In Baldwin, even Obama backers have doubts
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Baldwin, a racially and ethnically diverse middle-class community on Nassau's South Shore, voted for Barack Obama by a 2-1 margin four years ago, but the enthusiasm that marked the election of the first African-American president has waned.
Voters who plan to stick with him, and those who say they won't or aren't sure, share a disappointment in the slow pace of economic recovery, which some see reflected in the empty storefronts on Grand Avenue, the hamlet's main drag.
Maria LaSala, a preschool teacher's assistant from Baldwin Harbor who lost her job two years ago, voted for Obama in 2008. "I was excited. I thought maybe he could do something," said LaSala, 50, an independent who usually votes Democratic.
"I don't feel like the country is thriving. You're surviving, not thriving," LaSala said.
Residential Baldwin is solidly middle-class, with Tudor homes east of Grand Avenue and more modest single-family homes elsewhere. The median household income is $99,872, and the median house value is $418,300. (In Baldwin Harbor, a separate hamlet that shares the school district and municipal services, the figures are $95,673 and $461,600, respectively.)
The lineup of businesses on Grand Avenue signal Baldwin's evolving population, with Haitian immigrant-owned beauty salons and Latino bodegas interspersed with discount dollar stores, fast-food restaurants, a farmers market and auto repair shops.
African-Americans make up about 33 percent of the two hamlets' residents, according to the 2010 census; 18 percent are Latino, 4 percent Asian. Democrats outnumber Republicans by 48 percent to 27 percent.
Obama's faltering support here is particularly striking among African-Americans.
Annie Beckles, 62, of Baldwin Harbor, vice president of the Baldwin Democratic Club, said she was 100 percent behind Obama in 2008. Now, "I feel three-quarters strong for Obama and one-quarter for Romney," she said.
"Switching administrations at this time while our economy is in shambles would be devastating," she said. But Beckles was "expecting more from Obama" than he has delivered.
Obama jobs record rapped
Beckles, a stay-at-home mom who cares for a disabled adult son, said Obama has not done enough to protect American jobs by insisting on fair trade practices.
"When I see 'made-elsewhere,' that's somebody's job that just went overseas," she said. When she picks up a coffee cup and looks at the bottom, "I want to see 'Made in the USA.' "
Most African-Americans in Baldwin "still support him, but we are looking for those results we expected," she said. She ties job losses to the struggles of downtown Baldwin, which she said "looked like a ghost town before" and is getting worse. "Now it's beginning to look dead."
Helena Hillian, who is also African-American and a registered nurse in her mid-40s, recently hung an autumn display on her front door that still has a "Women for Obama 2008" button stuck into a straw man. This time, she is undecided.
Hillian, a registered Republican, said she was stunned when Obama endorsed gay marriage this year. "That's one of my main issues," she said. "I thought Obama was a Christian. I believe marriage should be between a man and a woman."
She said a Romney victory might help the economy because "all the rich people are going to pour money into Wall Street. They're going to make him look good."
But, Hillian added, "I feel like Mitt Romney doesn't have a heart for the majority of the people, which is, of course, the middle class and the poor."
Romney supporters in heavily Democratic Baldwin also vary in their enthusiasm.
Patricia Warren, 58, a self-employed business analyst who develops software for Wall Street firms and is not registered in any party, said she dislikes Obama so much she turns off the TV whenever he comes on, and could not bring herself to watch the presidential debates. A John McCain voter in 2008, she believes Obama's health care reform is a disaster -- her own insurance policies became so expensive the only coverage she can afford now is for emergency hospital care.
As for Romney, "I'm really not excited about him," she said. But he "is a good enough candidate that I can get behind him."
Ann O'Reilly Filippelli, 72, who voted for McCain four years ago, said she was undecided before the first presidential debate, but Obama's poor performance persuaded her to go with the Republican again. Obama's stronger showing in the second debate did not sway her.
Romney 'knows business'
Romney is "a successful businessman. He knows business strategies," said Filippelli, a retired secretary. "We're in trouble business-wise. He has a lot of experience along those lines, how to get out of trouble."
She added that during the last election, she got calls almost daily from her son, a plumber in Utah, urging her to vote for Obama. "He was relentless," she said. "Now, he's pretty quiet."
Robert Briel, 71, of Baldwin Harbor, a retired New York Police Department detective, generally votes for Conservative Party candidates. He favors Romney, who "made money. He ran businesses. He made jobs for people."
Obama, Briel said, "had four years. He hasn't done anything. He made a bunch of promises and didn't carry through."
But Samantha Eusebio, 34, an immigrant from Colombia registered with the Working Families party, believes Obama deserves more time.
Toward the end of George W. Bush's term, she said, her husband, an electrician, was out of work for 51 weeks. Since then he's been back on the job, and she sees other signs that the economy is slowly coming back. A couple of years ago, the gym where she worked in Rockville Centre was getting five new members a month. In September it got about 60.
"A lot of people expected a magic wand effect [from Obama] and that isn't realistic," she said. But "the economy is picking up. You can see visible signs things are getting better."
For most of the campaign, Vanarro, a home-care giver for the elderly, was "not too excited" about either candidate, but she will probably vote for Obama next week.
"I think we have to give another chance to Obama. It was just one term -- you can't fix anything," she said, as she took a break from cleaning her car. "He cannot just make a miracle in four years. We had a lot of problems before."
Baldwin, Baldwin Harbor
Baldwin and Baldwin Harbor are hamlets covering 4.2 square miles in the Town of Hempstead, southwestern Nassau County.
MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME: $99,872 in Baldwin, $95,673 in Baldwin Harbor
MEDIAN HOME LIST PRICE: $418,300 in Baldwin, $461,600 in Baldwin Harbor
PARTY REGISTRATION: Democratic, 48 percent; Republican, 27 percent; other, 5 percent; none 19 percent
PRESIDENTIAL VOTE 2008: Barack Obama, Democrat, 67 percent; John McCain, Republican, 33 percent