Obama Volunteers Get Out the West Village Vote


Two Obama volunteers — Peggy Kerry, the sister of Sen. John Kerry, and Steven Nicks, a member of Obama’s LGBT Policy Committee — get ready for action as the sun rises in the West Village.

Ray Dominguez represents the change we’ve been hearing so much about this campaign season.

“In 2004, when I watched Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention, I was a Republican,” the Obama campaign volunteer recalled this morning while handing out flyers at a West Village Starbucks. “But I found myself saying, ‘This man’s going to be president one day.’ I really said that. As a Republican, I wanted not to like him, but that was an outstanding speech.”

That was just the start of Dominguez’s turnaround. Since 2004, well, he’s become a little jaded with the current administration — as he says of his switch to Democrat, “Seven years of this will do it to you.”

Then came Iowa.

“I was always kind of cynical about Obama’s chances, but after Iowa, I knew I had to be a part of this.”

So Dominguez got up at 4:30 this morning, after a night of Giants celebrations, to volunteer in a day-long effort to win votes. Along with several other volunteers, he’s working from the Sheridan Square Starbucks — just one of 19 Obama hubs in Manhattan, 14 in Brooklyn, seven in the Bronx, five in Queens and one in Staten Island.

At 6 a.m., Dominguez and two fellow organizers fought the morning darkness and the sleepy Sinatra tunes with talk of their hopes for the day, with a side of today’s Komodo Dragon Blend.

One of the first volunteers to arrive was Nancy Talbot, who, along with her husband, was a long-time supporter of the Clintons after her husband attended Oxford with Bill Clinton in the late ‘60s and was in Hilary’s class at Yale Law in the early ‘70s. But a few years ago, when the Talbots were living in Chicago, a friend turned them on to a rising state senator.

“It is time for a change,” Talbot said, clamping her hands together. “I am an old foot soldier, and I am so thrilled and excited to have these young people telling me how to take action.”

Talbot headed out into the cold, equipped with a new cardboard sign — she gave her last one to a passing bus driver who wanted to show his support for Obama as he drove around the city.

Little by little, more volunteers filtered in, including Senator John Kerry’s sister, Peggy Kerry, who organized a Women for Obama rally in New York last weekend.

“This campaign is more exciting than my brother’s campaign – I can say that,” Kerry said. “I moved here in 1968 and got involved in the McCarthy campaign and the anti-war movement, and this resembles that. It’s grassroots, and it’s absolutely incredible.”

Kerry popped in and out, conversing with volunteer Steven Nicks about how best to run the day’s operations. Stickers should go out early to promote visibility, they agreed. The basic facts flyers can go to people on the subways, but the more persuasive flyers should go to people at the polls who already think they’ve made up their minds. And by all means, assign people to the high-priority spots first, like P.S. 3, P.S. 41 and the Westbeth artist community.

Nicks is the man leading the morning’s volunteers, taking cell phone numbers and walking them through the rules — don’t go closer than 100 feet from a polling place, and be courteous if an old lady snaps that she’s for McCain.

After all, Nicks knows to pick his battles. As a member of Obama’s 20-person LGBT Policy Committee, he has met and spoken with Obama several times in his fight to encourage political dialogue about LGBT issues.

So far, so good.

“His campaign is very open in terms of really trying to reach out to make sure people have their voice inside the campaign.” Nicks said. He’s actually very progressive on LGBT issues. When he was in the Illinois state senate, he sponsored an employment non-discrimination act that got passed, and it was fully inclusive so it included transgender people as well. He’s for full repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which by contrast Senator Clinton is not.”

Perhaps that’s why, when John Edwards left the race, many of the campaign’s LGBT leadership team joined the fight for Obama.

And while advocates like Nicks would prefer a candidate who supported their rights all the way, Obama’s stance is a step in the right direction, Nicks said.

“It really is a question of words and not a question of rights,” Nicks said. “He’s such an egalitarian that his underlying motivations are for quality for all people, so it really comes from a good place, not a calculated place.”