Astoria’s Republicans adrift in sea of foreign-born Democrats

ASTORIA, New York City – Deep within the urban jungle here, one can still spot the occasional endangered species: Politicus Republicanus. Arab and South Asian republicans are even more endangered.

Outreach to foreign born citizenry, numbered at almost 48 percent of the populace, is a must for any political candidate seeking election. As a republican, outnumbered by registered democrats almost six to one in the district, Daniel Peterson has an even steeper hill to climb.

“I walk home from the subway every night and I see all sorts of people,” said Peterson, who works in real estate. “What I love about Astoria is that it’s multicultural; Africans, Asians, Greeks, a large percentage of the population is Hispanic. New York is truly a melting pot.”

Recognizing the nature of their district is only half the fight for republicans in this district though. Here they carry the colors of advocating warfare abroad, oftentimes in the home countries of Astoria’s immigrants.

“All republicans do is make war. Look at what George Bush did … imagine what will happen if another republican becomes president,” said a heated Sam Kataia, originally from Egypt.

Kataia’s opinion is Peterson’s drive though. Peterson and other republicans who are part of Astoria’s Frank Kenna Republican Club have been conducting outreach amongst the Hispanics, Arabs and South Asians here.

“Astoria is very mixed, I know that the community’s changed, and I have no problem communicating it [with my constituents]. Let’s do more community outreach, especially to younger voters, between the ages of 30 and 40, to help build the presence in the Republican Party,” said Peterson.

Peterson resigned his position as president of the New York Young Republicans Club in 2010 to become more engaged with his local Astoria community. It’s a trend of engagement he said that is necessary for the district GOP to take advantage of the recent nationwide resurgence of republican support.

“I don’t like Obama, or democrats, because they are all just talk. For example, they promise you a jacket, but they promise it in the future. We need a jacket now,” said Milad Salama, a local businessman.

Salama said he finds Republicans to be more economically capable and decisive. For him and a few other Arab republicans on Steinway, economic decisiveness and freedom seem to be the uniting issue.

“I vote for the people who are for making money, who make business easier, it’s about the businessmen, they are the ones who build the factories and businesses that employ the people,” said Salama. Republicans here seem to be unanimous in their support of the belief that freer business is better for their community than regulation and social programs.

Qualitatively less united are the Arabs who voted democrat in this past midterm. Some quoted bad republican economic policies of the past, while others quoted democrats as being more for the people, and less for big business.

“Democrats are more reasonable, and they represent the lower income people,” said Kataia.

Still, Kataia himself as a businessman continuously votes for democrats despite the stigma they carry of enacting “job killing” policies. Yet it’s not so much the economy that’s at stake here in Steinway, where the average income is about $70,000, more so it’s republican foreign policy that makes Arabs regard the party with dissent.

“As an Arab, Republicans are the people who want to go into the Middle East and kill our people – they’re oil hungry, they would kill anybody for oil,” said Jack Kaddah, a 21-year-old Queens college student.

Despite the reality of escalated military operations in Arab and Muslim countries by the Obama administration in recent years, this warlike posture remains a stigma which local republicans constantly work against here. Making the job even harder still is the relocation of their club just outside of district limits. Regardless of their stigma and geographic disadvantage, Peterson is determined to make change in Astoria through a combination of clarity and compromise.

“But you can’t just be a republican who comes off sounding like a democrat, then the people are just going to vote for a democrat,” said Peterson. “You have to have a clear, distinct message, about how you’re going to represent those particular people,” he said, stressing political footwork as key to success over dems, “when you ignore a neighborhood and community, they’re going to go to the party that does the most outreach.”

Still, a recent visit to the Frank Kenna Republican Club old address on Steinway Street may be indicative of a party largely out of touch. A hookah bar has replaced the old headquarters. Inside instead of community republicans strategizing their next move, you’ll find Arab Democrats, packed as thick as hookah smoke, talking republican opposition politics.