Julie Blinbaum, 22, woke up early on Election Day and headed to the polls to cast a vote in favor of every Republican candidate on the ballot. Then she sent an email to all her friends on Facebook, an online social community, reminding them to also vote in support of their fellow Republicans. At 10:30 a.m., she headed to the Met Club Republican Headquarters in the affluent Upper East Side and started calling members, urging them to get out the vote.
Hi Jason, this is Julie from the Met Club Republican headquarters and I just wanted to remind you to vote for your Republican candidates today.
Blinbaum is part of a small but dedicated group of Republicans in a city best known for its irreverent antiwar protests and frequent pro-choice rallies.
The Metropolitan Republican Club, with its varnished wood panel floors and high ceiling crystal chandeliers, is the focal point for the New York City Republican community.
Today, the club’s efforts were focused on Philip Pidot for the 26th Senate District and Robert Heim for 73rd Assembly District.
Earlier this morning, the Republicans said they were confident that their candidates stood a chance of winning. “Contrary to what people say, Republicans are not divided and there has not been a definite shift,” said Kendall Elliot, 32, who has been a member of the club for eight years. Elliot woke up at 3 a.m. to help vote her party into office. “All the unfavorable things said about the Republicans are unbelievably overblown.”
But by evening, things were not looking good. Pidot lost by a large margin. With 42 percent of the precincts reporting, Pidot had received 21.77 percent of the votes compared to Liz Krueger, who won with 78.23 percent.
Heim was similarly trounced. He received 24.51 percent compared to Jonathan L. Bing, who won with 75.49 percent.
Although it was a losing day for the Republicans and Blinbaum admits her party is vastly outnumbered in New York City, she says there are plenty of urban elephants. “We don’t hold up silly signs or sit around complaining so people don’t realize that there are a lot of us.” She adds, rolling her eyes, “We’re not the type who wears a bunch of crazy pins or shirts that yell political messages.”
It’s difficult to imagine Blinbaum raising her voice over the level of polite cocktail-party chatter let alone yelling. Blinbaum, a prim young professional who wears a bright red sweater in support of the Republican Party, sits in front of her laptop with perfect posture as she scans a list of potential Republican voters. “I support my party and my country,” said Blinbaum with a smile that is perfect enough to land her on a toothpaste commercial.
A headshot of a fatherly George W. Bush smiles down on his supporters from the center of the club, which was built in 1930. Below the photo is a framed letter from the president thanking the club for their ongoing support. The club also boasts the late Richard Nixon and Michael Bloomberg as loyal members.
Today, a list of club volunteers and the various poll locations they are frequenting vie with the autographed photos of Ronald Reagan and the senior George Bush for space on the walls.
The club members realize they’re fighting an unpopular battle in New York City but insist the heartland will pull through for the Republican Party.
“We’re in New York so obviously we’re outnumbered and people don’t like Bush and the Republicans,” said Georgiana Viest who has been a member of the club since 1998 and is the current manager. “But the taxes are terrible and I think a lot of people want to keep more of their paycheck.”
But Viest doesn’t think the city’s hostility towards her party is representative of a shift in the nation at large. “I don’t put too much stock in the polls because they’re just snapshots of a moment.” Although Viest admits the support for the Iraq war is losing momentum, she says, “I think people are more concerned with their wallets and not being taxed.”
According to Viest, the issue of taxation unites what she calls the club’s diverse members. “We pay so much money locally. It’s just too much. And we want to do something about it.” Her husband, Nicholas Viest, is a paper broker in the financial district, who ran for city council in 2001 and lost.
Aside from the high definition television screen, set on the FOX news channel, humming in the background, the club is rather silent. Gilded chairs sit on Persian carpets but none are occupied. The club is also relatively empty.
Lorraine Saxton, 21, is one of just four people who have decided to spend the entire day working out of the three-story club on 122 East 83rd Street. An active member of the New York University Republican group, Saxton admits that it’s been a slow day for her party.
“I’ve spent the day mainly studying for the LSAT and writing an essay for class,” said Saxton who voted at 6 a.m. today. She admits the phone hasn’t rung very often and only a handful of people have asked for fliers to hand out at poll stations.
Saxton says she’s been involved in the Pidot campaign since July but is quick to add, “I don’t like the word ‘activist.’ I prefer the term ‘consultant.’”
Ilana Lewenberg, 25, is the volunteer coordinator for the Pidot campaign and also was working from the club today. She said she thought her candidate would win but, either way, she intends to continue her political consulting. “The best thing about this job and politics is that you really change peoples’ lives.”
Blinbaum, the 22-year-old University of Pennsylvania graduate student who boasts of helping to register 850 new Republicans before the 2004 election, continued calling voters from the club. She urged them to head to the polls regardless of how futile their contribution may seem in a city know for its liberal bent. “It makes a difference.”
After calling one irate gentleman who said he repeatedly asked to be removed from the Republican calling list, Blinbaum apologizes and hangs up the phone with a shrug. “I guess he’s not interested in helping us,” she says.