Jim Gilbert wanted to watch a Celtics pre-season game, but at the Banshee on Tuesday night, he was out of luck: Ten television screens were glowing inside the Dorchester Avenue bar as the clock turned past 9 o’clock and most were tuned to a soccer match between the United States and Guatemala, with a few carrying the American League playoff game between the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers.
“Not the Celtics?” Gilbert asked hopefully as one of the bartenders, at the Reporter’s request, changed the channel on one television to the second debate between President Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney.
Like many in Massachusetts and in Dorchester, Gilbert, 42, who works in marketing, said he is leaning toward Obama and that he focuses on social issues and less on the economy, which is in better shape in the Bay State than in the rest of the US. “It’s like the NHL or NFL, it’s rich people arguing about nickels,” he said of the two candidates.
Gilbert was one of several Dorchester residents interviewed at four bars in Dorchester over the course of the 90-minute presidential debate. They offered up varied responses to the debates and to the candidates, with some appearing to agree on one thing only: the type of beer they were drinking that night, Budweiser.
There were thirty or so patrons at the Banshee, many of them supporters of Team USA who appeared to show little interest in a televised debate between two politicians, one of whom will be leading the country for the next four years.
Inside the Harp and Bard, Brian Dooley started in on a plate of fish and chips as five screens and a booming sound system carried the debate. Another two showed a poker game. Obama had promised “change” when he ran in 2008, Dooley said in a thick Irish accent. “It didn’t happen, did it?” he added, indicating he will be voting for Romney. “He’s the only choice we’ve got.” Dooley, 46, pointed to the bank bailout, which supporters say was necessary to pull the financial system out of a tailspin. “He let the people down,” he said. “He didn’t look out for the people.”
The clock inched past ten as Obama and Romney duked it out in a town hall format in Long Island. At the Blarney Stone, the kitchen was closed and on several screens, the Tigers were up over the Yankees by two in the bottom of the sixth. Lee Kindell, a 39-year-old trainer at the Dorchester Boxing Club, was talking about maybe skipping a trip to the voting booth on Nov. 6.
“It’s a bunch of tit for tat,” he told the Reporter as the debate played on eight large screens and the candidates squabbled over trouble in Libya. “When someone has an answer for everything, you have to believe they’ve rehearsed.”
The final stop was the Eire Pub in Adams Village, a bar that is considered a political bellwether for the area. Of the eight television screens that were on, three were tuned to the closing minutes of the debate.
One patron waved the Reporter off, saying, “Talk to Michael.” His fellow patron answered in the third person: “Michael is watching the baseball game.”
On the other side of the bar, John Harrington, a registered Democrat, said he may vote for Romney after voting for Obama in 2008. There is little Obama can do at this point to sway him, he said, while acknowledging that he does not believe Romney can do everything he is promising to voters. “Romney seems to be making a lot more sense than Obama,” said Harrington, who is originally from Ireland and has lived in Dorchester for 19 years. “I think he can do a better job than the guy at the moment.”
Outside of the Eire, Ed Kelly stepped out of his car and headed toward the bar. The head of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts union, Kelly had caught the debate on his way back from Worcester on the International Association of Fire Fighters’ bus, which has been deployed to campaign for Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic candidate for US Senate.
“It’s easy to be turned off as a voter, as a citizen, in this country,” he said. But he laid blame on Republicans for the lack of bipartisanship, noting that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had pledged to make Obama a one-term president and had helped block a stimulus bill that he said would have brought 22,000 jobs to Massachusetts.
Asked to compare Obama’s Tuesday night appearance to the listlessness on display during the first debate, Kelly was upbeat.
“He answered the bell,” he said.
Mike Deehan is a regular contributor to the Reporter. Gintautas Dumcius is the Reporter’s news editor.