Waiting for Romney, bearing hula hoops and fake champagne

waiting-romney-bearing-hula-hoops-and-fake-champagne
Protestors at the Waldorf. (Dan Rosenblum)
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This morning, protestors surrounded likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s fund-raiser at the Waldorf-Astoria. At its height, the crowd wrapping around the block-long hotel and chanting about the candidate’s record on job creation got up to approximately 200 people.

Inside the hotel, donors who had paid a suggested $2,500 were meeting with Romney, who was fresh off losing two primaries to Rick Santorum. Outside, a coalition of Occupy and union protestors threaded around the building, weaving through bemused tourists, tour-bus promoters and a large mass of police.

The meeting was generally peaceful as police directed the demonstrators and the protesters kept moving.

Among the chanters, Margaret Passley, a member of labor-affiliated United NY, was one of the loudest in the crowd.

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Passley, 48, said in 1996 she underpaid New York State 75 cents in taxes and then needed to buy a 99-cent money order to pay the bill. She asked why the government singled her out but let Romney exploit loopholes: “For three months, they keep bothering me. They don’t go after Mitt Romney. Why?”

She said she was angry her tax rate as a home-care worker was 26 percent while Romney’s was effectively only half that.

“It’s time for Mitt Romney to pay his fair share of taxes, just like myself,” she said. “If I have to pay, he’s got to pay.”

Other protestors went with a less serious angle.

A group of mock millionaires dressed in expensive-looking clothes and pretended to support Romney while drinking white grape juice disguised as champagne. They chanted that they were the one percent while dramatically laughing at words like “unions” and “workers rights.” 

One of them said it would highlight the influence of money in politics.

“I think it’ll work," said Stuart Leonard. "In New York, especially, some satire will work."

Leonard, 52, a comparative lit professor from Union County, New Jersey, said he couldn’t pin down what the candidate stood for.

“I think at heart he’s a Rockefeller Republican, I do,” he said. “I think he’d like to just run things that way, but he’ll say whatever he needs to say to get elected.”

Reporters interviewed protesters. (On his way in, New York Jets owner Woody Johnson told NBC he tries to “win ‘em all,” in relation to Santorum’s wins the day before.)

A television crew from “Inside Edition” interviewed Reverend Billy, the leader of a satirical church against consumerism.

Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan, a fixture at many of the Occupy protests, held a parallel rally supporting the DREAM Act, which would grant residency to some undocumented immigrants. Rodriguez was offended that Romney would only offer legal status to immigrants if they joined the military.

“Romney is a candidate that doesn’t have an agenda that’s connected to the average American, especially to the immigrant,” he said to Capital afterward.

Asked to compare the potential nominee with the rest of the Republican field, Rodriguez said Romney was closer than the others to former president George W. Bush.

“Romney is a candidate of the oil industry," he said. "They believe that with the money that Cheney and Bush family brought to the table to buy that election, when George Bush stole the election from Gore, they will repeat similar things in this coming election.”

A plain-clothes police officer spoke with some of the organizers before they marched. He asked about the hula hoops some protestors were carrying (for a planned hula hoop demonstration), and said, “I’m the hula hoop champion of the world.”

“He’ll show you up,” a uniformed officer said.

A female protester did a mock hula dance.

Romney’s wasn’t the only event held at the Waldorf. A four-day conference of chemical and pharmaceutical companies was also going on inside, with George W. Bush set to appear tomorrow night as the keynote speaker.