Primaries? What Primaries? Polish Immigrants in Greenpoint Lack Involvement in Today’s Vote

Interpreters were available at the polling stations in Greenpoint, Brooklyn - Photo: Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

NEW YORK – On Tuesday, the streets of Greenpoint, Brooklyn – home to a large Polish community – were busy as usual.  Workers waited for the bus, trucks made deliveries and seniors pushed shopping cards. If not for some scattered campaign posters at the subway entrance or in a few storefront windows,  it was almost impossible to imagine that it was, in fact, the day of the New York Primary.

“It’s not my business,” said one Polish man shrugging his shoulders and dashing away when asked about elections.  Another Polish immigrant, 69-year old retiree Janina Borek, was certain she was being asked about elections back in Poland.  “I don’t have American citizenship so why would I care about American elections,” she reflected after she was reminded of  the local primaries.

Workers at a polling site at PS 34 on Norman Avenue in the heart of Greenpoint said they hadn’t seen many Polish voters, at least not in the morning where, around 8:45 AM a small crowd of mostly young hipsters was waiting to cast their votes.  At that time the place was still in a disarray as the voting machines arrived around 8 AM, two hours after the site was supposed to be open.

There were a few dozens children in the same room getting ready for a morning line up as their teacher tried to explain they should be quiet because “people want to exercise their right to vote here.“

Some voters were complaining that curtains in the old machines provided them with more privacy, others that the font used on the new ballots was too small.

Inside a polling station in Greenpoint, Brooklyn - Photo: Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

Inside a polling station in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. (Photo: Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska)

But in general, there was no election fever in Greenpoint. Neighborhood residents also did not see too many candidates or campaign events this season. “The only exception was Joe Lentol, our assemblyman. But he is always around,“ said Krystyna Holowacz, a Greenpoint activist who came to the polling site around 9AM.

Polish organizations did not support specific candidates nor did they step up efforts to mobilize Polish immigrant voters.   One initiative, though, was to register voters in Greenpoint and another growing Polish neighborhood, Ridgewood in Queens, over the course of summer.  “We hope that at least those that we registered would vote. That’s the only way we can have a say in this country,“ said Frank Milewski, president of the Polish American Congress New York Downstate Division, an organization behind the voters registration drive.

Ironically, one Polish immigrant who actually wanted to vote but was not able to was Barbara, 58, a cleaning lady who declined to give her last name. “I’m undocumented. Maybe that’s why I care. We really need amnesty and in order to do that we need to elect the right people.”

Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska is a reporter for Nowy Dziennik/Polish Daily News.  Feet in Two Worlds coverage of the New York Primary is supported, in part, by the New York Community Trust.

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