Brooklyn residents take their politics to the rooftops
New York Times, Sunday City section, August 8, 2004
Even crouched on the roof of her brownstone with a dripping paintbrush in her hand, Genevieve Christy retains much of the Southern gentility of her New Orleans upbringing. When a visitor wanders too close to the giant “K” she is working on, she pleasantly declares to no one in particular, “The key issue is not to step in the yellow paint.”
Aware that even bigger issues are at stake in this election year, Ms. Christy, who has bright blue eyes and is in her mid-50’s, has begun a campaign to adorn Brooklyn rooftops with blue construction tarpaulins in support of the Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry. With the Republican National Convention descending on New York from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2, the blue tarps will be painted with Democratic slogans that will be visible to conventioneers flying in from those “red” Republican states around the country.
Ms. Christy, who has lived on Pacific Street in Boerum Hill for 18 years, has so far recruited 30 brownstones and other buildings from Park Slope to Brooklyn Heights to carry the tarps, each of which is 20 feet wide, and at least 40 more buildings are considering the project. The slogans, composed mostly by one of her neighbors, Ben Sturges, urge people to Vote Kerry, Re-Defeat Bush or Drop Balms, among other things.
“We can’t control the media,” Ms. Christy declared, “but we have our rooftops.”
Having bought out several local hardware stores of their supply of blue tarps and Sunburst Yellow Rust-Oleum paint, the two plan to paint and install all the tarps by Aug. 28, two days before the convention begins.
“Why is it that New Yorkers, who are the people in our country most at risk for terrorism, overwhelmingly support Kerry?” Ms. Christy asked. “That ought to be a question that all these people flying into New York ask themselves.”
Overwhelming support is not total support, however. Stewart Johnson, a portfolio manager at a Manhattan financial services firm and another neighbor, has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1972. Mr. Johnson, too, will have a banner on his roof come the convention, but it won’t be one of Ms. Christy’s. His tarp will be red, to display his support of the Bush administration.
Mr. Johnson wants to show those passing overhead that the neighborhood is not uniformly liberal, he said, and has recruited “a small handful” of supporters so far. “You have such a contrarian view, particularly in New York, particularly in this neighborhood, if you think that Bush isn’t Satan incarnate,” he said. “I’ve had a bunch of very positive responses from disenfranchised Democrats like myself, some of whom are afraid to say it. I’m going to try to get people to come out of the closet on this.”
“The change for me started post-9/11,” Mr. Johnson said of his political shift. “The Democratic Party has just totally changed. They’ve gone from icons like F.D.R. to Michael Moore. How far can you fall?”
Ms. Christy, who grew up in an “extremely conservative” household but became a Democrat in college, described herself as unperturbed by the counterprotest. “I don’t think they make red construction tarp,” she said.