UPDATED: Low interest in Lhota land

It’s a low-key election day in New Dorp, Staten Island. Just two blocks away from a Joe Lhota for Mayor campaign office, shoppers at Hylan Commons, a strip mall across the street from the neighborhood’s polling place, seemed detached and unenthusiastic about Tuesday’s election, despite the opportunity to elect New York City’s first new mayor since 2001.

In Staten Island, the city’s most Republican corner, many voters said they believed the borough would sway in Democratic candidate Bill de Blasio’s direction. Staten Island hasn’t voted for a Democratic mayor since Ed Koch in 1985. Out of Staten Island’s 280,000 registered voters, 29 percent are Republicans, and another 20 percent are registered with no party.

During their mayoral primary campaigns, candidates Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota collided at the Staten Island Ferry terminal. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

During their mayoral primary campaigns, candidates Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota collided at the Staten Island Ferry terminal. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Despite the borough’s reputation for Republican politics, many of those interviewed said they wouldn’t vote for Joe Lhota because of his track record of raising tolls on the Verrazano Bridge.

“It’s expensive,” said one 41-year-old Staten Island resident, who didn’t want her name used. “It’s $15 if you don’t have EZ Pass.” The Dongan Hills resident added that her husband worked in transit while Lhota was chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The woman said she had already cast her vote for de Blasio earlier that day, and added, from the open window of her car, “I’m not voting for that stupid Lhota.”

According to the Wall Street Journal/NBC 4 New York/Marist Poll released this week, 60 percent of likely voters in Queens and Staten Island said they planned to vote for de Blasio, while 23 percent said they’d support Lhota. (The pollsters did not tally Staten Island separately.) Of those voters, 65 percent had a favorable opinion of de Blasio, while 32 percent had a favorable view of Lhota.

Others seemed unaware of an election going at all.

“Who’s running?” asked Ismet Ljarja, a Staten Island native. When asked whether he’d vote for a Republican or a Democrat, he said, “I don’t know, I’ve got to see the ballot.”

Ljarja, 27, said he didn’t feel his vote would make a difference and wasn’t sure if he’d be able to get to the polls.

“It’s doesn’t matter” he said, standing outside a Starbucks off of Hylan Boulevard in New Dorp. “They say every vote counts, but the way politics are on Staten Island, I don’t think my vote really matters, because of the corruption and the kickbacks to council people and developers.”

Ljarja says that in his South Shore neighborhood of Eltingville, which delivered big victories to Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2005 and 2009, residents’ trust in government dwindled after superstorm Sandy. “I think a lot of them lost faith,” he explained. “They’re still waiting on some sort of assistance. It was just family, friends and the local community, I didn’t see politicians then, they weren’t here when it mattered.”

For others, voter apathy is a direct result of a distrust in government.

“I’ve never voted,” said Daniel Perkert, a lifelong Staten Island resident. “I don’t believe in government.”

While Sharon James, also a Staten Island resident, agreed with him, she said she voted earlier on Tuesday, casting her vote for Joe Lhota.

“Let’s get a Republican back in office,” James said, “someone who cares more about the people.”

Both Perkert and James, however, seemed convinced that de Blasio would be victorious in Staten Island.

By 4 p.m., 637 people had voted in the four precincts with poll sites at New Dorp High School, the polling place for that neighborhood, out of the 4,945 residents registered to vote there. Poll coordinator Marie Tantillo called the turnout “regular — nothing crazy.”

If it were up to Joel Howell, a 42-year-old Staten Island native, he’d vote former mayor Rudolph Giuliani back into office.

“He was the best mayor,” Howell said, standing a few feet away from New Dorp High School. “He took care of crime. He made Staten Island a better place.”

As for Lhota, Howell wasn’t sure if Giuliani was backing the candidate but said “if he has anything to do with Giuliani, he has my vote.” The former mayor has endorsed Lhota, and the two campaigned together Monday at the Staten Island Ferry terminal in Manhattan.

Lhota, who has based many of his campaign promises on policy ideas from the Giuliani days, served as a deputy mayor during that administration.

Howell, who admitted he has stopped reading the newspaper and tries to “stay away from local politics,” said he’d vote for any candidate with a tie to Giuliani, even though he usually votes for a Democrat. He said he wasn’t sure yet if he’d vote on Tuesday.

Polls close at 9 p.m.

UPDATE, Nov. 8, 2013:

Unofficial results show Staten Island had a total of 70,924 votes for mayor, 53 percent of them for Lhota. Voter turnout in the borough was 22 percent lower than it was in the 2009 general election for mayor — bigger drop than in any borough but Queens, which dropped by 25 percent.

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