Usually a good number of people accuse news reporting of being bad only when they perceive it as biased against their point of view. There is not much objective, fact based reporting anymore including the increase in biased news sources and adding in readers who want bias. I came across an example of this while looking up something in a search engine. A link to this story showed up in the list, since I have lived on Staten Island for about 40 years of my life, I looked at it. What is in it shows how far journalism has fallen, how badly influenced by dishonest pop culture it is and how horrible today’s reporters have become.
This guy Scott Conroy makes it sound as if all of the borough supports Donald Trump. This was based on his visiting one neighborhood of the island and judging about 475K residents from that one neighborhood. He then paints a false picture as if all 475K residents are Trump supporters, Republicans and a few other things some of which are promoted by other media falsely. Now since I live here and know this borough better than most outside it, I feel compelled to list the pile of reasons why Mr. Conroy and some of the people commenting are wrong. Bear in mine this is also put out by the Huffington Post or, as I now call them, the Puffington Post since this is an inflated piece of fantasy trying to pass itself off as honest and factual from a “news source” that has a biased take on news.
Public view is there are a lotta Republicans in Staten Island, what Democrats we have are called Blue Dogs. Both of these images are false. According to actual statistics from New York State found here, we have more Democrats than any other group either Active or Inactive. Sticking to Active voters, latest stats from April 1, 2016 as of this post show 119,328. While less than half of total voters at 264,464, the rest is mainly divided between Republicans (76,352) and Blank (53,756) with some other smaller party representations (Independent, Conservative, Working Families, Green, Women’s Equality Party, Reform I think REF stands for, and Other). So all Democrats need to do is get their voters mobilized and get some Blanks and they win. Problems however are several.
First, voters do not come out in numbers to support. Let’s look at the House election, one of the few contested elections here. I will show the 2010, 2012 and 2014 elections going through stats from the NYC Board of Elections Results page.
In 2010 the House election was between Michael McMahon the Democrat incumbent voted in before by special election, Michael Grimm the Republican and Tom Vendittelli the Libertarian. In Staten Island (Richmond County) McMahon got 41,637 Democrat and 3,522 Independent votes; Grimm got 44,029 Republican and 7,188 Conservative votes, Vendittelli got 691 Libertarian votes. These numbers alone would lead you to think we have more Republicans. Compare them to the state numbers at the link above this time for the ones from November 1, 2010 just before election day. Then we had 117,298 Democrats, 75, 316 Republicans, 49,682 Blank, 7,745 Independents, 4,107 Conservative, 929 Working Families, 243 Green and 52 Libertarians. Only 35% of Democrats showed up to vote compared to 58% of Republicans, 57% of Conservatives and 45% of Independents. Democrats lost due to voters not showing up despite adding in the slight Democrat advantage in voters from the areas of Brooklyn that were also in the district at the time. Total voter turnout was about 39%.
In the 2012 House election, Richmond county had as of November 1, 2012 totals of 119,376 active Democrat voters; 76,572 active Republicans, 51,958 active Blanks; 8,790 active Independents; 4,262 active Conservatives; 1,016 active Working Family members; 255 active Greens and 76 active Others. Voters came out to 62,446 Democrats and 3,400 Working Family members for Mark Murphy compared to 70,155 Republicans and 9,261 Conservatives for Michael Grimm. Percentages come out to 52% Democrats, 92% Republicans, 335% Working Family members and 217% Conservatives. The last 2 was probably some Blanks and Independents voting on those lines but their numbers in voters were too small to make up for the larger number of Republicans that came out again. The district had been redone to change the Brooklyn neighborhoods that increased the Democrats voting there yet this still was not enough to make up the larger Republican numbers that came out in Richmond county even in a year with a Presidential election that causes larger numbers of voters to show up. Total voter turnout was 59%.
Now we come to 2014 when the Democrats had Domenic Recchia try to beat Michael Grimm. On November 1, 2014, there were 121,062 active Democrats; 76,257 active Republicans; 52,945 active Blanks; 9,203 active Independents; 4,237 active Conservatives; 1,088 active Working Families; 324 active Greens and 93 active Others. When the votes were tallied, they came out to 27,935 Democrats and 2,446 Working Families for Recchia against 39,006 Republicans, 5,935 Conservatives and 1,988 Independents voting for Grimm. There were also 1,880 Green votes for Henry Bardel. This gives us 23% Democrats, 51% Republicans, 225% Working Families, 140% Conservatives, 22% Independents and 580% Greens. Total voter turnout was 31%.
Of course higher than 100% for any party clearly means that party got votes from other voting groups. The important thing though is that of the Democrats who have the largest voting block, they get very low percentages of voters to show up compared to the Republicans. This is why what should be a Democrat House seat roughly 75% of the time winds up going Republican all the time.
The Effects of Media Image
There is a media image of Staten Island that has grown to become popular yet also inaccurate. The image that Staten Islanders are, “Jersey Shorin’, Mob Wivin’, redneckin’, racist Republicans where all the bad cops go,” an image Scott Conroy tries to drag out. Truth is far from that. While Staten Island has some Italian heritage as other locations throughout the country, it also has a lot of other ethnicities mixed in. Irish, Russian, African, Caribbean, Mexican, Far East and more can be found if looked for. In addition, a majority of people here do not have mob connections. Due to how the Island has evolved over the years, it is most definitely not full of rednecks and has a lot of city type issues in need of attention, issues that too frequently get pushed aside by media imagery causing a backlog of problems. A definite majority are not racist, the number of race related issues is actually vary small and some issues appearing as race related on the surface are actually caused by other factors. The bad cop image seen in some media such as Blue Bloods and Law & Order as a place bad cops are sent for punishment is on a very small scale and downplays the crime issues that deserve more attention.
Outsiders do not know this but in Richmond County, geography usually matters when it come to politics. Look at a map of Staten Island. Roughly anything north if Interstate 278 the Staten Island Expressway is considered Democrat territory, south is Republican with the exception of the area of Assembly District 63. I know it seems strange given the registered voter numbers saying there are more Democrats but there is more dense housing in the northern part of the Island. There is also some mixing, I have met Republicans who live in the northern section and Democrats in the southern part. Local politics also backs this up. At the city level, we have 3 Council Districts within the county, District 49 typically is occupied by a Democrat while District 50 and District 51 have Republicans in them. In state politics there are 4 Assemblymen and 2 Senators. District 61 and District 63 have for some time been Democrat, District 62 and District 64 are usually occupied by Republicans. In the state Senate, District 23 is pretty much Democrat while District 24 has a Republican. So not counting the federal House seat, we have 4 Democrats and 5 Republicans in various political positions.
Typical Island Politics
There is this that some do not mind and others are bothered by. Geography as described above is one factor in most elections, another is that sometimes opposing parties will not run a candidate against someone up for re-election, yet another is that political party committees seem to have little interest in running primaries against someone even if someone steps up to try. Usually the only elections that actually stimulate people are the federal House seat, Council District 50 sometimes and the local District Attorney. It should also be mentioned that the type of politics usually ‘sold’ through media as dirty to sway votes does not play well here. Take the Grimm elections of 2010, 2012 and 2014. In 2010, McMahon was actually the favorite to win by a lot until a stunt was pulled where McMahon’s team brought an ex-wife of Grimm to a debate in support of McMahon. That one move designed to insult Grimm actually won him votes even among Democrats. In 2012, Mark Murphy ran a campaign that was constantly reported as being about nothing but Grimm’s character, only once was an issue even discussed. 2014 brought Recchia who did the same thing with the support of the national DNC (who foolishly think this type of campaigning is normal for everyone) but when constantly confronted on issue questions due to popularity that also came with the DNC, Recchia continually stumbled. Over his time in office despite issues coming up about his life, Grimm continued to win due to the tactics used against him. It is also interesting how Democrats cannot take advantage of there being 2 Republican factions that sometimes go against each other.
Issues on Staten Island
Outsiders also do not know of, and at times care, about what issues are of concern to people who live here. Not only the ‘standard’ ones heard discussed, there are also specific issues unique to this location due to its nature. It is a geographic island with only 5 ways on and off it, a free ferry that only carries passengers and some complain is getting crowded plus 4 bridges, 3 of which are done to older standards and all 4 have tolls that must be paid when getting onto the Island. The toll situation actually makes it less likely people will travel to other areas compared to how other places have various ways to get into and out of their home locations, this results in a feeling that people are trapped here. There are environmental issues due to all the (supposed) protected wild lands, traffic issues due to the worst mass transit of the city, housing issues due to growing population on a fixed size landmass while some builders try to keep a suburban feel to the borough.
Summary / Conclusion
Basically the main factors that seem to drive politics here are not those spoken by outsiders like Mr. Conroy. Instead it is a combination of Geography, incumbents being favored due to their usual success record (there have been a few exceptions), smear campaigns promoted nationally being disliked by voters, you get pretty predictable results and low interest in political activity by residents. People come to believe not much will change even though a number of them want it to on various issues. That doesn’t mean politics is not interesting, rather it is more unsupported and the support that exists does not generate interesting elections.
So I hope this begins to clear up some misconceptions about Staten Island politics, one of many issues of the borough of Richmond not understood by outsiders and wrongfully reported by people like Mr. Conroy.