MASPETH – The Off-Track Betting parlor on Maspeth’s Grand Avenue feels like an extension of the senior center next door. Most of its patrons are white and elderly. They have the time and money to spare on gambling.
But when it comes to the election, they aren’t making bets. Most of the patrons on a recent afternoon appeared to be leaning toward voting for John McCain. Most cited concerns over Barack Obama’s lack of experience and their fear over what an Obama presidency might entail.
“I’ve been a registered conservative,” said John Braut, 70, filling out a betting ticket. “The last time I voted for a Democrat was for John F. Kennedy.”
Braut said McCain’s political experience solidified his support. “He’s been around a long time, you can tell,” he said. “Obama’s a young guy.”
The group’s political leanings aren’t surprising. Unlike most Queens neighborhoods, Maspeth has a longstanding Republican presence. Today, the neighborhood is represented by Republicans Serphin Maltese in the state Senate and Anthony Como in the City Council.
Retired restaurateur John Patrick Lynch, 71, worried that Obama would be too liberal.
“Democrats are socialists,” Lynch said. An avid horse gambler and sports fan, Lynch usually avoids discussing politics, he said. But he felt compelled to defend McCain’s age.
“He’s only half a year older than me,” Lynch said, making notes on the races in his newspaper.
Patron Vincent DeChirico, 79, seemed more worried about the economy rather than McCain’s age or Obama’s youth.
The new president’s first priority should be to “create more jobs,” he said. A veteran of the Korean War, DeChirico admired McCain’s military experience, but because he’s always voted for Democrats, he wasn’t sure which way he would vote.
McCain “served his country, he’s entitled to be president,” DeChirico said. But he added that Obama has had admirable experience as a legislator.
In the Off-Track Betting parlor, DeChirico was in the minority; most of the patrons appeared to be cut from the same Republican-leaning cloth. But some defied stereotype. Retired firefighter George Coaken, 80, for example, wearing a National Rifle Association hat, described his presidential pick as an easy one.
“I made my choice a long time ago,” Coaken said. “His name begins with an O.”
A veteran who served at the end of World War II, Coaken once admired McCain’s policies. Not any more.
“Four years ago, John McCain was very good against Bush,” Coaken said. “Then he joined him. He capitulated to George Bush.” As a result, Coaken, who has been betting on horses for 20 years, predicted an election defeat for McCain.
Was anyone willing to put money on his hunch?
“I only bet on horses,” Braut said.