Another New York: how the Republican Party managed to turn the imperial nation red

GOP makes surprising gains in immigrant enclaves in Brooklyn, as Republicans blast Democrats as 'soft on crime'

When political pundits predicted a nationwide "red wave" in the midterm elections, they never imagined that one of the few areas that would emerge would actually be south Brooklyn, New York.

They had no idea of ​​Sunset Park, a working-class area where almost three out of four residents were people of color: a tight-knit Mexican community on the west side and a thriving Chinese-American community on the east. There are no Whole Foods or hipster cafes, but lots of tantalizing taqueria and handmade noodle shops. In the garden, when the weather is nice, Latin dance music mingle with old Mandarin pop until the sun goes down.

Or Bensonhurst, further south, where old-fashioned pizza parlors have been replaced by boba shops and Asian greengrocers, attracting shoppers in pushcarts beneath the galloping trains.

But it is in immigrant enclaves like these that Republicans are outperforming as many as 30 points compared to four years ago, establishing a steady rightward trend in nearby Russian and Orthodox Jewish communities. Overall, the GOP garnered enough votes to overturn three state assembly seats in south Brooklyn and push candidate Lee Zeldin within six points of the governor's house, the best performance for a Republican in 28 years, riveting the state's political elite.

Among those shocked was Joe Borelli, a 40-year-old far-right city councilor and longtime Trump ally from Staten Island. “It's hard for me, even as a politics student, to calculate that we can flip some of these districts,” Borelli told me. “It was very surprising to me how far we actually got some of those voters involved.”

Statewide polls find midterm voters rate crime as their most pressing problem, and south Brooklyn is no exception. Crime statistics paint a more complicated picture. As in other countries, New York's homicide rate has increased since the pandemic. They also remain at historic lows in the city's history – equivalent to the homicide rate in suburban America today.

But media coverage of New York's crimes has swelled dramatically. In July, a Bloomberg report found local tabloids such as the New York Post mentioned violent crime six times more frequently after the election of city police mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat who also made violent crime a focus of his speeches.

So it seems to confirm a trend in April when a gunman opened fire on passengers in a subway car at Sunset Park, injuring 10 people and making global headlines. The 62-year-old shooter was arrested the next day, but it rocked the neighborhood — especially its Chinese-American population, which was already agitated by the pandemic-era spike in reported attacks on Asian Americans.

Whether accurate or not, the narrative of New York City spiraling into violent chaos appears to have worked in the favor of the Republican Party. Top Democrats have been locked in debate over how to respond: Adams has ordered more policing while blaming violent crime for bail reform — a progressive policy backed by Governor Kathy Hochul — that state data says hasn't increased recidivism. The confusion has provided an opportunity for Republicans like Adams' challenger Curtis Sliwa and Hochul's opponent Lee Zeldin, who denounced Democrats as "soft on crime" and called for tougher treatment of alleged perpetrators. And they've taken the promotion right into the immigrant neighborhoods of south Brooklyn, attracting many new enthusiastic supporters.

Chang, who is in his 60s, said he won by knocking on doors in his navy uniform and asking voters if they were feeling better than two years ago. “The theme is anger, simple anger, especially for crime,” he told me. "They don't feel safe anymore, let alone going to the subway." To remedy that, Chang wants to build a "transition center" to house the homeless next to the notoriously unsafe city prison on Rikers Island, where 14 inmates have died this year. Chang also wanted to deploy "a minimum of 3,000 national guard troops to guard every subway station, platform, car and bus, carrying long and small arms", which he agreed with China's military police.

“Everyone I talk to,” he said, emphasizing every word: “They. Love. It. Idea."

Over the years, social scientists have found that perceptions of crime are influenced by consumption of negative news, and that perceptions of crime affect a person's sense of security more than actual crime. That could help explain why Republican narratives are finding traction this year in areas outside of New York City — where violent crime is rare, but urban chaos can feel very close. As Borelli of Staten Island puts it: “Every household in my district has at least one person who travels to another area for work. And they saw and witnessed the degradation of much of the public order that New York experienced three years ago.”

In the Hudson Valley, known for its quaint colonial villages an hour north of town, Republican Mike Lawler ousted Sean Patrick Maloney after months of chair-smashing the Democratic congressional campaign over bail reforms, in one of the year's biggest political turmoils. . The attack on crime also helped Republicans flip over two congressional seats in Long Island, the affluent suburb directly east of New York City.

The GOP also gained in Staten Island, New York City's whitest borough. Connected to southern Brooklyn via the Verrazano Bridge and to Manhattan only by ferry, Staten Island is a suburb where most own homes and drive cars, unlike the renters and rope hangers that fill the rest of the city. Instead of a dense network of towns, Staten Island has undulating coves lined with ranch houses, Victorian mansions and American flags. Republicans flipped over one of the few Democratic state assembly districts here in November, electing a Republican known for erecting a giant pro-Trump effigy in his front yard.

But Borelli was even more excited about the Republican surge in south Brooklyn, which he says is proof the party can survive in an urban environment. That could have major repercussions in battleground states like Pennsylvania, where residents are concentrated in left-leaning Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. “We don't have to win the vote in every city, but we can reduce the margins in those cities to make them more competitive statewide. And this should be the plan for the Republican Party going forward.”

C, a progressive Bay Ridge homeowner in his 40s who asked not to use his full name, said the neighborhood was filled with "old Brooklyn south rangers" who "felt like they were being forced out" by newer immigrants of color. . These residents “do not think they are racist and are often kind and generous people. But because I'm white, they think they can tell me in the bar how 'a lack of education and role models makes black people commit crimes', or how when we moved they were 'glad we're not Arab, Asian, or Mexican because they're destroying the environment. '.”

Bay Ridge's liberal people of color mostly avoided confrontation. Chris Live, a 43-year-old black and Puerto Rican leftist who grew up in the Afro-Caribbean neighborhood of Flatbush, tells me that his friends warned him not to move to Bay Ridge 10 years ago. But she says she feels safe here: "People know you and tend to look out for one another." He does not take conservatism personally. "If I walk into a bar and I see someone with a Maga hat, if that's the only seat in the building, I sit next to them, but I'm not going to get involved." Once, he ran into a drunk man in a corner shop who was making racist jokes using the N-word. "I was upset, but I just walked out," Live said. “I thought, 'This person has gone mad. He doesn't represent this environment to me.'”

How do you represent the environment? Democratic city alderman Justin Brannan, a 44-year-old former punk guitarist, said the divisions didn't feel as stark when he founded Bay Ridge Democrats in 2012. “I was surrounded by Republican elected officials. We don't agree on a lot of things, but we don't attack and shit each other. Trump's election changed that: “It gave everyone this phony license to be total assholes, and the national climate permeated the local conversation. Now I can't talk about how I filled the hole for Mrs O'Leary without someone spitting in my face about George Soros and Hillary's fucking laptop or whatever. And it is sad that a demagogue can turn people into enemies when we are not enemies.” Brannan — who signed his email “Love all, serve all” — knows he may not be able to persuade Bay Ridge's old right wing. But he and other local Democrats are concerned about how the newcomers will swing. State Senator Andrew Gounardes, a Bay Ridge Democrat who was narrowly elected in 2018, said he and Brannan had been "sounding the alarm for years" about growing conservatism in south Brooklyn. “In particular, we've said that Democrats need to invest more in connecting and connecting with Asian voters, who make up a growing population in south Brooklyn. So it's no surprise that the day after the election, you see a sea of ​​red, because the other party is the only party these people are talking to."

To succeed in south Brooklyn, they say, Democrats must listen to immigrants, not deny them their anxieties about safety. "No crime victim or witness to a crime wants to hear about statistics and data that say crime rates are low," Brannan said. Instead, he suggested, Democrats should advocate for policing that treats communities of color "with dignity and respect" and emphasize rebuilding communities' social safety nets, left "wide open" by the pandemic. (As city council finance chair, Brannan notes, he has helped Bay Ridge build four new public schools, and there is a new hospital under construction.)

Councilors are showing other signs of progressive change, such as Gay Ridge, a resident-formed queer neighborhood organization in 2019. This year, Gay Ridge hosted its first Pride event, which drew more than 1,000 attendees from across the city. The group has been organizing volunteer efforts, game nights and park cleanups – and hopes to turn a row of empty storefronts near Bay Ridge's Pier 69 into a whimsical business district they've named “Gay Ridge Ave.”

McKenzie Keating, a 49-year-old organizer who came out trans three years ago after living in Bay Ridge for nine years, believes visibility is a kind of security. “I love walking up and down Third Avenue. Even if it starts on a negative ground, people see me every day – with my partner, with my kids, with my groceries – when bad things happen, when they're in that voting booth, hopefully they'll say , ' OK, who do I see as my neighbor? And I will vote for their safety.

After the election, Sunset Park felt a little quieter. The temperature had dropped, and outside the beauty shop and Chinese bakery, Lee Zeldin's sign had been tossed in the trash. So was a banner with large Chinese characters that read: "If you don't vote, don't complain."

Despite the red tide here, Chu says his side are still the favourites. “No matter how strong the Chinese community is, even if we get a dozen people elected between the state assembly and city council, that is still a very small portion. So unless we also get the attention of select non-Asian people, we won't be able to influence policy." It's a point Lester Chang nods to as well when he tells me his victory has made him "the highest-ranking elected Asian Republican in the state". As a minority within a minority, he said, “the best I can do is be a creaking wheel for my constituents and get those Democrats to come with us and sort things out.”

If there's any part of New York where bipartisanship can work, it's probably south Brooklyn. That's what Chris Live had to say as we chatted on a windy afternoon outside his home in Bay Ridge. Despite the political tensions, it was a great place, he kept saying: "It felt like one of the last true neighborhoods, where, you know, your neighbors bring you food." He added that I should consider moving here.

“My rent is good. It's a friendly environment, a safe environment, and I don't associate it with any political party. We have many parks. Beautiful view of the Verrazzano Bridge. And as long as the red tide doesn't turn into a red curtain, I will be fine here in the future.” This article was written by EDUKASI CAMPUS. 

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