White collars or blue, similar concerns for area workers

As election nears, jobs, economy, war are factors

September 06, 2004|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

It's lunchtime at the Harvest Table restaurant in Tide Point, the soap factory turned stylish office complex in Baltimore's Locust Point. Workers in business attire dine on albacore tuna and Caesar salads.

Blocks away at a Royal Farms convenience store near the city's industrial area, workers in jeans and T-shirts grab fried chicken, a bag of chips or a Tastykake on their break.

Their work settings and lunch spots might seem worlds apart, but the views expressed at each place about jobs, the economy and the presidential race on the eve of Labor Day weekend weren't all that dissimilar.

Blue collar or white collar, many of the workers seem unsettled by the economy, for themselves or their friends. But they say their votes might hinge on other matters, including the war on terrorism.

Although the views on defense of President Bush and Sen. John Kerry have dominated campaign news this summer, jobs and the economy will be key, especially in swing states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania.

"People vote their pocketbooks," said Arthur W. Murphy, a Baltimore political consultant and managing partner of Politicom Creative LLC. "How much stuff is a new president going to give me? How much stuff will he protect that's mine? If I have a house and everything else, what's he going to do to make sure I have my house and my taxes are halfway reasonable?"

Maryland's economy appears to be ahead of the nation, with a 4.1 percent unemployment rate in July, compared with the nation's 5.5 percent unemployment rate.

At the sites, two dozen workers talked about the presidential race and their concerns about the economy. Some of the workers said they had been out of work, but new jobs had stoked a renewed faith in the economy. Others said the job market remains bleak, judging from friends who are unemployed or colleagues who rely on freelance work as they await a steadier paycheck.

Unsurprisingly in a city that traditionally votes Democratic, more of them said they favor Kerry. But some said they'll stick with the president.

Raymond K. Robinson has felt the effects of a sour economy.

He works cutting grass because the computer and warehouse work he was doing dried up, he said while stopping for a sandwich at the Royal Farms store on Key Highway last week. When Election Day arrives in two months, he'll vote "Democrat straight up," he said.

A few blocks away, Jason Knepp could relate.

As he ate at the Harvest Table, Knepp recalled how he was unemployed for two years before he landed a job last year at an advertising agency. He knows workers who have taken jobs outside of their field to pay the bills and said it's harder to find work these days. He also supports Kerry.

"It seems like [Bush] talks a big game, but he doesn't really come through," Knepp said.

Outsourcing of jobs is a particular concern.

"With the Bush administration in there, it's starting to waver as far as the increase of jobs being shipped overseas," said Victor Able, who was in the Royal Farms store to pick up a lottery ticket and lunch. "At this point in time, I would never vote Republican."

"My concern about the economy is that the nonmanagement jobs are moving to other countries," said Thomas Foulkes, an engineer, as he sat under the yellow awning outside Harvest Table.

Dale Roberson, however, said the job situation seems good. He maintains pumps and fans for tunnels for the Maryland Transportation Authority, and has been working with the state for 14 years. The job market has improved during the past five or six years, he said. Roberson said he'll probably vote for Bush - but not because of the economy.

"With the war on terrorism, I'm just a little leery of changing horses midstream," he said, standing in front of the drink cases at the Royal Farms.

Construction worker Anthony Fuller agreed. Fuller said that his main concern in this election is defending the nation and that Bush is doing a good job of it.

"Out of all the things that have happened, I think right now we need protection for this country," Fuller said.

Some diners at the Harvest Table shared those sentiments.

"I think [Bush] makes the United States a safer place," said Jamie Bragg, who works for the Baltimore athletic apparel company Under Armour.

But Dennis Isaac, who also works for Under Armour, said he plans to vote against the president because of the war in Iraq. With fears of his 17-year-old son being called to duty, he said he's not sure whether the war is nearly over or just beginning.

"I'm not going to vote for somebody that, for four years, I haven't been able to trust," Isaac said.

"We got a lot of guys dying for no reason," said Tony Banks, a forklift operator, who was stopping in the Royal Farms.

The economy remains foremost in the minds of many voters.

Claude Shell, a longshoreman who works on the side as an appraiser, said while waiting for a chicken sandwich at Royal Farms that he believes the Republicans have not addressed the economic situation. He'll vote for Kerry because of it.

"If you look at the Republicans, they're saying nothing that we can relate to - the working-class man," Shell said.

At Harvest Table, Jeff Millman, who works in advertising and plans to vote for Kerry, questioned whether the job picture is as good as the Republicans say. In his line of work, companies are downsizing and more workers are relying on freelance work.

Millman said, "I think we're probably lagging behind the supposed economic recovery that the current administration is insisting we're having."

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