Downhill Climb: Obama’s Upper West Side Squad Still Organizing Hard

Barack Obama’s Upper West Side acolytes can’t help themselves. With a profusion of voter-registration events, button-hawking and even street-side bake sales, they’ve been charging forth to conquer … their own neighborhood. Otherwise known as one of the most heavily Democratic areas in the city.

In recent weeks, it’s often been difficult to walk on Broadway between Columbus Circle and Columbia University without stumbling on some effusive Obama volunteer with a clipboard and a stack of voter registration forms. But in this notorious Democratic stronghold, are there so many people left to register?

Apparently, yes. Volunteers tick them off readily: transplants from other states, including new Columbia University students and faculty, plus young people and old lefties too disillusioned in recent years to vote.

“You would think this being the Upper West Side, this being a bastion of progressive and reformer politics, that everyone would be energized and ready to go,” said Tim Foley, a former Obama new media director for New Hampshire and New York who now works for the SEIU and organizes many Obama events on the Upper West Side. “But it’s human nature to put things off. So just the sheer number of people who just possibly wouldn’t have been registered in time if we hadn’t been out on the streets is amazing to me.”

Foley was registering voters at 110th Street and Broadway on Labor Day Monday, along with two local Democratic groups. It was the third day of tabling over the long weekend; four additional events were scheduled for the remainder of the week.

On Monday, Steve Max, a longtime member of Three Parks Independent Democrats who has lived in the neighborhood for most of his 78 years, had stationed himself at 105th Street, in front of a temporary phone banking station being painted by a bevy of young volunteers. Max called the weekend’s crop of voter registration forms, which he estimated at several hundred, “totally, totally remarkable.” The registrations came from a mix of people, he said, though young people and African-Americans were heavily represented.

New York may be going for Obama no matter what, Max said, but there is still good reason to care about the popular vote. A key mistake in 2004, he said, was exclusively focusing on swing states, rather than racking up extra Democratic votes in strong blue states such as New York. With a popular mandate, he added, John Kerry might have had the traction to challenge apparent voting inconsistencies in Ohio.

The Upper West Side Obama volunteers also say that tabling in the neighborhood is a good way to find (yet more) volunteers.

Across the sidewalk from the 105th Street phone bank on Monday afternoon, two women had set up a “Hungry for Change” bake sale. “Guys, we’re baking for Obama – baking for Obama,” filmmaker Eunice Fearé called out, to no one in particular.

“Every bite gets him, uh … one step closer,” Hariette Rugg, a retired teacher, told a hesitant customer, who caved and bought a brownie and a cupcake.

Rugg’s two prior “Hungry for Change” bake sales, in the lobby of her West 110th Street apartment building, had been rather slow going. On Monday, though, the cupcakes (chocolate, with white frosting and multicolored sprinkles) were really going fast, as were the Ghirardelli chocolate brownies.

Downhill Climb: Obama’s Upper West Side Squad Still Organizing Hard