Szymanski explains what he considers New York values: “Strong, dynamic, confident and patriotic.” He says Trump embodies them all and is the solution to what ails the country.
“He will fix it all,” he says. “Look at what he did in his life. Look at his kids, his empire. Don’t you see a pattern? Quality. Honesty. Resolution. Success.”