Published on Wednesday, October 8, 2003 by Long Island (NY) Newsday
Echoes of L.A., 1968 and RFK
by Jimmy Breslin
LOS ANGELES - A big street sweeper's process broom slapped against my feet.
"You've got to get out of the way," a young and thin woman said. She was sweeping the front of a polling place on Sepulveda Avenue in the Valley, which is Queens without a subway.
I stepped away. I had just been inside where the poll woman told me that there had been 150 votes so far, a record. Right away, the election was becoming a river running over the banks.
"Did you vote here?" I asked the sweeper.
"Not here to vote. Here to sweep."
She had on a gray vest with the stenciled words, "Community Volunteer."
"You a volunteer from a church?" I asked.
"No. From the judge." she said. "Five days, I'm here five days."
"Jaywalking. I was going to my sister's house in Palmdale. I crossed the street and they see me, black girl walking wrong, only black girl, and they come up and bring me into court. When I got there, I sure wasn't the only black in the room."
Now others in vests came up with a foreman, and you could see that Clarice was the lone woman in the work party.
A thin guy with a mustache that ran down both sides of his mouth said, "The judge said I could either be a good volunteer or go to jail." He held up his broom. "They got me wrong. They find something on me, they say I robbed it."
What was it?"
"A watch with some man's initials on it."
He couldn't vote, either. The jaywalker and the watch thief were outlined against a polling place from which they were barred. And inside at least some of the voting was done as the result of far greater transgressions.
They were committed by Maria Shriver and, at the end of the campaign, by her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver. The two were charged with attempted breaking and stealing the hearts of so many who for so many years have carried candles in their hearts of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy - in the last years mostly Robert - and here you have two of the family selling out a piece of their souls.
The thought was inescapable. Just a few miles up the boulevard was the place where Robert Kennedy finished his 1968 presidential primary campaign. At last they left two pictures that do not fade: Mexicans piled up at the polls and in some places voting 95 percent for a Kennedy, whom they fiercely admired, and then Kennedy on the hotel kitchen floor with one eye closed from the bullet in his brain.
Now you have Maria Shriver and her mother on the stage for a candidate whose issue is: Stop Mexicans from driving.
Tale of a marriage. Still, this should not have been. Also, they didn't have to.
In this first polling place yesterday morning, Willy Jones, 83, came out after voting. She was white and slight and smiling.
"I'm retired," she said. "I'm tired."
There was no sense asking her who she voted for. She lived with three people who, bet your life, also voted for Schwarzenegger.
After that was the Sherman Oaks United Methodist Church and poll woman Ethel McGee saying there had been 350 voters already. "This is a line you see at night - not in the morning," she said.
Then there was the office of Kyle Bradshaw Realtor, 8953 Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles. The sidewalk was packed with cameras waiting for Gray Davis to vote. The voting booths were in Bradshaw's office. Jesse Jackson sat on a desk and said it may be the high vote numbers - 415 in this office already, the highest at this hour for the last 10 years, the poll woman Sybil Zaden said - were because one-third of the precinct had been merged.
"UCLA used to have five polls. Now it has none," Jesse said. "They don't know where to vote."
Blaming this election on five precincts and a school is like blaming the blackout on a blown fuse in Canarsie. Gray Davis came in to vote. He was nice to the women, played with a baby, then came back to talk to Jackson. Somebody mentioned to Davis that Schwarzenegger was boasting that he was a "warrior" when he had never been near action, and Davis has a combat medal from Vietnam and yet nobody recognizes the difference.
"I don't know," Davis said, his face pained, "there are so many things..."
He followed Jackson and Peter Ragone, his press secretary, into an office and shut the door and talked about whatever it is you talk about during an earthquake.
It was noon and the great California election appeared to be over.
At 8 p.m., I rushed into the Century Plaza Hotel, sparkling and loud, to be right there in the huge crowd in the ballroom when they detonated when the victory was called.
I got as far as the bar, where people were shouting because television sets showed the results. The celebration, like the election, was over before it began.
Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.