Blue-collar city stays cool to GOP Unabashed liberals think Clinton too conservative

America goes to the polls

Election 1996

From Boston

November 06, 1996|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

EAST SOMERVILLE, Mass. -- All the yammering about character, about tax cuts, about bridges to the past -- Larry Bowen was having none of it.

"You have to look at the record," said Bowen, 38, a delivery man who had just voted for President Clinton and incumbent Democratic Sen. John Kerry. "With Clinton, this country's better off than it was four years ago."

Character?

"It's a lot of mudslinging, to me."

Tax cuts?

"Taxes are just something we're going to have to pay."

Bridges?

"In the years of Reagan and Bush, the country went way down."

And the campaign itself?

"I just got sick of it. I'm glad it's over. It was like the O. J. Simpson trial. It went on and on and on."

This working-class community, across the Charles River from Boston, has a no-nonsense look about it, with its two-family wood houses crowding the sidewalks as if not to waste any space.

XTC And the people who turned out to vote at the East Somerville Community School yesterday had no-nonsense views of the campaign.

They were skeptical about candidates who promised too much. They were concerned about their neighbors and their children and their grandparents. They were glad the brain-numbing political commercials would end.

East Somerville is fiercely Democratic. It's got a Kennedy -- Joseph -- representing it in Congress. Bob Dole's people didn't even bother to tack signs onto the fence outside the polls.

Here, you still find real, honest-to-goodness, unapologetic liberals.

"It was hard for me, because I feel Clinton is conservative, a very conservative Democrat," said Gudiel Crosthwaite, 25, who heads nonprofit tutoring service.

"He supports initiatives like three-strikes-you're-out [mandatory sentencing], which I'm against. I don't think Clinton and Kerry stand up strong enough for gay and lesbian rights and women's rights."

And yet Crosthwaite, son of Mexican immigrants, voted Democratic, "because I didn't want Dole to appoint people to the Supreme Court."

Once largely Italian-American, East Somerville in the last decade has seen an influx of Asian and Hispanic immigrants. So far, state Rep. Tim Toomey said, the community has absorbed the newcomers smoothly.

This is a place that loves tradition: The obelisk atop Bunker Hill is visible from the main drag near the school. But a waitress in a coffee shop laments that things are changing, that when she was growing up, she knew everyone she passed on the street.

Today, a car near her shop sports a bumper sticker that declares "Jesus Esta Vivo," testament to a cultural shift.

Antonio Morais, 48, a machine operator born in Portugal, chose Clinton, the candidate he believes will do the most for education.

"That's the most important thing. With good education you have a good start," he said.

Erika Norton, 25, a Northeastern University law student, voted for Clinton and Kerry because both support more aid for education: "And me being a student, particularly a student of color, that was important to me."

Lee Breda, retired from her job as a meat wrapper, said she stopped listening weeks ago to Dole's attacks on Clinton's character. "It was too aggravating."

She voted for the president and for Kerry's challenger, Gov. William F. Weld.

And Breda, like many of her neighbors, left the polls satisfied she had fulfilled her civic duty -- and grateful that the news would no longer be dominated by the election.

"I'm glad it's over," she said.

Pub Date: 11/06/96

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