Magazine article The New Yorker

THE CANDIDATE; ON THE HUSTINGS Series: 2/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

THE CANDIDATE; ON THE HUSTINGS Series: 2/5

Article excerpt

One recent morning in Brooklyn, Frank Barbaro--seventy-six, a onetime longshoreman, a retired State Supreme Court judge, and a former state assemblyman--put on a blue suit, a blue shirt, and a red patterned tie, drove to Staten Island, then stood on the steps of Borough Hall, facing the ferry terminal and the skyline of Manhattan, which was so obscured by haze that the buildings looked like columns on a graph, and announced that he was running for Congress, the thirteenth district, which includes Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge, and Staten Island. The seat belongs to Vito Fossella, a conservative Republican. "It's time to veto Vito," Barbaro said. About twenty-five people stood around him, holding up red-white-and-blue signs that read "Frank Barbaro for Congress." The audience consisted of a photographer, a reporter from the Staten Island Advance, and a woman in a tie-dyed shirt and jeans who stood on the sidewalk, beside a tree that had cassette tape wrapped around its trunk like ribbon.

Barbaro's decision to appear on the Borough Hall steps was debated nearly up until the moment of the announcement. Borough Hall, a brick-and-limestone building, is in disrepair. Scaffolding covers its entrance. A window on an upper floor has a board over it. There was some concern about the impression that a dilapidated building might make as a background for photographs. In addition, a man with a pressurized water gun was at work on the building's facade. The water gun's compressor made a sound like a lawnmower, which any speaker would have to overcome--there were no microphones. Someone suggested that it would be better for Barbaro to stand on the steps of the courthouse next door, which is a fine-looking building. "It would be more appropriate in light of your background as a judge," the man said. "And because you will be able to affect the laws. Plus, we'd be able to get away from the noise."

"This is the people's house," Barbaro said. "The seat of government. I'll stand here." Barbaro is tall and broad-shouldered. He looks like Henry Kissinger, without the glasses. Someone asked the water gunner to turn off his compressor, but he wouldn't. Eventually, he took a break to smoke a cigarette and to visit his van, which was parked on the sidewalk in front of Borough Hall. …

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