A selection of work created for the 2020 New York State Assembly primary and general elections.
For the first time in my lifetime, New York’s primary actually matters, and all eyes are on us. Just over a week before the election, my favorite city (or its suburbs, anyway) is hosting four of the five major candidates. Hillary Clinton visited Monroe Community College on Friday, John Kasich in Greece on Saturday, and Donald Trump in Gates on Sunday. With a Bernie Sanders appearance Tuesday morning at the Bill Gray’s Iceplex and an as-yet-unscheduled appearance from Ted Cruz in the coming days, it is an exciting time to be a Rochesterian with an interest in politics, or a guy who wants to sell t-shirts and scream horribly sexist things into a crowd.
I am no stranger to big events. From the streets of Manhattan to the Anaheim convention center, I’ve spent dozens of hours waiting in line. Usually that line has a Star Wars actor or a famous TV couch at the end of it, but I guess a political candidate in one of various stages of desperation is line-worthy. The weekend’s brisk spring, with delightful winds to keep the crowd from overheating in the harsh 35-degree temperatures, did little to discourage the crowd. Clinton attracted several thousand people to MCC’s gymnasium. Monroe County Republican Party chair Bill Reilich brought John Kasich to the Greece Community and Senior Center, conveniently attached to the town hall, where Reilich serves as town supervisor. Donald Trump appeared at JetSmart Aviation, next to the Greater Rochester International Airport, likely so he could get in and out before the area’s rural residents try to adopt him.
The events themselves aren’t that different. Clinton and Kasich both delivered broad speeches that were hard to disagree with, regardless of which side of the political spectrum you fall on. Kasich’s strength or weakness, depending on whether you are a supporter or not, was in the question and answer session. It is far easier to compare these two “traditional” politicians than it is to compare them to Trump.
Now, my intention when I started this article was to present the facts and not let my own beliefs color the narrative. The description of Clinton’s and Kasich’s rallies, and anything not dealing with Donald Trump, was mostly written at the counter of a diner while I ate a humungous cheeseburger (listed on the menu as a “slider”). Trump’s event looked like it was held in a hangar, but it felt like an alternate reality. While his supporters ate up every word of what he said, the rest, and there were many, exercised every ounce of self-control they possessed to stop themselves from shouting out. Some were not successful. By the third sentence, Trump had already removed one person from the audience.
I lost most of my phone’s battery to Twitter, dominated by local media providing almost line-by-line coverage. Trump’s constant attacks on the media were far from the events I saw unfold online. His claims that the media wouldn’t admit to the size of the crowd were punctuated by local media showing the size of the crowd and the people who couldn’t make it to the event. Trump’s campaign has been accused of playing on the fear of his supporters, but it appeared to me that he was afraid they would figure his game out. His hype man, Pastor Mark Burns, told the crowd that Trump would be landing his plane (a plane the audience seemed to be obsessed with) “any minute.” That minute, according to the Twitter feeds of every local news outlet, actually occurred fifteen minutes earlier, because Trump was sitting in a media room holding an interview at the time. Regardless of how anyone feels about Trump’s policies, his campaign events had more in common with a magic show than the events held earlier this weekend.
But let’s start at the beginning again. Bill Reilich was notably absent from this event, after introducing John Kasich the day before. Our first speaker was Carl Paladino, the Buffalo businessman and, to borrow a phrase from Trump, a loser. That is, after all, what happened when he ran against Andrew Cuomo to become governor of New York. He spewed attacks at the press. He went after Governor Cuomo. He accused “the government” of trying to stop Donald Trump from winning the nomination, overlooking the fact that it is the Republican party, if any group, that is working against Trump. Pastor Burns continued on a similar path, blaming the media and the establishment for any perceived roadblocks the Trump campaign is facing. That was a recurring theme in the speech given by Donald himself. The rules are unfair. The media is unfair. The fact that there are still other candidates running against him is unfair. Trump did compare his apparent struggle to Bernie Sanders, who he said is being treated by the Democrats and the media much the same way. The Trump campaign apparently only bought $15 worth of music for their pre-rally playlist, as it repeated many times. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (an example of good American jobs being outsourced to foreigners) was a staple, though if Trump has ever heard it, the message bounced off the top of his majestic hair.
Even the crowd at Trump’s event was very different than at the others. Supporters of Kasich and Clinton were friendly and polite. Trump’s crowd, complaining about how the current generaton “has no respect,” had no problem pushing people out of their way for a better view or turning to present a rude gesture to the news cameras. Evidently, “entitlement” is not limited only to social programs when talking about politics. I will give them a small amount of credit, however. When a man in an electric wheelchair tried to navigate through the crowd and one brave soul dressed as Marty McFly decided to make a stand to stop that injustice from happening, he was quickly turned against by Trump supporters and opponents alike.
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (an example of good American jobs being outsourced to foreigners) was a staple, though if Trump has ever heard it, the message bounced off the top of his majestic hair.
Looking back on happier times, the Kasich and Clinton events were very positive. While their specific plans were different, each presented a vision for a better future in a great country. Kasich played big on his past in Congress and as Governor of Ohio, and spent a great deal of time talking about his family. Clinton herself skipped over much of her political past to talk about issues, and mentioned only once, at the end of her speech, her young granddaughter. Perhaps it is because the Clinton family has been in the national public eye for nearly 25 years, but it appeared as a stark contrast between the Republican and Democratic identities. Hillary Clinton appeared genuinely pleased to see Blake Moore, president of MCC’s student government, leading a group of students so interested in the system. John Kasich was sincerely grateful for the support he received, drawing attention to the call from his opponent to drop out.
In the end, did these events sway anyone to a new candidate? Likely not. They are designed to reinforce support among the people who are already in their camp. It provided the people of our community with an uncommon opportunity to feel as if these candidates are aware of a part of the state north of Westchester County, and a small army of officers from local, county, and state police agencies to earn a little overtime pay. It will be seen if these events repeat four years from now, or if Rochester crumbles into a post-apocalyptic hell-scape. Really, it wouldn’t be much different than how some candidates described it this weekend.