Another one rides the bus: Local Dems drove vote in contested districts

Vote Blue 2018 members on Sept. 15 in New Jersey, where they door-knocked for Democratic candidate Andy Kim. Photos by Erik Bottcher

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Updated Sun., Nov. 11, 6:20 p.m.: Downtowners didn’t have competitive races on the ballot in their districts during this critical election cycle. So local politicos went to where the action was — whether elsewhere in the state or out of state.

Starting on Sept. 15, members of an effort called Vote Blue 2018 chartered Greyhound buses on weekends and, leaving from Union Square, they went to campaign for Democrats in key races in the metro area.

Charles Fernandez, a Penn South resident and a member of the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club, motoring out to one of the contested congressional districts.

They targeted Districts 1, 2 and 19 in New York State. G.O.P. Congressmembers Lee Zeldin and Peter King ultimately hung onto the first two districts, which are both on Long Island. But in the Hudson Valley’s District 19, Antonio Delgado toppled incumbent Republican Representative John Faso.

The Vote Blue 2018 members out in Suffolk County on Long Island, where they door-knocked for Perry Gershon versus G.O.P. incumbent Lee Zeldin. Zeldin ultimately was able to fend off Gershon’s challenge.

The activists also bused it out to two districts in New Jersey and even one in Pennsylvania. They targeted competitive races within a two hours’ drive of New York City. In a close race where a winner still had not been called, Dem Andy Kim was ahead in Jersey’s Third District against a G.O.P. incumbent. But Mikie Sherrill flipped the Garden State’s 11 District, a seat long held by Republicans. And Pennsylvania’s newly drawn 7th District turned blue with Susan Wild’s win.

The districts to focus on were identified by Congressmember Jerrold Nadler during a sit-down with him.

All told, volunteers forayed out of the city in from 15 to 20 buses during the effort. Over the final “Get Out the Vote Weekend” alone, on Saturday and Sunday, there were five buses carrying a total of 250 volunteers. Buses also went out to the battleground districts on Tuesday.

The goal of the door-knocking drive was to make sure that Democrats got out to the polls on Election Day.

Key organizers included Erik Bottcher, Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s chief of staff; Tony Hoffmann and Yayoi Tsuchitani, a former president and a member, respectively, of Village Independent Democrats; Kate Linker, of Greater New York City for Change, and Hell’s Kitchen Democrats. Each group would pitch in $500 to rent the buses on a given weekend.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson up in a rural part of the Hudson Valley’s District 19 last weekend, where he helped get out the vote for Antonio Delgado, who unseated Republican incumbent John Faso on Nov. 6.

They just kept on trucking (technically, busing) for Democrats in six districts outside of New York City.

“I was on the Peter King bus,” Hoffmann said, regarding his effort the weekend before the election. “It went well.

“This is a get-out-the-vote. You’ve already pinpointed your positive voters. Overwhelmingly, they’re at work,” he noted.

Almost everyone he spoke to assured him they would be voting for King’s challenger, political newcomer Liuba Grechen Shirley. Hoffmann conceded King has some strong credentials, such as his activism on post-9/11 issues, but stressed King’s negatives are high, as well.

“He’s been very anti-immigrant,” he said. “He’s been very anti-Muslim — he voted for the ‘Muslim ban.’ And he voted against ObamaCare.”

Hoffmann said that some activists, not wanting to get on a bus, just drove out to the districts themselves.

Meanwhile, his wife, Nadine, who is also a past V.I.D. president, didn’t go on the buses to the swing districts, but instead raised money to help pay for them. She manned the V.I.D. table over five Saturdays in Abingdon Square, selling cookies, cupcakes and buttons. They raised a total of $3,500 — and hauled in $1,000 on one Saturday alone.

“We had people throwing money at us,” she said. “Somebody gave us a $100 bill.”

A lot of foreigners were giving her cash, motivated by their opposition to President Trump, she said. One man from Germany anxiously told her that Trump gave him a dangerous feeling of “deja vu.”

“They just think he’s a maniac, just like we do,” Nadine said. “They’re afraid of him.”

The table sported eye-catching banners like “Vote Blue” and “It’s Mueller Time,” a riff on the beer slogan.

The Hoffmanns went by Westbeth Artists Housing, a particularly large poll site, on Election Night and were wowed by the heavy turnout.

“Usually, by 7 o’clock, Westbeth is dead,” said Tony, a former district leader who has monitored the polls for years. “People were coming there [to vote] till 9 o’clock. We were running out of palm cards. It was young people. We have never seen so many young people vote. We didn’t know young people lived in the Village.

“What it tells me,” Tony said, “is people are so upset about the political situation in the United States and Trump, the white nationalists, the anti-Semites, the lack of support for people with pre-existing [health] conditions; they say like one-third of the country has pre-existing conditions… . There was nothing of interest or anything competitive on the ballot pulling people to the polls,” he said, yet the turnout was huge — or yuuge, to quote the impetus.

Added Nadine, “We were at Westbeth. The thing that really amazed me were the young people, 25 to 35 [years old], who usually walk by you with the earbuds. Especially in New York, with so many minorities, they can’t stand to hear him. …

“But it’s New York,” she conceded. “We’re in a bubble here.”

Bottcher, Johnson’s chief of staff, said, “The buses were a huge success.”

He personally went to District 19 twice and District 1 once. Bottcher said the initiative came about after a core group of activists and politicos decided to revive a similar bus effort — called Keep Pennsylvania Blue — that they did two years ago for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

“We’d break into pairs and take a section of turf,” he explained. “Corey would go on one side of the street. I’d do the other.”

Although they had identified Democratic areas to door-knock in, it wasn’t always that simple.

“We’d go to the door of a person who was a Democrat, but the husband was a Trump supporter and we’d have an interesting conversation,” he noted.

Asked if the Upstaters recognized Johnson as the New York City Council speaker, Bottcher said, “Not really. These were often rural areas. But the folks on the bus appreciated it.”

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