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Manhasset's take on presidential election

People walk near Mary Jane Davies Green on

People walk near Mary Jane Davies Green on Plandome road for a profile on Manhasset. (Oct. 20, 2012) Credit: Newsday/ Karen Wiles Stabile

Shopkeepers along Manhasset's main business street don't hear shell-shocked customers talking about losing their Wall Street jobs like they did in the crash four years ago.

But the Great Recession and slow recovery have left caution and anxiety in their wake, even in the North Shore hamlet where the median home list price is $1,395,000. Business is down; frugality is in. Instead of free-flowing lobster and filet mignon, "Now what sells is chicken," said Andrew Claus, owner of Casa Mia Fine Foods on Plandome Road.

In 2008, the financial crisis and anger at the Bush administration may have helped Democrat Barack Obama, who won 45 percent of the vote in the Republican stronghold. This time around, the economy -- and the same caustic distrust of him already evident in 2008 -- will do him no favors.

Anthony Buzzitta, 75, a retired dentist who has lived in Manhasset for 45 years, voted for Obama in 2008, but may not do so again. "Our country will go into deep decline if he doesn't stop doing what he's doing now," he said, complaining about the cost of government programs. "He doesn't talk about debt, like it doesn't exist or matter."

He doesn't agree with many of his neighbors, who, he said, think Obama is "a socialist, a Muslim and out-of-control spendthrift."

The "present president" has done the best he could without the cooperation of Congress, he said. Yet Buzzitta is setting aside money for his grandchildren in case the country goes into a Greece-style economic collapse. "The cost of government is out of control," he said.

When Obama speaks of raising taxes on individuals with about $200,000, and couples with about $250,000, in taxable income (after deductions), he is talking in many cases of households in Manhasset, where some dead-end streets wind up at leafy properties with water views.

Even if they don't earn enough to fit in the top 1 percent of households (which begins near $600,000 in annual income), many earn comfortable livings in finance and banking.

Marjorie Quinn, married to a third-generation banker, said Obama would increase burdens "on us as a family" and on business. "I'm very worried," said the mother of four.

Quinn, 50, was in the throng on the National Mall in Washington as Obama was sworn in four years ago. She'd gone with her daughter, then a college student, and, though she hadn't voted for him, found it historic and exciting.

She was energized by Republican Mitt Romney's "home run" performance in his first debate with Obama on Oct. 3.

"It'll be a very sad day if Obama wins . . . to say it simply, what it comes down to is his 'rich paying for the poor' kind of politics" rather than stimulating the economy overall, Quinn said. "It's just fundamental differences and I don't think he's going to change."

Opposition to Obama's health care reform is critical to self-identified conservative Tommy McKenna, 37, who runs his family-owned job search website. "I don't think you have to blow the whole system up in order to help those who want health insurance to get it," he said.

Democratic voters aren't hard to find in Manhasset, but they feel much in the minority. Maria Litvak, a "Democrat and proud to be one," is a homemaker in her 50s with a teenage daughter. Litvak doubts that Obama will get the same percentage of votes as he did last time around. "Let's put it this way, I wouldn't put on an Obama bumper sticker. I wouldn't feel comfortable."

Eileen Skehan, 68, of Plandome, is a Democrat ("one of the few") married to a Republican. "My husband says, and I agree, we can't keep spending the way we do, but I'm not willing to be as tough as Republicans are," she said. "If I have to pay more for things others get for free and need, I'll be glad to do it."

Her husband, William, says that while he supports many of Romney's principles, he's not sure either party has the answers to what is a global fiscal crisis. "I don't know how to solve it and I don't know if either of them do."

Alyne Diamond, 54, a lawyer, and Democrat, said she votes first on issues such as women's rights and health care. "If anyone is anti-abortion, I won't vote for them . . . And I think it is critical for the country to have health care, to at least try to insure as much of the population as possible," she said, heading to her car at the LIRR station.

Paul W. Reiss, 59, a retired businessman, a registered Republican and Obama supporter who foresees an Obama victory if he performs as well in the last debate as he did in the second, said, "If Romney gets elected, anyone not in the 1 percent who votes for him should have their head examined . . . I think the man is completely out of touch with the average American."

Glenn Murray, 44, grew up in Manhasset, and said he owns several firms in business consulting and real estate. "I'm way upper class," he said, "way at the top of the 1 percent." He supports Romney but, unlike many in town, not because Romney will impact the economy -- which he thinks reflects natural business cycles more than reactions to government policies.

"Everyone is being cautious; they were too reckless before," he said. "I think the economy is more rational right now, more in balance between income and spending." The president's "job is to inspire, and to protect the country."

More typical is Phil Duffy, walking home from the station late in the afternoon with Patrick Byrne, both 48.

"You're going to find that most people here are frustrated with the fellow in office right now," said Duffy, who works as a negotiator in a Wall Street financial firm's legal department. "He just has no strategic plan for the economy or keeping jobs within the U.S."

Byrne, a financial services portfolio manager, said, "A high percentage of people here, if they got laid off for a year, that would be the end. They'd be selling their car."

Later, as dusk fell, Tom Keating, 44, a lifelong Manhasset resident who works in commercial real estate in Manhattan, got into his vehicle outside Plandome Country Club.

Romney's former company, Bain Capital, a private equity investment firm, is "one of my tenants," he said, "and they're pretty good at what they do. And if he led the firm, I'm sure he's pretty talented." He expects the vote in Manhasset to be more reflective of traditional voting patterns. More Republican.

"The last election was sort of exceptional," he said.

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