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Presidential politics: The talk of Garden City

Marie-Claire Biancaniello of Garden City, a registered Republican

Marie-Claire Biancaniello of Garden City, a registered Republican and parttime legal assistant, is undecided in the presidential election. Credit: Newsday / Carol Polsky

Marie-Claire Biancaniello, 57, is a registered Republican who lives in Garden City, an affluent reliably Republican village of tree-shaded streets in Nassau County. Biancaniello is usually reliably Republican, too and may be again this year. But maybe not.

“I’ve never in my voting history been undecided before,” said the part-time legal assistant whose husband supports the GOP candidate Donald Trump. “There is a chance I won’t be voting for Trump. I don’t know what to do. I’m so torn — I’d love to vote for the first female president, but I have many many hesitations about her, too.”

The news about the FBI’s renewed investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private server emails hasn’t clarified Biancaniello’s choice — the emails are already factored into her unfavorable evaluation of Clinton, the Democratic nominee, and haven’t made her feel any better about Trump. “I go to bed at night anxious about both of them,” she said. “I wake up refreshed, then I get anxious all over again.”

She added, “I may not tell my husband who I’m voting for in the end.”

With just a week to go before Election Day, Clinton is ahead in the polls, and winning a majority of white, college-educated voters. Polls show support for Trump from white, suburban, educated Republican women lagging that of Republican men. What voters like Biancaniello ultimately decide on Nov. 8 could make a difference, if the race continues to tighten in the days to come.

In Garden City, Republican voter registration is nearly double that of the Democrats, and Gov. Mitt Romney won with more than double the votes received by President Barack Obama in 2012. Trump will almost undoubtedly do well here in this village of more than 22,000, mostly white residents, with a median household income, according to Census data, of $152,401.

In fact, one 67-year-old woman who lives here isn’t buying the punditry that says Trump is losing support among many white, college-educated Republican women.

“I don’t know where they are coming up with that,” said Lorraine, who declined to give her last name but said she had a master’s degree and 30 years experience on Wall Street. “Most of the educated women in this town are Trump supporters. I can’t say there is anything I don’t like about the man.”

But he has yet to clinch the deal with Terry, 57, a Republican who also declined to give her last name. “I’m going to walk in the booth and say ok, pick one. I typically vote Republican and I’m blown away by how stupid Donald Trump has been.” Could she vote for Hillary Clinton? “Yes, there’s a chance.” Does that surprise her? “Oh, for sure.”

And Trump’d have to reach Mary Lou Cerrato, 65, a CYO of Long Island fundraiser who believes her choices are “horrible, a disgrace this is what the U.S. is offering us.” She’ll never vote for Clinton, she said, but “I might vote in Mickey Mouse, I’m just not voting for her.”

Or Mary Stenson, 49, who works in the finance office of a Catholic high school and said, “This time I just don’t see a clear path.” She said she might write in the name of the Trump ticket’s vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence, or “I might write in my husband or myself.”

Trump has lost Steve Peck, who works in sales and was meeting a group of friends for drinks and dinner recently. He said he’d been a moderate Republican his whole life until becoming unaffiliated as more conservative hardliners gained power in Congress. This time he’ll vote for Hillary as “the lesser of two evils. I have no choice.” He and his friend, M. John Pittoni, an attorney and a moderate Democrat whose father was once a Nassau County Democratic Party leader and State Supreme Court justice, said they agreed on that.

But they agree on something else too: they like many of Trump’s positions, whether it is making allies pay their share of defense costs, or curtailing immigration or raising a concern over the national debt, terrorism and taxation.

Pittoni said he’d raised similar issues at weekly luncheons with friends “for years.”

“Donald Trump has a number of ideas I agree with but Donald Trump is bipolar,” he said. “I was in Europe and they are really afraid of him with his finger on the button.”

“We do believe in conservative issues,” said Peck. “But we can’t vote for him.”

But many can and many will. While Trump is not getting all the votes of college-educated Republican males that Gov. Mitt Romney won in 2012, he is getting a majority of them — not because they think he’s the best messenger but because they agree with his message.

Peter Kopff, a prominent attorney who said he played high school soccer with Trump’s brother Robert while at St. Paul’s School in Garden City in the 1960s, said Trump has his vote — despite his personal behavior, despite his “big mouth.” He’ll bring innovations to the economy and “shake up the political establishment,” he said.

“Donald Trump is a novice at politics, he has a lot of rough edges to put it mildly, but he raised most of the important issues in the campaign and that’s why the Republicans voted for him,” Kopff said. “He’s far from a perfect guy, but if he gets seven of the 15 issues he’s addressed then this country will be so much better off.”

Roger Eltringham, an insurance broker in his 60s, pointed to Trump’s issues — immigration, Obamacare, the Middle East and terrorism, political correctness: “People just can’t figure out how people are voting for Trump and the reason is nobody is paying attention to what they’re saying on these issues. He is, in his own way.”

For retiree Estelle Giebel, who usually votes on the Conservative line, the question was whether Trump would actually carry out his conservative program. She is, she said, “quite convoluted about what to do, but I think I’ll vote Republican” despite his name calling and silly faces. “I don’t like anything about the Clintons, husband or wife.”

John Rhein, an 85-year-old children’s book author and illustrator, said he’s telling all his Republican friends who find Trump “wanting” to vote for him anyway to preserve a conservative Supreme Court. “One just the other day said he wasn’t going to vote, and I said that’s a vote for Hillary.”

While many Republicans here say they find Clinton a corrupt, lying hypocrite who they could never support, just as many Democrats say they find Trump’s flaws to go far deeper than a big mouth or rough edge, calling him unfit, authoritarian and vindictive.

“I’m stunned and shocked that anyone could even consider voting for him, he’s so unqualified — and these are smart, educated people!” said a 64-year-old retired Democrat named Karen, who refused to give her last name because, she said, she just doesn’t discuss politics. “I’m not going to change their minds, they’re not going to change mine.”

People approached for random interviews outside shops and restaurants who said they were pro-Clinton seemed surprised to learn they weren’t the only ones here. “I may be a minority in this town,” said Jill Addeo, 51, self-employed and unaffiliated politically but “very pro-Hillary and very anti-Trump.” She believes most of her friends and neighbors support Trump. “We’ve found ourselves not talking about it. It’s not something you can lightheartedly debate with friends, not this time around.”

Democrat Emily Ross, 54, said she and her husband moved to Garden City two years ago and also avoid talking about the election with friends here. “I don’t know if they are Trump lovers as much as they are Hillary haters but ever since he was nominated, they were for him, and no matter what story comes out, no matter what he says or does, they still back him,” she said. “They’re college-educated, they like him.”

She believes that to them he represents change, which confuses her. “They live here, they have good schools, they have money. I don’t know what could be better,” she said. “I think they are just tired of what has been.”

Trump has seemingly tapped into an anger and frustration that simmers under specific grievances, magnifying the tension and the divisiveness of this race. Republican Jeff Ohl, 53, a financial advisor, thought for a moment about his own anger, and said, “Things have become too liberal too fast. Just every aspect: people who are going out to make a living are tired of carrying everyone else on their back.”

His wife, Debbie, 47, who stood waiting for him to join her and their young son to enter a restaurant, added, “All the entitlements that are given to everybody.”

“People are saying we’ll stay home and live off the fat of the land and I’m tired of it,” he said. “I don’t feel as great about being American as I did in the past.”

No matter who wins, many people are buckling up for a bumpy ride. Robert Johnson, 72, a small business owner who supports Clinton, said that his concern was that after Election Day, the American people “will get even further polarized, more bitter. I don’t see how the government is going to work.”


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