Brigid Bergin is the City Hall reporter for WNYC. She covers city politics including the 2013 mayoral race and transition.
As Obama Visits Staten Island, Some Residents Feel a Disconnect
Thursday, November 15, 2012
An American flag still flies in the front yard of firefighter Mike Bellantoni’s two-family bungalow on New Dorp Lane.
Three pumpkins painted in New York Giants blue sit near the end of a walkway leading up to the front porch. A light-catcher hangs on the front door with the words “proud to be an American” over another small flag made of translucent red, white and blue plastic.
His house sits just across from Miller Field where white FEMA tents are clustered and the sound of distant cheers Thursday afternoon meant President Barack Obama had just arrived.
Standing on his porch, littered with bottles and debris, Bellantoni said he didn't vote for Obama, “but I'm a true patriot,” he said, "so my theory is, he's my president. I want him to prove me wrong.”
That sentiment was echoed by other residents in this historically conservative borough who had mixed feelings about Obama’s visit to the region as the clean up crawls forward. Obama won Staten Island, but the margin was 50 to 49 percent — the narrowest margin of any of the five boroughs.
It's also home to Republican Congressman Michael Grimm, who was also successfully re-elected and whose office is right up the street on New Dorp Lane.
Lisa Mazza, 42, waited to see the president along Miller Field with her video camera, even though she said she didn't vote for him either. The mother of three said Obama should have visited Staten Island sooner. She also wanted to know what else the president could do to help the neighborhood, over and above the work of non-government groups like the Red Cross.
“As far as government: what are you going to do to help us? We need to get this taken care of,” said Mazza who lost the entire first floor of her home. She applied for help from FEMA but was confused by questions on the application.
“You know some of them are a little tricky,” said Mazza. “Like one of them was, 'Did you have electric in the last five days?' I called on day two (of the power outage), so I said, 'Yes.'”
For now, FEMA has denied her claim even though she went for 17 days without heat, hot water or electricity.
Dario Veggian, 69, is having his own FEMA issues. His two story house has mold. There's a crack from the storm in its foundation. He needs a new boiler and completely new wiring. FEMA gave him a check for $17,000. But he estimates there’s more than $100,000 worth of damage.
“We got some help from friends, volunteers, it's tough,” said Veggian. “We don't even know if the house is going to be livable.”
Veggian was standing at his front gate wearing work gloves and binoculars also hoping to see the president. He considers himself an Obama supporter and if he had a chance to tell him something, he’d say this: “Mr. President thank you for coming. You see what’s happening here. And whatever help you can give us, please, hurry up.”