Doubts shroud town that once waved flag for Bush N.J. community less certain than in election of 1988

September 16, 1992|By Dan Rodricks | Dan Rodricks,Staff Writer

BLOOMFIELD, N.J. -- Michael McDonough says business is slow, but in the time he takes to make this point, a Nigerian man orders an old rooster for stew, a guy named Anthony buys a rabbit for a pet and a skinny construction worker sets down a container of joint compound, steps into McDonough's stuffy, noisy, smelly, blood-smeared store and picks out a small fryer for supper.

This is slow?

"Not from nothin' I say this," says Mr. McDonough, 23 years old and splattered with chicken blood. "People who used to order three chickens, now maybe they order just one. Or they only order two. Know what I mean? But I think maybe things are pickin' up."

Which has something -- and possibly, everything -- to do with Michael McDonough's decision to vote for George Bush in the 1992 election.

"I guess Bush," he shrugs. "From what I understand, Republicans are more for business than the Democrats."

He's not the only person who feels that way.

Kamlesh Pattel runs a deli down the street and he says business is slow, too, but he intends to vote for Mr. Bush's re-election. "He's a nice guy to me," Mr. Pattel says half-heartedly. "Maybe he gonna' do something good this time. I dunno."

Bloomfield, home of the thriving flag factory Mr. Bush visited in September 1988, during his flag-waving campaign for president, went Republican in the last election. Mr. Bush took 57 percent of the vote to 40 percent for Michael Dukakis. Mr. Bush has a lot of friends here, as he does throughout the political battleground of New Jersey.

But this time, based on random interviews along the sidewalks and in the small businesses along Bloomfield Avenue, a lot of his friends have reservations.

That might be expected in a township that faces the kind of economic problems associated with a prolonged recession in every Northeastern industrial state.

The Annin flag-making plant is doing well, but it employs only about 50 people.

Two of the town's major employers, General Electric and Westinghouse, closed their plants here long ago. The unemployment rate runs close to New Jersey's statewide average, about 9 percent, according to Joseph Barry, the township administrator.

"The recession is reflected in our welfare rolls," Mr. Barry said. "Domestic violence calls to police are up, as are other symptoms of recession . . .. Our downtown district is steady. Business is off, but the stores aren't boarded up as they are in places like Newark."

That translates into a mixed review, at best, for the incumbent president. And while some folks along Bloomfield Avenue said ++ they were already convinced to vote for Democrat Bill Clinton, others said they were uneasy about the choice.

"A lot of people are confused," says Celia Moeller, a 40-year-old technician for New Jersey Bell. "Really confused."

Political conversation in Bloomfield begins, as it does most places, with the confusing topic of the economy.

Mr. McDonough looks at it in terms of chickens. He runs A. Romano, one of the last of the chicken-butchering shops around. The township won't issue new permits for such places, but Mr. McDonough gets to stay in business because, he says, "I got a grandfather clause."

His grandfather opened the place in 1936. The shop has stayed in the family ever since. Mr. McDonough gave up a job as an Isuzu car salesman to help his older brother run the place. He's a rocker in an Old World trade. His customers pick their dinner out of a cage -- turkeys, chickens, doves, guinea hens, ducks -- and either Mr. McDonough or his assistant, Ricky Herman, butchers and dresses it.

"That old bird he's butcherin' now," Mr. McDonough says, pointing over his shoulder, just above the black bull tatoo on his left bicep. "You can't get an old, tough bird like that in the supermarket. People want 'em for stews, for soup."

"I love 'em for stew," the man from Nigeria says.

Though Mr. McDonough squawks that business could be better, he boasts a steady stream of customers from Bloomfield, Belleville and Newark, which he pronounces, "Nork."

"My customers are everything," he says. "Guyanese, Ecuadorean, Haitians, Spanish, Nigerian, Chinese and older Italian people. They want it fresh."

The guinea hens are making too much noise, so he steps out of the store and leans against his car at curbside.

"Why am I votin' for Bush? The Democrats want to charge us more for everything. I don't know everything about it, but I know that much. And the taxes are already outrageous. And the rents! And the mortgages! Carpenters makin' $27 an hour! Guys gettin' $45 a hour to work on a car! The cost of insurance! Everything is out of hand, it's crazy!

". . . Economy-wise, I think the problems we had, we did it ourselves. We want too much money too fast and too young. You know what I mean? Too much credit, yeah, but it's because everybody wants to live that fab life at a young age. Know what I mean? That fab life. Everyone wants to ride the glory. They go to AC [Atlantic City], they want the nicest room."

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