NYC’s Staten Islanders vote for return to ‘normal’ in U.S. election

People walk along the Franklin D Roosevelt Boardwalk in front of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge on Staten Island in New York City
People walk along the Franklin D Roosevelt Boardwalk in front of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge on Staten Island in New York City, U.S., October 4, 2020.
REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

By Roselle Chen, Reuters

As U.S. Election Day approaches, residents of a New York City enclave agree that they want to make America “normal” again.

They just don’t agree on how to get there.

On Staten Island, the only one of the city’s five boroughs that President Donald Trump won in 2016, a war hero’s father said he is getting flak for supporting Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

“My reason, to get some sort of normalism back to the country,” said 73-year-old Robert Ollis. “Let’s stop fighting.”

The community united behind Ollis in 2013 after his son Michael, a U.S. Army staff sergeant, shielded a wounded Polish lieutenant from a suicide bomber in Afghanistan and died saving his life. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second highest honor.

News of Michael’s death came like a punch in the stomach to his father. “You can’t get your breath, for hours,” Ollis said.

In an outpouring of love, his street was renamed SSG Michael H. Ollis Way. A new Staten Island ferry is named after Michael.

But that neighborly warmth evaporated when Robert Ollis gave public support to Max Rose, a Democratic congressman fighting a tightly contested race in Staten Island and parts of southern Brooklyn.

“Our neighbors look double at us now,” Ollis said. “When we go to the supermarket, they look. I went into an establishment and he goes, ‘I can’t believe you did that for Max Rose.’

“I don’t understand it,” Ollis said of the partisanship. “This is America. This is what my grandfather, my parents fought for.”

Ollis said he felt like a misfit after over half of Staten Islanders voted for Trump in 2016.

“It’s like a fish being out of water, especially now; it never was before,” he said.

Scott LoBaido, 55, an artist who calls himself Trump’s biggest supporter on the East Coast, feels differently. In his opinion, the president saw that America’s worst enemies were “those who want to inject socialism and change everything that made this country great.”

“He’s the man that stepped up, gave up his livelihood, his income, to fix it,” he said, sipping on a martini outside his Staten Island art gallery.

LoBaido’s legal assistant friend Peggy Padovano, 63, believes countries dare not take advantage of the United States under Trump.

“I feel a little bit safer with him because I feel like people are not going to want to mess with him,” she said.

Despite their differences, the Staten Islanders all said they want to return to normal after the Nov. 3 election.

“I hope for this country’s sake and for my grandchildren’s sake that we get back to some peace and harmony… respecting one another, regardless of your nationality, your color or your religion,” Ollis said.

LoBaido said, “We just want to live and feed our kids, pay our mortgage, make sure my community is safe. It’s that simple.”

If Trump loses, “I still have bills to pay and dinner to cook and a house to clean and people to love,” Padovano said. “The world is not going to end either way.”

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