With the presidential election days away, voters in Bay Shore are making intensely personal calculations on whether President Barack Obama or former Gov. Mitt Romney would be better for their livelihood, their health care or their personal rights.
Obama won the hamlet on the Great South Bay convincingly in 2008 with 62 percent to John McCain's 37 percent. This time, Obama will have to motivate voters such as Michael Burdening, 21, a disaffected Suffolk County Community College student leaning unenthusiatically in his direction, and Wall Street Euro-bond trader David Lessing, a Republican who voted for him in 2008 but is drawn to Romney.
"I'd just really like to see a change and I don't think either one will do it," said Burdening, who is in an age demographic that went heavily for Obama four years ago but is less engaged this election cycle.
Choosing sidesStill-wavering voters are paused at the intersection of hopes, disappointments and personal issues. Many others have made up their minds.
On one side is Richard O'Kane, 63, of Brightwaters, a village just west of Bay Shore that is part of the school district and business community. He is business manager and financial secretary-treasurer of Ironworkers Local 361 in Queens. Jobs are his priority, specifically, union jobs that provide a middle-class living.
"I believe our current President Obama is a guy who is more sensitive to the middle class," he said, asserting Romney would end provisions tying federally funded projects to union labor, "which means unemployment" for his members.
"You have a quality of life with unions with health benefits, pensions, annuities; you can put your kid through college," O'Kane said. Hard-won worker benefits are increasingly under attack by management and anti-union politicians, he said, and "all of a sudden, you have health benefits and a pension, and you're a bad guy."
On the other side stands Greg Collins, 45, of Bay Shore, owner of GC Environmental, a consulting firm with offices just north of the train station. "As a business owner, I'm working seven days a week just to keep the business alive, just to keep the doors open," he said.
The premiums he pays for employee health coverage have risen more than 20 percent over the last three years; he's shopping around after the latest notification of a 30 percent hike. He fears Obama's health care law could hurt his bottom line: "With Obama, you can't plan for the future; financially you don't know what's going to happen."
He believes Romney, who promised to repeal "Obamacare,' will bring "consistency" and be a "proven problem solver who can reach across the aisle to find solutions."
Self-described conservative Francis Whitehouse, 42, an owner of Whitehouse Cleaners, agreed: Romney would be "better for business."
Who's best for what?
The economically and racially diverse hamlet is in an upswing, with new restaurants and boutiques, after decades of decline that saw more than 40 percent of storefronts along Main Street vacant by the early 1990s.
"It goes from poverty to the one percenters; Bay Shore has it all," said lifelong resident Susan Barbash, 58, an owner of a family-owned property management company. A Democrat, she thinks Obama won't do as well as in 2008 when the economy was "in free fall" and Republicans got blamed.
But she hears many women express unease with Romney on abortion, birth control and "the place of women in society," describing his positions as "extreme" before he tacked to the center in the first debate. "It was his Etch A Sketch moment. I have no idea what Romney believes in."
Personal issues lie behind the dilemma of some undecideds who don't fit the "low information voter" stereotype for that category.
Lessing, the Euro-bond trader, is a lifelong Republican and fiscal conservative who voted for Obama in 2008. He wants to vote for Romney -- except for one thing. His son James, 12, has leukemia.
The family has good health insurance -- it covered $400,000 in expenses during the past 3 1/2 years. And it's a relief to them that under Obama's health law, starting in 2014, insurance companies won't be able to deny new coverage for pre-existing conditions. Though Romney says he favors that provision, Lessing, 50, isn't sure Romney could keep it if other elements of Obamacare are repealed.
His wife Sandy, also 50, had been "totally on the fence," but decided on Obama based on that issue alone.
"Would I like to have someone with a business background to tame this economic situation? Of course," she said. "I was never a one-issue voter before, but I didn't have a child with a life-threatening illness before . . . It couldn't get any more personal."
It isn't always easy to predict a voter's choice based on their life circumstances. Lorraine Jones, 62, a retired county worker, lives in federally subsidized Town of Islip senior housing a few blocks north of Main Street.
As a young divorcee with two children years ago, she said she relied on welfare and food stamps before getting back on her feet. "I'm not against people being on unemployment or food stamps, it could happen to anyone, but," Jones said, "there's a limit. Get out there and try to help yourself." She supports Romney.
Mickey Wiener, 81, a retired financial securities firm manager, and his wife Carolyn, 74, are independents who typically vote Republican, and will do so again, reluctantly. They question whether either candidate, especially the wealthy Romney, can feel for the average voter, and worry about the influence of big donors and interest groups. "It's come to the point where you can't trust government, you don't know who to believe, " Wiener said. He said of Obama, "I liked him, but he didn't follow through . . . "
Edge to Dems in north
Bay Shore's northern neighborhoods are where African-Americans and Latino voters give Democrats the edge.
Deli clerk Shahzad Yousaf, 33, said he believes Obama "is better for the middle class, he's fighting always for the middle class."
A customer, Darin Bordies, 33, who with student aid is studying to be a medical assistant, said there is nothing he likes about Romney.
"I don't think he's going to better my or my family's situation in any shape, form or fashion. I think his way is to keep the rich rich, and the poor poor," Bordies said.
Obama also has supporters living closer to the bay, with its marinas and bobbing boats, in neighborhoods of gracious colonials under spreading trees.
Retired teacher Sue Boudreau, active in the Beautification Society, (which bedecked Main Street in 520 flower baskets), said, "I think that our economy is on the uptake. If Bill Clinton thinks we're going the right way, well, I have a lot of respect for his intelligence and outlook."
Back on Main Street, retired teacher Lynne Griffin, 62, was throwing a pot at the Earth'n Vessel Pottery Studio, where the nastiness of politics "out there" makes it a topic to avoid inside. She feels both candidates are "decent, committed men" but favors Obama.
"Romney said the things people wanted to hear," she said. "Whether he can do more than Obama, that remains to be seen."
LOOK AT BAY SHOREBay Shore is a hamlet in the Town of Islip on the Great South Bay.
MEDIAN VALUE OF OWNER-OCCUPIED HOUSING UNITS: $359,900 (2006-2010 Census Data)
MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME: $66,382 (2006-2010 Census Data)
VOTER REGISTRATION FOR GREATER BAY SHORE:
Other parties: 7.1%
No party: 24.3%
PRIOR VOTES FOR GREATER BAY SHORE IN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS: (West Bay Shore and North Bay Shor are included in vote tallies)
Barack Obama, 62%
John McCain, 37%