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‘It’s Exciting!’: New Yorkers Cast Ballots With Hopes of a New City for All

Voters at the Elijah Stroud Campus School in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, June 22, 2021.
Voters at the Elijah Stroud Campus School in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, June 22, 2021.
Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

As New Yorkers voted on Primary Day, many said they were struggling to adjust — to a lot of things.

While more than 190,000 New Yorkers cast ballots during the early-voting period that began June 12, the unusual timing of the election — in June, rather than the traditional September — paired with the debut of ranked choice voting introduced some new wrinkles. So did an unusually crowded field of candidates seeking seats from City Hall to City Council.

THE CITY fanned out across the five boroughs on a rainy Tuesday to talk to New Yorkers weary after an intense and confusing campaign season conducted in the middle of a pandemic. But all were united by a determination to cast their vote for a better future.

It’s TODAY???

The June 22 primary left some voters baffled at a Washington Heights polling place.

Eduvigis Rosario, 65, said she was under the impression that Tuesday was the start of early voting — and not her last chance to cast her ballot.

A phone call to her sister set her straight.

“I said, ‘Oh my God, the 22nd!’” Rosario said after voting at Public School 152. “And they started the 12th.”

— Claudia Irizarry Aponte

RCV OMG

The introduction of ranked-choice voting — in which voters can rank their top five candidates in municipal races — left some voters puzzled and others pleased.

At P.S. 20 in Flushing, Queens, several voters said they welcomed the opportunity to list candidates in order, though others came away a bit miffed.

“It required research,” said Angelica Noguera, 20, of Flushing. “I can’t remember my rankings, there were a lot of names.”

Gia Li, 20, said the new voting format made things “a little more complicated than usual.”

“Next time, I will write it down,” said Li, who conceded she couldn’t remember how she rated the candidates running for mayor and city comptroller.

“I am blanking on names,” she said. “I know I voted.”

Ross Adler, who was voting at P.S. 199 in Sunnyside, said the option to rank candidates was useful during an election cycle with a surplus of candidates. But he said understood how the new format could baffle some voters.

“I think the rollout was confusing,” said Adler, 31. “I pay attention, but not everybody does.”

Josefina Grasse said her husband’s ranked choice ballot was rejected twice at P.S. 49 in Forest Hills because he flubbed a write-in vote. He called the new system “silly and unnecessarily complicated.”

But Aracelis Gutiérrez, an assistant teacher, said the ability to rank five people on her ballot for most races drew her to her polling place at Bronx Supreme Court.

“That’s the main reason I came out to vote today, to try out this new thing,” Gutierrez said. “It’s exciting!”

— Christopher Alvarez, Christine Chung, Hasani Gittens and Claudia Irizarry Aponte

Right Time, Wrong Place

Voter confusion also existed in more traditional territory: those who showed up at the wrong polling site.

After arriving to vote at the Brooklyn Museum, Cara Mitchell discovered she should have instead been at nearby Clara Barton High School on Classon Avenue.

After arriving at the Brooklyn Museum Tuesday, Cara Mitchell learned she actually needed to vote at nearby Clara Barton High School, June 22, 2021.
Cara Mitchell
Gabriel Sandoval/THE CITY

And in Harlem, 81-year-old Betty Bullen walked out of a voting site at a school on 134th Street after learning she was supposed to be at a location nine blocks uptown.

“They’ll lose a lot of elders, number one, they’ll lose the disabled,” Bullen said. “And they’ll lose the essential workers who don’t have time to look around. They have to get to work.”

— Eileen Grench

Learn From Past, Shape Future

Angela Serrano looked for the silver lining of the 15 months before voting Tuesday at P.S. 92 in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens.

The 50-year-old yoga instructor said the lessons of the pandemic and protests against police brutality shaped her decision to get out and vote at the Brooklyn elementary school Tuesday.

“I’m a mother, I’m a grandmother and I’m raising creative artists, adults in this world,” she said. “I’m so happy that the last year happened, because it allows this generation to move forward with more power — so my vote matters in what I leave for them.”

Serrano, who voted with her husband, Richard, 56, said she wants the incoming class of elected officials to focus on racial disparities in the city.

“The people I choose are the people I am choosing to lead for my children, my grandchildren, their businesses, our legacy,” she said.

— Aria Velasquez

Bring Back New York

The pain of the pandemic hit Richard Ridge personally and professionally.

Ridge, who hosts an online show about Broadway and lives in Hell’s Kitchen, said he voted because, “We have to bring New York City back to what it was.”

Hell’s Kitchen resident Richard Ridge said homelessness and mental health issues were important to him during the mayoral race, June 22, 2021.
Richard Ridge
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Ridge, 62, said his husband stopped going out after 4 p.m. at one point in the pandemic because of concerns over people on the streets dealing with mental health crises. That got him involved with a campaign for a candidate for City Council.

“I never realized the importance of City Council because they’re the people who can get the money from the government into your neighborhoods,” he said. “I figure the next two years are going to be very crucial, with bringing back New York.”

— Ben Fractenberg

‘You Can’t Walk the Streets’

Concerns over crime were on Elaine Brown’s mind when she voted Tuesday in Brooklyn.

“You can’t walk on the street, you’re just afraid,” Brown, 76, said outside P.S. 92 in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. “You’re afraid of what’s going on now. Too many people have guns in their pockets, in their hands.”

Elaine Brown after voting in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn. June 22, 2021.
Elaine Brown.
Aria Velasquez/THE CITY

Brown said she’s so troubled by crime that she actually wants the NYPD to return to stop-and-frisk policing — a practice declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2013.

“I pray nothing bad happens to me when I am on the train,” she said. “But I feel good about doing my franchise.”

— Aria Velasquez

Manhattan Mob

A little rain couldn’t keep voters in a traditionally high-turnout district on the Upper West Side away from the polls — and the candidates were there, too.

Nearly a dozen stood outside P.S. 163 on West 97th Street to shake hands and swamp passersby with voter literature.

City Council hopefuls Shaun Abreu, Marti Allen-Cummings, Dan Cohen and Maria Ordoñez were there — all vying to replace Councilmember Mark Levine, who had his own table nearby touting his campaign for Manhattan borough president.

Manhattan District Attorney candidate Tahanie Aboushi speaks with a voter outside P.S. 163 on the Upper West Side on Tuesday afternoon.
Tahanie Aboushi
Rachel Holliday Smith/THE CITY

Manhattan district attorney contender Tahanie Aboushi made an appearance, as well, joined by a celebrity supporter: Cynthia Nixon, the actress and onetime candidate for governor.

Both women said one of the biggest challenges of the campaign has been explaining to voters that the district attorney race, unlike other city contests, does not use ranked choice voting.

“They say ‘Tahanie, you’re on my list,’ and I say ‘You can only pick one!’ And they look at me like, ‘How am I going to figure this out right now? I’m about to go in to vote,’” Aboushi recalled.

— Rachel Holliday Smith

Strictly Business

After a year in which the pandemic crushed so many small businesses, Joseph Pidoriano came out in support of candidates on Staten Island who’ve owned one.

As boss of a digital marketing business, Pidoriano, said he has grown weary of “next-in-line politicians.”

“I’m tired of that, I want change, I want outsiders, I want business people,” said Pidoriano, 23, who voted at Staten Island Technical High School in New Dorp. “I do not elect an oligarchy, I live in a democracy. I’d like to elect people who want to represent the interests of all of the voters, not just their donors.”

— Clifford Michel

‘People That Look Like Us’

Ashley Pachay is too young to vote, but she accompanied her mother, Maribel, to P.S. 13 in Elmhurst to make sure mom “bubbled in the right people.”

“It’s always white men filled with allegations using their power in office,” said Ashley, 17. “We need people that look like us and that represent us.”

Ashley said she and her mother hope the next mayor prioritizes education and gun control.

“I want someone who cares about public school as much as private schools,” Ashley said. “And as a student, gun control is a very big concern of mine.”

— Christopher Alvarez

Don’t Vote? Don’t Complain!

Diana Harris said she wasn’t going to miss out on a chance to have a say in the city’s future.

“You can’t complain about stuff if you don’t vote,” said Harris, 60.

Flanked by her 84-year-old mother, Doris, and 56-year-old sister, Lisa, Harris said she wasn’t too impressed by the candidates running to replace Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“But hey,” she said. “You pick what you can.”

— Gabriel Sandoval

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