The View From Jersey City, N.J. Jersey City is home to a large immigrant community. Steve Inskeep talks to voters, political scientist Marion Orr of Brown University and NPR's Domenico Montanaro about the voting power of immigrants.

The View From Jersey City, N.J.

The View From Jersey City, N.J.

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Jersey City is home to a large immigrant community. Steve Inskeep talks to voters, political scientist Marion Orr of Brown University and NPR's Domenico Montanaro about the voting power of immigrants.


And I'm Steve Inskeep in Providence, R.I. We're at the Fleet Library at the Rhode Island School of Design. Is somebody from the library here? Would you give her a round of applause because she has not once...


INSKEEP: ...Not once made us say - please be quiet - has not once said shh in the library. We're getting the view from the Northeast. We stopped to meet voters in Jersey City, N.J, which is on New York Harbor, across the water from the Manhattan skyline, a view of the Statue of Liberty. Now, on the streets of that city, we met a real estate developer named Paul Silverman who went into business 35 years ago with his brother.

PAUL SILVERMAN: So I put up the money. He did the effort. We became partners and then started gentrifying Jersey City. And it is an amazing transformation from, you know, streets with no trees, no people, drug deals going on, crime, to this kind of scene, you know, with outdoor dining and street trees. And, you know, I got to get a hat...

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah. Sure. Please go ahead.

SILVERMAN: Excuse me one second. It's just too much sun out.

INSKEEP: We walked the streets in the sunshine, past new condo buildings and skyscrapers. You guys know this story in Providence, don't you? And people in many cities across the country know this; an old city, stone and brick buildings like this amazing library, restored and re-used, new buildings go up beside them. But there's more to this story. We heard that from Raj Mukherji. He's an entrepreneur, a former Marine reservist and a state assemblyman from Jersey City, all at the age of 31. And he's Indian-American, one of many residents of that city with immigrant parents.

RAJ MUKHERJI: In Jersey City, when you look at my skyline, which represents Wall Street West and the banks and the companies that have relocated to our city, well, that's only one part of the story. Urban poverty and socio-economic challenges, challenges with urban education, the disparity in outcomes between most of our public schools and wealthier suburban counterparts - we have those challenges.

INSKEEP: You know, Americans like to say we're a nation of immigrants, but of course that is not the same everywhere. This city near Ellis Island is a city of recent immigrants and their kids, East Asians, South Asians, Middle Easterners, Latinos. Some are prosperous, some not. There's a long-standing black population. So this city is majority minority, includes thousands of Muslims, too. This is the place where Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump once claimed without evidence to have seen Muslims celebrating after 9/11. Our political editor, Domenico Montanaro was here very briefly. What's the political effect of remarks like that, Domenico?

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Well, comments and exaggerations like that are just not helpful to the Republican Party. You know, they understand that demography has changed in the country. This is likely to be the lowest share of the white vote in history in 2016. And Republican leaders have understood this, especially after losing twice to President Obama, who was the first person to win 51 percent of the vote since Eisenhower in 1956. So Republicans have really tried to change the narrative. But then they elected Donald Trump, and he's very much struggled with non-white voters.

INSKEEP: And he is on the way to the nomination at the Republican convention in a few weeks. Let's hear from another Jersey City resident. Jessica Abdelnabbi Berrocal is a woman who is Latino and converted to Islam.

How did your mom handle your conversion?

JESSICA ABDELNABBI BERROCAL: Hard. My mom didn't understand quite really 'cause her background is Sephardic Jew.

INSKEEP: She's a Sephardic Jew...

BERROCAL: But non-practicing...

INSKEEP: ...A Hispanic, non-practicing, Sephardic Jew. OK, all right. This is great. This is fantastic.

BERROCAL: (Laughter) Yeah. You could - for me - I am...

INSKEEP: This is an American story.

BERROCAL: This is - yeah, this is what it is. I am what you see in America right now.

INSKEEP: This convert to Islam has been registering new voters on the streets for two years, and she read Trump's remark about Muslims celebrating.

BERROCAL: When I read that, I was like, what?

INSKEEP: And she says she's more motivated than ever to register voters for Hillary Clinton. Marion Orr is now going to join our conversation. He's from Brown University here in Providence, the Department of Political Science. I'd like to know, are minority groups growing more politically organized over time?

MARION ORR: There's no question about it. Here in Rhode Island, for example, the Latino population is organized. And we sensed it late '80s, early '90s and have been able to organize and elect Latino public officials.

INSKEEP: OK, now you mentioned the Latino population - the Muslim population, not so large. The Latino vote - very, very large. People used to say it's not monolithic. Latinos vote different ways, different backgrounds. Is that still true?

ORR: Well, increasingly, you see Latinos moving toward the Democratic Party. Even Cuban-Americans, younger Cubans are increasingly voting Democrat...

INSKEEP: Oh, Cubans had been a Republican constituency?

ORR: Excactly, yes.

INSKEEP: And in this situation, they're becoming more - it's becoming more like the black vote, you're saying, that it's going almost entirely one way.

ORR: In Rhode Island in particular, they're trending toward the Democratic Party. There's no question about that. Most of our Latino public officials here in the state and in the city are in fact Democrats.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about another sliver if we can, say, that of the minority vote. We went to the Jersey City waterfront to Liberty State Park with its view of the Manhattan skyline. And we found Cornel Rutledge (ph) on a bench with Frieda Jones (ph). They're African-American, and she looked dismayed as he started talking of his political preference.

CORNEL RUTLEDGE: Believe it or not - she's not going to believe this - Donald Trump. But more specifically...

INSKEEP: She's covering her eyes.

RUTLEDGE: More specifically because early on I was like, we need someone like Trump because he's pulling people on the carpet. But since the early process of the primaries and now - he needs to get a bit more serious.

INSKEEP: Just to be clear, Cornel Rutledge does not think Trump is a racist, as some people have said. He just thinks Trump has become like any politician willing to say anything. Now, Domenico Montanaro, could Republicans do better with minority voters if they talked differently?

MONTANARO: Well, that was one of the conclusions of the Republican, quote, unquote, "autopsy" after President Obama's election. It's funny, just a few years ago during "The Apprentice" years, Trump was actually viewed pretty positively with black voters - not so much anymore.

INSKEEP: "The Apprentice" years - they were watching "The Apprentice." Is that what you're saying?

MONTANARO: Well, they were one of the strong constituencies that would watch "The Apprentice" and actually had very positive ratings of Trump back in 2011 when we polled on it.

INSKEEP: And I know Marion Orr was a fan of that program. We're hearing the view from the Northeast throughout this morning, and let's hear once again from our percussionist who's on hand, Pedrito Martinez.

PEDRITO MARTINEZ: (Playing drums).

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