Are Brooklynites feelin’ the Bern? Backing Biden? Working for Warren? Our reporters fanned out to the borough’s many debate-watch parties to read the rooms.
For the first time in the 2020 election cycle, the ten leading Democratic candidates for president shared the same stage, debating issues like healthcare, education, guns, equality, and foreign policy.
Former Vice President Joe Biden entered the third debate of the campaign, at Texas Southern University in Houston hoping to cement his lead. Top candidates closing in on Biden (polling 26.8 percent, according to the latest Real Clear Politics average), such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (16.8 percent), and Sen. Bernie Sanders (17.3 percent) were vying to get ahead.
The rest, Sen. Kamala Harris, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, Sen. Cory Booker, former Representative Beto O’Rourke, and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, were each looking for the standout moment that would propel their campaign forward. Still, many underscored party and national unity in the face of President Donald Trump.
How did they do, and how did Brooklyn receive them? The Brooklyn Ink correspondents fanned out to watch parties throughout the borough in an attempt to gauge the mood.
We got a pretty good earful:
Support for Elizabeth
Emblem Bar, 187 Graham Ave., East Williamsburg, Elizabeth Warren Debate Watch Party
9:24 p.m. – Kate Lyng, 42, is excitedly leaning at the edge of her chair. She is wearing a black T-shirt that reads “I’m a Warren Democrat.”
How is her candidate doing?
“She’s articulating her vision well,” says Lyng. “I don’t feel like she’s been given enough time, but I guess it’s normal with so many candidates.”
With limited time, Warren seems to capitalize on every second, and viewers take note.
10:09 p.m. – Following Warren’s remark on having been the only candidate to be a public-school teacher, the crowd cheers and claps. Students sitting in the back of the room rise to their feet, cheering, “loans out!” as Warren concludes, stating that she plans to “cancel student loans.”
10:23 p.m. – Others react quietly. Tobi Aremu, 27, looks at the screen and nods.
“She’s doing a good job,” he says, referring to Warren. He points out that Warren is not trying to “make a splash” by being particularly loud, but when given a chance, she takes it.
“She has her own standing in the race,” Aremu says. “She’s being strategic.”
“A sense of investment”
Syndicated Bar Theatre Kitchen, 40 Bogart St., Bushwick
Many here compliment Sanders for his candidness in recognizing flaws within the political system and those within it.
“I appreciate that he acknowledges corruption,” Christina Castillo says. “Nothing is going to move forward without intrinsically battling what’s going on.”
9:18 p.m. – However, many people here feel Sanders does not stand out in the debate, and that the points he raise are not telling Americans more than they already know.
“I feel the same way about Bernie as I do about Biden,” Samantha Eargas says. “I am not getting anything new. I’m not paying attention to him as much because he is as he always has been.”
9:47 p.m. – Several people at the watch party note that they find similarities between Sanders and Warrens’ political ideas. However, some think that Warren might be more capable of putting those ideas into action. Warren “has benefited from the conversations that Bernie starts, but she is willing to put the work into the details that actually make it work,” Patrick Sampson says. “She has the minutia taken care of, as well as her revolutionary ideas.”
10:01 p.m. – Others feel that Warren and Sanders’ similarities prove America is headed in a more progressive direction. “It seems like they are working together, it’s encouraging,” Kate Rose says. “No matter who it is, I get a sense of investment that we didn’t see in 2016.”
10:02 p.m. – Even those at the watch party who currently support Sanders acknowledge that he has had trouble appealing to all demographics in the past. Erica Steiner explains the term ‘Bernie bro,’ coined in 2016, is a reflection of the truth. She says that supporters tended to be younger, straight white males. She compliments Sanders, and notes that he has learned and is now able to draw in more people, but still struggles to get support from many groups, such as people of color.
10:28 p.m. – Some people here express frustration with the debate. Mario Watson says that its structure makes it hard to get a good feel for the candidates. “It’s information overload,” Watson says. “I wish it was smaller and grass-root. I wish they had to travel to each state, like in the old days.”
Some Love for Bernie
Little Skips East, 1643 Broadway, Bushwick
10:30 p.m. – Clearly, there are still some Bernie supporters in Brooklyn.
“He’s the only one you can count on,” says Sarah Fritz, 46, who attended a general watch party in Bushwick. Fritz shouted out in support of Bernie Sanders while he was concluding his speech. She works as a freelance visual artist, so she’s not covered by health insurance under the current medical system, nor is her companion, who works as a musician. She believes Sanders, whom she voted for in 2016, will be able to bring real changes.
Biden Strikes Out in the LGBTQ community
Lambda Independent Democrats Watch Party at Macri Park, 462 Union Ave., in Williamsburg
7:29 p.m. – In this dimly lit bar, one voter’s outlook is surprisingly candid.
“There is no perfect candidate,” says Jesse Brown, 33. Despite the flaws he recognizes in each candidate, Brown says he’s drawn to one candidate he’ll be watching throughout the debate—Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has a strong following in the LGBTQ community.
His praise of Warren does not extend to former Vice President Joe Biden, who, despite being a frontrunner in the polls, hasn’t garnered much support from the Brooklyn Democrats we encountered at borough watch parties. Brown did not mince words about Biden.
“Flat out, I find him to be a walking anachronism,” he says. “I don’t even want to see him in a cabinet position.”
The president of the Brooklyn Young Democrats, John Wasserman, 26, echoes Brown’s disapproval of a Biden presidency.
“If this guy gets elected, he’ll be 81 after four years,” he says, “and we’re worried about Trump having all of his faculties?”
Wasserman says he would prefer a more dynamic candidate for the democratic nomination. “We need someone more progressive – a revolutionary.”
9:23 p.m. – During the break, one couple criticizes Biden’s track record, which they think will “come back to haunt him.” Ken Diamondstone, 78, cites Biden’s handling of the Anita Hill testimony against Judge Clarence Thomas, as well as his record on criminal justice and close work with “southern segregationists,” which Diamondstone feels will hinder Biden’s chances at a nomination. He thinks Biden is “one of the weakest candidates” that could face Trump in 2020.
Biden, according to Nicholas Tamborra of the Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, represents “the old way of doing things,” whereas younger Democrats are gravitating towards more “radical change.” Like Diamondstone, Tamborra feels that Joe Biden’s past stands in the way of a nomination, saying Democrats have become “very doubtful of what [Biden’s] candidacy is promising, because they know what it looks like in action.”
10:15 p.m. – Paul Ullrich, 31, thinks Biden’s support stems from a fear of a second term for Trump. “You can’t be scared to vote for someone,” he declares. “You shouldn’t be voting for someone that you don’t believe in just because you think they’ll win.”
Klobuchar: “She doesn’t stand out”
General watch party at Berg’n, 899 Bergen St., in Crown Heights
8:07 p.m. – “Houston we have a problem,” announces Sen. Klobuchar, in regard to Trump’s presidency.
Her first attempt at humor is met with silence from this audience. Sen. Klobuchar has emphasized her relatability with the American people as a Midwesterner, but her comments are not resonating in Crown Heights.
8:58 p.m. – “She doesn’t stand out in a successful way,” says Mark Ashin just an hour into the debate.
In Ashin’s opinion the Minnesota Senator and Sen. Biden are the two most moderate candidates, but Biden’s performance is much stronger.
Despite her best attempts, Klobuchar does not appear to resonate with Brooklyn citizens through her brief remarks during the nearly three-hour debate.
10:16 p.m. – “She’s obviously only speaking to her her constituents,” says Yohei Ishii.
Beto wants your AR-15
Beto O’Rourke Watch Party, McMahon’s Public House, 39 and 5th Ave, Park Slope
Melissa Frank, 36, lived in Texas for ten years, and says she organizes most of the O’Rourke events in New York. Frank ranks O’Rourke above the other Texan candidate, Secretary Castro.
8:04 p.m. – “Fake smile!” shouts Frank when Julian Castro introduces himself.
Frank finds Sen. O’Rourke to be a genuine person (she says she’s met him on many occasions in both Texas and New York), and believes that he’s “laid the groundwork” for progress in Texas, which she believes will inevitably turn blue.
8:34 p.m. – Maura Doyle, 42, wears a “Beto for America” shirt tucked into a green polka dot skirt. She supports O’Rourke because he knows “how to pull people together,” and is “genuine” and “accessible.”
Sen. O’Rourke’s shining moment in this debate is his stance on guns and gun buybacks.
9:00 p.m. – “Yes. Yes. Yes,” says Rachel emphatically.
There is cheering and clapping from the crowd when O’Rourke says, “Hell yes, we’re gonna take your AR-15, your AK-47.” What ultimately set’s O’Rourke apart from the other candidates?
“He is the only candidate who addresses issues at their systematic root,” Josh Nodiff says.
A peek across the aisle
Brooklyn Young Republicans Club, at Soda Bar, 629 Vanderbilt Ave., in Boreum Hill
8:40 p.m. – Joel Acevedo, President of the Brooklyn Young Republicans Club, expresses concerns that Democratic candidates are too heavily focused on lobbing criticisms at President Trump, versus litigating real policy differences.
“I don’t think the best idea is for them to be attacking Trump,” he says. “They need to be tackling the issues.”
Jay Cruger, a law student and member of the club, agrees.
“I think Buttigieg and Yang are the most specific candidates in the field,” says Cruger. “They’re offering ideas, and they’re offering figures, and I think at the end of the day, they have the best chance of appealing to voters.”
9:17 p.m. – When Andrew Yang talks about the value of immigrants to the economy, Joe Colella claps loudly, nods, and leans over to his Republican colleagues. “I think that’s a weakness of our party—we are not pro-immigration. I’m a first-generation American. There are so many people who come here with potential. His story resonated with me.”
9:49 p.m. – Acevedo is impressed as Buttigieg speaks about the military.
“Being in the military myself, I understand the toll it takes on people,” he says. “If you care about the troops you put money in them. Pete Buttigieg understands. Someone who serves understands that. Because he is a soldier, he understands the cost of war.”
9:27 p.m. – Gregory Kirsopp, 23, is the assistant political director for the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, as well as a member of the Brooklyn Young Republicans Club. Would he vote for Trump a second time?
“Yes, simply based on policy and the approach that he’s taken on certain policy issues,” he says.
9:54 p.m. – Near the final hour of the debate, Colella weighs how he is feeling so far.
“I’m not particularly enthused by any of the candidates,” says Colella. “I am not promising my vote to any candidate.” While he says Republicans might assume he would vote for Trump again, he does not want to.
“There’s a Republican Party that’s more civil, decent, and honorable,” he says, “but if it comes down to it, I can still vote Democratic.”
Hearts and Minds for Booker
Minnie’s Bar, 885 4th Ave., Sunset Park
8:24 p.m. – Sen. Cory Booker receives applause in Sunset Park after his powerful statement about a holistic approach to improving systemic racism: “People in my community, they need help right now. They have high blood pressure right now. They have unaffordable insulin right now. And this must be a moment where we as Democrats begin to show that we cannot only stake and stand our ground, but find common ground, because we got one shot to make Donald Trump a one-term president.”
8:43 p.m. – Genesis Aquino says that while Booker excels with issues of reparations and criminal justice, she does not plan to give him her vote. On the other hand, Booker has stolen 23 year-old Angela Mendez’s heart.
“I have the hugest crush on Cory Booker,” she says.
“Team Julián” is cheering
Taqueria La Norteña, 668 Manhattan Ave., Greenpoint
7:31 p.m. – Numerous supporters of Julián Castro gather at a small Mexican restaurant. ABC is playing on the two TV’s hanging on the bright yellow walls, flanked by a self-portrait of Frida Kahlo and set up with Spanish closed captions. As a third-generation Mexican-American, Castro’s campaign is shaped in part by the experiences of other Mexican-Americans.
8:36 p.m. – “Team Julián” erupts in loud cheers again as Castro goes toe-to-toe with Biden on health care.
“Ooh,” a member of the crowd says, after the sting of Castro attacks on Biden: “Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago? Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago? I mean, I can’t believe that you said two minutes ago that they had to buy in and now you’re saying they don’t have to buy in. You’re forgetting that.”
9:56 p.m. – Big claps as Castro echoes Sanders’ sentiments regarding the need for free elections and protected status for Venezuelans and critiques the Trump administration’s failure to support the Venezuelean-American community.
10:48 p.m. – As the crowd prepares to depart, ABC captures a moment with Castro and his family. He is seen holding his four-year-old son Cristián in his arms. The taqueria audience collectively melts.
Kamala’s Stand-Out Moment?
Circa Brewing Co., 141 Lawrence Street, Downtown Brooklyn
7:45 p.m. – Judy Frangine-Camareno, 51, an organizer of the watch party, says that Kamala Harris gives her hope. She finds her to be genuine and likes how she doesn’t make grandstanding promises, unlike “some people,” in the democratic field.
7:50 p.m. – Chakira Branch, 32, who booked the venue, likes that Harris takes her time to think about things before she takes out a policy plan, and that she has unabashedly supported the LGBTQ community.
7:55 p.m. – Frangine-Camareno says that she decided to support Kamala even before she announced her candidacy, because of the senate judicial proceedings. “I skipped my chance with Hillary, but I want to be with Kamala.”
8:59 p.m. – Kamala says one of the standout lines of the night was when Kamala said that Trump “didn’t pull the trigger, but he certainly tweeted out the ammunition” for the racially motivated attack in El Paso. The line garnered general appreciation from the table and a round of applause from Zeli Miceli, 27, one of the main organizers of the watch party, who has been campaigning for Kamala Harris for months.
9:07 p.m. – The candidates are talking about gun violence, and the people at the table think it is too preachy – that they are not proposing policies, but only stating their ideology. “I feel like I am reading a college essay,” says Miceli with a groan.
Is Brooklyn for Mayor Pete?
Berg’n, 899 Bergen St., Crown Heights
8:45 p.m. – Lucy Pontrelli, a 54 year-old Crown Heights pediatrician who’s undecided, says she’s most interested in Buttigieg’s take on healthcare. Pontrelli argues that a single-payer system is an overly simplistic solution. She says most Americans would not accept a single payer system.
“I just haven’t heard anything that addresses what we need,” says Pontrelli. “We need something that’s gonna be different than what they do in Europe or Canada. We offer some amazing, outstanding options in healthcare. We should focus on trying to increase those, instead of decreasing those options.”
Brooklyn for Pete founder, 41 year-old Jesse Yarbrough, is a social worker at a clinic based at a school campus in the South Bronx. When Brooklyn Pride rolled around this year, he noticed there was no “Brooklyn for Pete” presence, so he took matters into his own hands.
“Thinking about him being president just filled me with hope and seemed like a great thing to put my energy into,” says Yarbrough. “It seems like the most positive thing that I can do for the world right now is to try to support him.”
Little Skips East, Bushwick
Ronin Moore, 28, organizer of the watch party in Bushwick stresses the need for candidates to bring up actual policies. Moore laments the fact that it was the moderators, more than the candidates, who were actually “advancing the conversation.”
The night’s most “zeitgeisty” question still lingers in the bar after the debate.
“Can we really stand another four years of Trump? asks 28 year-old Danielle Cash. “It’s not about the Democrats or the Republicans. It’s about who’s right for the country. Trump’s not right for the country.”