Voices from the Rust Belt

By Jeremy Moorhead and MJ Lee, CNN

Updated 6:37 PM ET, Sun April 24, 2016
Voices from the Rust BeltVoices from the Rust Belt
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Dolores, 85, and Richard Peters, 84, have been married since 1954 and have lived in Tonawanda, New York, just north of Buffalo, for more than 60 years. One recent afternoon over lunch at Ted's Hot Dogs, the Peterses said they've seen the population in their community change over the years, with younger people moving away in search of better jobs. Both voted for President Barack Obama twice. Neither of them planned to vote in the New York primary this year, and they haven't made up their minds about the general election. Dolores Peters says that she likes John Kasich because he seems "down-to-earth" and "honest as the day is long" and that she would have a tough time choosing between Kasich and Hillary Clinton. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, is someone she would love to have as a neighbor, but she is not sold on the Vermont senator as a presidential candidate: "His solutions are way out there. Just too far out." Jeremy Moorhead
Dan Ivancic, 32, was born and raised in Tonawanda. He has been working at a lumber company on the city's waterfront for nine years and is hopeful that with investments in revitalizing areas like the waterfront, younger people in his generation will be drawn back to the city. Ivancic voted for Obama in the 2008 general election and sat out four years later because he was unhappy with the president and the rest of the field.This year, he voted for Donald Trump and considers himself more a Republican than a Democrat. His No. 1 issue is the economy. "I can respect what he's built and what he's achieved. He's a businessman, and if you run our country like a business, it should run successfully," Ivancic says of Trump. "Trump speaks the truth. He's not afraid of offending people, and he says what he's going to say, and that's that. I can respect that." Jeremy Moorhead
Most days, you can find Tim Wiles sitting in the corner of the Swannie House, a bar in Buffalo that he has owned for more than 30 years. Born and raised in the city, the 60-year-old said everyone fled after the big steel mills in the area closed. "Anybody that graduated from college, the only thing they could do was get out," he said. The city had gone through such hard times, he says, that when the 2008 financial crisis hit, some in his community hardly felt it: "We didn't suffer because we'd been suffering for so long." Wiles thinks Trump is the most qualified presidential candidate, and he is furious about efforts within the Republican Party to stop the GOP front-runner from getting the nomination. "If the Republicans don't lay off this man, I will never vote Republican," he said. Jeremy Moorhead
Greg Carter, 57, was born and raised in Buffalo and works in construction at the University of Buffalo's new medical school. He said he is raising an 18-month-old daughter on his own, and when asked about his top issue during this election, he said, "Our kids are our future. It's about the kids."Carter voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 -- "He's done a whole lot for the people," he says -- and is supporting Clinton this time. "She knows what she's doing because her husband was president," he said of the Democratic front-runner. Carter fears the possibility of Trump becoming the country's next leader: "Trump, man. If he wins, we're done. He's a joke." Jeremy Moorhead
Ahead of Easter weekend, the Broadway Market in East Buffalo is bustling. There are vendors selling all kinds of treats: freshly popped flavored popcorn, Italian pastries, Polish pierogis and colorful Easter eggs. This is where CNN found Tony Krupski, a 73-year-old retired Polish-American, playing the accordion one Tuesday morning. He used to be in a polka band with his siblings and now plays in his free time in places like the market and senior homes. Krupski's biggest concern this election is terrorism, and he is supporting Trump. "It seems like Donald Trump has a better idea of trying to tighten things up so this ISIS thing doesn't hurt people," he said. After supporting Obama in 2008 and 2012, he voted for Sanders in the New York primary last week because he didn't want to change his party registration to Republican and doesn't want Clinton to become the Democratic nominee. Jeremy Moorhead
Mabel Neail, 63, has six children, 25 grandchildren and a handful of great-grandchildren. She was born in Youngstown and has lived there her whole life. In the 1980s, she worked at a towel supply company, but she says she hasn't worked since. She says she receives about $700 each month in Supplemental Security Income, $450 of which goes to rent for her home in the south side of Youngstown. Neail voted for Obama and is undecided this year. She says Clinton is a "nice lady and everything," but it's Sanders who she's drawn to on the Democratic side -- even if she can't quite remember his name: "What's his name -- Barney?" Neail likes Sanders' promise of free college because not all of her children were able to go to school. "I like that about him," she said. "A whole lot of people don't go to college maybe because they maybe can't afford it." Jeremy Moorhead
As mayor of Youngstown, John McNally has seen a number of the 2016 presidential candidates come through his city. But McNally, a Democrat who has not endorsed anyone in the election, says he hasn't yet heard a single candidate discuss what he believes is one of the most pressing issues facing his constituents: deteriorating infrastructure in Mahoning County. McNally says there seems to be a lot of interest in Trump -- particularly his message about national security. "But in the end, I'm not sure those are the issues I want to hear about as mayor," he said. "I want to hear what they all have to say about how they're going to help communities like Youngstown on infrastructure." Jeremy Moorhead
When Darlene Hood thinks about her life, she remembers these years: 1965 was the year her father died; 1978 was the year her mother died; 1985 was the year her oldest brother was killed. Hood was born in Youngstown in 1954, and her family left the city after the mils closed. But Hood decided to come back to a city that haunts her in the 1990s, and to this day, she can't explain why. "This is my home," she said. "You know how you can love and hate something at the same time?"Hood works at a group home in the north side of Youngstown, where she takes care of men with mental disabilities. Her dream is to run a group home of her own, where she can take her clients out to the amusement park and nearby cities like Cleveland or Pittsburgh. Hood hasn't decided whom she will vote for this year. She is excited about the idea of Clinton becoming the first female president, but she doesn't think anyone in the field can help her or her community. "It don't really matter to me, because ain't nobody gonna help me no way," she said. Jeremy Moorhead
Last month, Trump lost the Ohio Republican primary to the state's governor, Kasich. But the GOP front-runner proved to be strong in the counties along the state's eastern border, including Columbiana County, where he beat Kasich by 9 points. That's where Gary, 58, and Chris Gray, 53, live, just south of Youngstown. They have Trump signs in their front yard (and an extra one in their dining room "in case one of their friends needs one") and a bumper sticker on their Ford pickup. Both Grays have voted for Democrats and Republicans in the past. This year, they are inspired by Trump's promise of change. "He does say some things that are off the wall a little bit, but he's talking to the average person," Gary Gray said. "He's talking to people who haven't finished school." If Trump goes into the Republican convention this summer with the most delegates but doesn't come out of it as the GOP nominee, the Grays believe there will be riots: "It's going to be the people against the government." Jeremy Moorhead
Carolyn and Leroy Halverstadt are in their late 60s and live in East Palestine, south of Youngstown. The retired couple didn't vote in the Ohio primary, and they're still undecided on who to support in the general election. Carolyn Halverstadt is leaning toward Trump. "He's very forceful, but I really think that he would push to get things done," she said over breakfast at the popular Dutch Haus restaurant in Columbiana. Leroy Halverstadt says Trump "might be all right" as president, but he will probably end up supporting Clinton. But he has his reservations. "Even though she lied and all that stuff, I think she knows more than (Trump) does right now," he said. Jeremy Moorhead
Originally from New Orleans, Steven Alexander has lived in Erie since the 1990s. His wife died many years ago, and he says that raising his three children on his own can be a challenge, especially when steady jobs seem so hard to come by. In his neighborhood sits the GE Transportation plant that recently announced 1,500 layoffs. "You have to get out of Erie to get a good job," he said. "I can't seem to find a decent-paying job for myself." Alexander is an undecided voter and is considering backing Clinton. "Her husband was president, and he did a pretty good job," he said. But then he added, "Why would you lie when you were secretary of state?" Even as he constantly worries about making ends meet, Alexander's top concern this election is national security: "You don't know if ISIS is over here. You don't know who's over here."
Terri Eddy, 45, can't wait to get out of Erie. A widow who works at a Fuel-n-Food at a Shell gas station on Greengarden Boulevard, Eddy says her community has deteriorated before her eyes. "Back in the day, you could leave your doors unlocked and have your car doors unlocked. Now, you gotta make sure everything locked," she said. She saved enough money to buy a car recently, and she is waiting for the right opportunity to move away from Erie. Eddy says she may have voted once in her entire life and doesn't plan to vote this year, either. "When they get in, they don't do what they're supposed to," she said of elected officials. She is disappointed with Obama. Eddy says she thought the first African-American president would help the poor. "But after he got in, I think he did a horrible job," she said. Jeremy Moorhead
Cindi Orlando, 50, has loved raising her family in Erie. "You have everything here. If you want to go to Pittsburgh, go to Pittsburgh. Cleveland. You've got the lake, no natural disasters. All you've got is snow," she said. Her grandfather was the head of a steelworker's union, so while she has a lot of pride in Erie, Orlando has also had a front-row seat to the effects of the decline of manufacturing in the area. She says the violence seems to have gotten worse, and she worries about the hundreds of people who will be laid off from GE. "Where those people are going to go, I don't know." Jeremy Moorhead
Liberty Iron and Metal Co. is a giant recycling plant in Erie where all kinds of metal parts are brought in to be sorted, compressed and sent out to meld shops. Barry Rider, 65, who oversees the facility, says the past year or so has been difficult for his industry, and the city is hardly the "booming" place that it used to be. "It's surviving," he said. "The city itself needs to clean itself up."Rider has voted for both Democrats and Republicans, and his top priority this year is jobs. He declined to say who he is likely to vote for this year but did have this to say about Trump: "He doesn't scare me. A lot of people are scared of him: 'Oh, he's crazy. He'll do this and that.' He won't be able to do half the things he wants to do if he's elected." Jeremy Moorhead
Beth Zimmer wishes everyone would stop referring to Erie as the Rust Belt. "Rust happens from corrosion. The corrosion piece is in the past. Now we are emerging to be the Maker Belt," she said. The 51-year-old Erie native started a nonprofit group to help entrepreneurs and startups.Zimmer is an undecided independent voter and says she is worried about Trump's political rise: "I don't understand the fact that there are so many citizens out there that are supporting something that is seemingly so dangerous for our country." She says that she isn't seeing enough serious conversations in the 2016 election about things like the economy and job creation, and that for the time being, "I'm waiting for the circus to quiet down." Jeremy Moorhead
Sean Candela, 62, has lived in Erie his whole life and owns two restaurants near the entrance of Presque Isle State Park. Its beach was recently voted the No. 1 freshwater beach in the country, and the park is considered one of Erie's gems, drawing a flood of tourists in the summer to businesses like Candela's. He named his restaurants after his mother, Sara. "When I get tired, you think, well, you don't want anybody saying anything bad about your mother. So it gives you a little bit of extra energy," he said. Candela has not decided which presidential candidate he'll vote for this year, though as a business owner, one of his top priorities is to be able to do his job "with as little interference as possible." He says he understands both Trump's and Sanders' appeal. But, he added, "There's appeal, and there's reality. Can anybody in the system get a lot accomplished anymore?" Jeremy Moorhead