New York City residents headed to the polls today to elect their next district leader and Democratic nominee for the state assembly seat. And as was predicted, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the polls were relatively quiet and the turnout, low.
Part of the reasons was, the majority of Bed-Stuy residents who live in the 56th A.D., currently represented by Assemblywoman Annette Robinson, did not have to vote for an assembly seat, as Robinson was uncontested and will maintain her current position.
However, in the race between Robert Cornegy, Jr. and Al Wiltshire for the position of district leader, the climate was a little less subdued—a little stormy, in fact.
You could say the latest rain clouds first started forming between the two candidates earlier this week, after Wiltshire’s handlers began disseminating campaign materials asking, “What is a Cornegy?”
That Cornegy took exception to the list of answers provided for the question should come as little surprise. But it was the flyer's question, “What is a Cornegy?” that Cornegy and some of his supporters found excessively denigrating.
At the Stuyvesant Gardens Senior Center, located at 150 Malcolm X Boulevard, where Cornegy arrived around 8:35 a.m. to vote, you could hear a pin drop. Poll workers far outnumbered voters, 12-1 (with Cornegy being the “1”).
He said, after casting his vote, that although he had not anticipated a huge turnout, he still felt good about his chances-- despite his frustrations surrounding his opponent, Wiltshire, and how he ran his campaign:
“It was upsetting, because the first person to see the literature was my 8-year-old daughter,” said Cornegy, after casting his vote. “We’ve done a lot as a family to build the Cornegy name, making it synonymous with service. To pose a question like that, as if I’m an ‘it’ and not a person, I was livid.
“My daughter feels good about the fact that she’s a part of this community— that she gets the chance to volunteer around the neighborhood, delivering food to the elderly. So when she opened it and saw ‘What is a Cornegy?’ she got excited, but then she was confused when she started reading what it said.
“I called [Wiltshire] and asked, ‘So, that’s what we’re doing now?’ But he said he wasn’t going to retract it, that he believes I’m part of the campaign machine, and then he hung up on me.”
Bed-Stuy Patch reached out to Wiltshire’s Brooklyn office a few times in the morning to ask about the campaign flyer and got his office voicemail (also, the voicemail box was full).
Meanwhile, over at P.S. 262, Wiltshire’s poll site, a cardboard cutout of Cornegy laid propped against the fence right outside of the entrance of the school. Standing in front of the sign was one of Wiltshire’s volunteer workers, handing out flyers.
It was 9:15 a.m., and Wiltshire had not arrived yet to vote. But within minutes, the site’s poll coordinator emerged from the building, walked over to the volunteer to advise him that campaigners must maintain at least 100 feet of distance from the polling site.
“Voters are complaining, you can’t stand this close to the site," she said, pointing her finger to the Cornegy cutout. "You guys are gonna have to move that further down or across the street."
One of Wiltshire's volunteers moved Cornegy's sign across the street and then returned to where he was standing in front of the entrance to continue handing out flyers.
“I feel Al Wiltshire is the best, because he can do more for the community,” said Malik Winckler, 18, one of Wiltshire's volunteers. He said Wiltshire recently had visited a community center he attended and won him over. “I feel he can help out the schools, with basketball teams and functions…”
Inside P.S. 262, the foot traffic seemed to be picking up a little as the day wore on.
“I voted for Cornegy,” said Kirk Royster, 46. “I’ve seen him in the neighborhood a lot; he’s very visible and active. I’ve been following him, and he’s been a consistent voice in the neighborhood, so that’s why I voted for him.”
Phyllis Webb, 53, was leaving after voting for Wiltshire. She said she hadn’t seen any of Wiltshire’s campaign materials but she had heard about them, and she didn't seem fazed.
“One of the members of my church told me about it last night,” said Webb. “But that’s what these politicians do; some of them will do anything, fight to the bitter end.”
And not everyone voting for Cornegy reacted with surprise or anger to Wiltshire’s campaign paraphernalia either. According to Cornegy, City Councilmember Al Vann, who endorsed Cornegy, tried to offer him another take on the matter:
“The councilman had to calm me down, but he was very subdued in his reaction, because I guess he’s been doing this for so long, he’s seen everything,” said Cornegy. “He told me to use it as a teachable moment for my daughter in showing her that not everyone will have the best of intentions all the time.”