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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

In One Gore Town, Relief It's Over

Reaction: Many die-hard Democrats in New Bedford, Mass., say it is time to admit their man lost rather than tarnish the legitimacy of the country's voting process.

November 27, 2000|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — To borrow from Herman Melville, it was a damp, drizzly November in the soul of this city that voted 4 to 1 for Vice President Al Gore.

As Gore prepared to contest the results in Florida, even as the secretary of state there certified the vote Sunday night, many here voiced a chilly recognition that it is time to move on.

"It's just gone on too long. It's getting to be . . . ridiculous," said Cheryl O'Connor, a Gore voter who works at a tearoom here in the onetime whaling capital of the world. "If we can send someone to the moon, why can't we get our voting right?"

Like O'Connor, even die-hard Democrats said it is time to acknowledge that their guy didn't win. Prolonging the process, some said, would cast doubts on the very legitimacy of the way this country votes.

Despite having a Republican governor, Massachusetts is such a Democratic stronghold that neither Republican George W. Bush nor Gore spent much time campaigning here. The state Legislature is a Democratic fortress, and its congressional delegation claims not one Republican. Still, outside the predictably liberal Boston area, the 80% Gore vote in New Bedford was remarkably high.

"We're just all Democrats, you know?" said Silvino Pires, a loan officer and immigrant from Cape Verde, off Africa. But at this point, Pires added, party politics matters less than the country's welfare.

"I'm beginning to believe that none of the leaders--Gore or Bush--has the heart of America in mind," he said. "America is in the middle here, and you've got two guys on either side, tugging away. No matter who gets in, there will always be doubt in my mind as to the legitimacy of the whole system."

At his shop on Johnny Cake Hill, antiques dealer Frederick Mitchell, "an unrepentant liberal Democrat," said he would breathe easier with the election resolved--even if Bush is the victor.

"I'm up to here with it now myself," Mitchell said. "I think we're in danger of stretching the Constitution a little too thin."

Next door, director Buddy Carr poked his head out of the Mariners' Home--the 200-year-old building where sailors can sleep for $10 a night--to say that he didn't vote for Gore. And if the vice president knew what was good for him and the country, Carr said, he'd cut his losses and concede.

As a former police officer and member of the town's Republican committee, Carr said he was pleased that, despite the political gulf, the country seemed undivided. "If there were a national disaster," he explained, "you know you would see people pulling together and forgetting their political differences."

Taking a cigarette break outside the Standard Times newspaper, assistant customer services manager Kim Foisy said the standoff between Gore and Texas Gov. Bush meant that neither would be viewed with respect--no matter who becomes president.

"If Gore refuses to concede and does eventually take office, people are just going to say he pushed his way in," Foisy said. "But then, they'll probably say the same about Bush, won't they?"

Tidying up the walkway outside his studio--housed in a 19th century meatpacking plant--sculptor John Magnan said that, regardless of the outcome, the process has been enlightening. "I think it's extraordinary that this nation of laws has turned to its laws fairly quietly in spite of the rhetoric."

But New Bedford Mayor Frederick M. Kalisz said the prospect of a Bush presidency is "of great concern" to a city that boasts the benefits of a recent influx of federal funds.

In the Clinton administration, Kalisz said, the waterfront where Melville embarked on the 1841 voyage that inspired "Moby Dick" became a national park. In three years, he added, unemployment in New Bedford dropped from 14% to 4%. And Superfund legislation has helped rebuild this once-crumbling community of 104,000.

In New Bedford, Kalisz said, "the guy in the street knows what the Clinton-Gore administration has done for us. This vote was a big thank-you note, you better believe it was."

But school secretary Sue Poyant, a Gore supporter, had another interpretation. The city's disproportionate vote for her candidate was a reminder, Poyant said, that "this was no mandate for Bush. If he does get in, I just hope he realizes he did it by the skin of his teeth."

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