Superstorm Could Disturb Tuesday’s Elections
By ROSS BARKAN
|Days before the storm, canvassers were on streets like this one in Broad Channel, working to get out campaign messages. Superstorm Sandy may cause significantly low turnout in Tuesday’s General Election, especially in the 15th State Senate District.
Photo by Ross Barkan
As water gushed through Howard Beach, winds ripped apart Broad Channel and fires burned across Breezy Point, a deadlocked election quickly became irrelevant.
A week before one of the most closely watched State Senate races in New York, Superstorm Sandy devastated New York City, pounding the 15th Senate District in particular. The storm drowned the redrawn battleground that will decide whether State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) or Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) serve in Albany next year. The district includes Howard Beach, Broad Channel and most of the Rockaway peninsula, where firefighters battled six-alarm blazes on Monday and more than 100 homes were destroyed.
Streets that were walked by dedicated canvassers days earlier resembled Venetian canals on Oct. 30, the morning after Sandy struck Queens. Ulrich and Addabbo, who attend the same parish and represent many of the same constituents, had to suspend a race separated by a few percentage points to help survivors of a storm that seemed to have no precedent.
Political insiders believe turnout will be lower than previously anticipated on Election Day, particularly in areas like Breezy Point where many homes were obliterated by flooding and flames. U.S. Rep. Bob Turner (R-Middle Village) was among those who lost his home. Breezy Point and Broad Channel are two conservative bastions that are likely to support Ulrich.
“There have been no phone calls, no canvassing and my campaign office is closed,” Addabbo said. “At this point, it’s all resources and hands on deck. Politics are aside on this one. For many people, memories are gone, and photographs and homes are destroyed.”
Both Ulrich and Addabbo traveled throughout their ruined districts, acting in their roles as elected officials, not candidates. Their increased visibility could aid their campaigns, but both said that politics would not be a priority. Ulrich’s campaign office on Cross Bay Boulevard was flooded. His chief of staff, Rudy Giuliani, said Ulrich was focusing on aiding constituents.
Senate Republicans, as well as outside groups, have poured tens of thousands of dollars into Ulrich’s campaign in the hopes of electing a Republican state senator in Democrat-dominated Queens. Powerful labor groups like the United Federation of Teachers have bolstered Addabbo’s campaign. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has crossed party lines to make endorsements, backed Addabbo, in part because of Addabbo’s crucial vote for same-sex marriage in 2011. Voting for same-sex marriage may be a liability for Addabbo in the socially conservative district, which picked up more Republican voters in this year’s redistricting process.
The last week of campaigns, particularly tight ones, are known for their targeted mailings. Though the mailers, often used to deliver one last blow to the opponent before Election Day, may have been sent to the post office or printer before the storm hit, the uncertainty of mail delivery or even the condition of the homes that receive the mail will mean that the final week of the race will be relatively subdued.
“Unfortunately for the candidates involved, politics is one of farthest things from people’s minds, in particular those who suffered little to catastrophic losses,” said Republican political consultant Gerry O’Brien, who worked for Ulrich’s primary opponent, Juan Reyes.
With large swaths of Manhattan without power after the storm, both the executive and Manhattan offices of the Board of Elections, each located in Lower Manhattan, were shut down. Staten Island’s BOE headquarters was flooded as well. Queens’ BOE headquarters emerged relatively unscathed. It is still not clear what sort of voting accommodations will be made for devastated areas.
“The delivery of voting machines has been delayed,” said BOE spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez. The DOE closed schools Monday through Wednesday and polling places are often located in local schools. “We’re working with the Dept. of Education to know when we’re able to make deliveries.”
Reach Reporter Ross Barkan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127.