At the AK Houses polling station in East Harlem on Tuesday, Jim Greene reminisced about the days – back in 1965 – when he headed the Harlem campaign for former Mayor John Lindsay.
“Back then, this place used to be full,” Greene said of the near-empty polling station on Lexington Avenue and East 128th Street, which, as of early afternoon Tuesday, had ushered 79 people from two separate election districts in and out of its voting stations.
But despite various efforts on behalf of the candidates, including an Al Sharpton walk-around with frontrunner Fernando Ferrer, East Harlem’s voting stations resembled little of the Greene-described bustle of decades earlier.
“It’s been slow,” said polling-monitor Edwin Hernandez, who stood outside another poll-site on East 126th Street, where poll-watchers sat on couches looking sleepy. There, only 14 people had cast their votes as of mid-afternoon.
The final polls indicated that New York’s black vote was largely split in its support between Fields and Ferrer. But with hotly contested City Council races in Harlem’s Districts 8 and 9, as well as the Wright-Perkins competition for Manhattan borough president, community advocates like Greene had hoped to see a larger voting effort.
“I’m very disappointed in how many people have shown up,” said the lifelong East Harlem resident, who heads a local communications firm. “I’ve lived in this area for years and I know that people need someone to lead them to get out and vote.”
Who they need, Greene contends, is someone like Alice Kornegay – a popular East Harlem activist who was once a strong force of political mobilization in the black community. Kornegay was president of the Community Association of the East Harlem Triangle, a local non-profit through which she secured the financing for construction of low-income housing. She was also a prominent advocate for the construction of Harlem’s popular PathMark supermarket where a city-owned parking lot once rested.
Kornegay died in 1996, but remains a well-known name in Harlem; North of 125th Street, Lexington Avenue becomes Alice Kornegay Way. Greene believes that another Kornegay is what Harlem needs to start getting people back into the polls. “No one has had that much clout in the community since her,” he said. “When she urged the community to vote, they went out and voted.”