Tea Party Locals Debate Shutdown

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Tourists who had hoped to visit the Statue of Liberty stand near the dock used by Liberty Island ferries, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013 in New York. A government shutdown, the first since the winter of 1995-96, closed national parks across the nation. Mark Lennihan/AP

While the Republican congressmen who led the charge to a government shutdown mostly hail from places far from New York City, Brooklyn isn’t without its own conservative voices. The borough’s Tea Party is alive and well. And as the federal government enters its third day of a partial shutdown, Brooklyn Tea Party members are divided over the wisdom of the Republicans’ hard line.

Frank Russo, president of the Brooklyn Tea Party, says he’s not happy that the federal government has slowed to a crawl, adding that no one is. But he think the issues Republicans are fighting for—a repeal or at least some major changes to President Obama’s signature health care law—require dramatic measures.

“C’mon, who wants the government to shut down?” Russo said. “Nobody. But ‘Obamacare’ is not about helping people.” Russo, a registered Republican, doesn’t like the way ‘Obamacare’ was passed in the first place. In his view, there wasn’t enough negotiation going on at the time, with Democrats in control of both houses of Congress.

But Roy Parlanti, another Tea Party activist who works in Bay Ridge, welcomes the government shutdown. “The longer the better,” he said.

Parlanti isn’t pleased about some of the services that have been put on hold. He thinks the National Institutes of Health should be able to continue its cancer research, for example, but overall, he sees the shutdown as an opportunity. “It’s only the non-essential workers,” he said. “It raises the question: if these people are non-essential, do we need them in the first place?”

Parlanti sees the shutdown as a welcome break from the overreach of a too-large federal government: “If the IRS stays home, I think everyone would love for that to happen. The NSA stops snooping on us for a little while? Great. Let them stay home.”

It’s still unclear what impact—if any—the shutdown will have on the mayoral race this November.

Republican candidate Joe Lhota, in a statement posted to his website, called on national Republicans to “get their acts together” and pass a budget. His Democratic opponent, Bill de Blasio, struck a harsher tone, condemning the “destructive, right wing ideologues” in the nation’s capital.

All the same, Jim McLaughlin, a principal with McLaughlin and Associates, a political consulting agency working mostly with conservative clients, doesn’t believe the shutdown will have much impact on the race.

“I think this election is going to be fought for and won on local issues,” McLaughlin said. But, he added, if the shutdown makes any difference, the spectacle in Washington might offer a boost for Lhota, allowing him to draw a contrast between his own views and those of conservative House Republicans. “I’d look at this as an opportunity to show my independence,” he said.

Meanwhile, Parlanti acknowledged that it’s difficult to be a conservative in Brooklyn. “It’s frustrating, obviously,” he said. “You are a minority here in your political views. You deal with it.”

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