Tea Party catching on in NYC
New York - Much of America sees New York City as the epicenter of bleeding heart liberaldom, a tolerant, immigrant-friendly, tax-and-spend kind of place.
What America doesn't know is that one in five New Yorkers supports the Tea Party - the right-leaning, close-the-borders, anti-government movement of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck.
Here in this city of labor rights, gay pride and lefty havens, Tea Partyers lead double lives as foot soldiers in a quiet war to reverse the direction of America.
A statewide Marist Poll of 686 New Yorkers commissioned last month by the Daily News highlighted the phenomenon: One in four registered voters statewide considers himself a Tea Party supporter. That translates to 21% in the city, and 25% in Long Island and Westchester County - enough to make politicians tremble.
That's just what pols are doing. At a recent Tea Party-sponsored candidate's forum on Staten Island, they sounded like colonial revolutionaries decrying King George III.
"Get the troops out of Korea - and send them to the border of Mexico!" roared ex-CIA officer Gary Berntsen, the GOP hope to topple U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer.
"Citizens and patriots!" shouted former Rep. Rick Lazio, the Republican Party's nominee for governor. "We have a government that overtaxes, overspends, overreaches and overregulates - and we want them out of our lives!"
The News spoke to 65 city Tea Partyers, a ragtag group of conservatives, libertarians and constitutionalists across the boroughs - in GOP-friendly Bay Ridge, middle-of-the-road Forest Hills and lefty Chelsea.
One of the local movement's leaders is radio talk show host David Webb, a charismatic, African-American GOPer who co-founded the Manhattan party.
"You can't run for dogcatcher in New York these days without contacting the Tea Party," he said.
The movement's handiwork - Tax Day rallies, anti-mosque protests, town hall meetings - is hard to miss. Partisans plan freedom runs, street fairs and candidate forums in all five boroughs.
Unlike their rural counterparts, city Tea Partyers don't get worked up over gun laws, hold little love for Palinism and Beckism and were as likely to be pro-choice as anti-abortion.
NYC Tea Partyers heartily embrace free-market fiscal conservatism and take an unforgiving stance on immigration, big government and steep taxes.
They back Arizona's anti-immigration law and denounce south-of-the-border "intruders" - yet their favorite haunt appears to be Tio Pepe, a Mexican restaurant in the Village.
"Immigration should be more exclusive and selective, open borders should be closed and laws must be enforced," said Aleksander Danilov, 23, a sales executive who emigrated - legally - from Azerbaijan.
Added Michael Cericola, 57, an MTA bus driver, "Illegals get everything free - schools, health care, hospitals - while taxpayers pay for everything."
Adele Connors, 49, of Flatbush, a clerk for a federal agency, has a unique view about her employer: "You want to solve half the nation's problems? Fire half the government."
It's a common theme. Frustrated with taxes the feds extract and the rules they impose, Dr. Adley Raboy, 52, a Staten Island urologist and Little League coach, demands, "When is enough enough for this government?
"They're taking the food from my family and my patients to pay for health care and the bailouts."
That kind of inflammatory language is often heard at Tea Party events, like the May 24 gathering of 100 volunteers at Tio Pepe, where activists buzzed about halting a planned mosque near Ground Zero.
"The odds say that place is going to be a house of evil where plans to kill Americans will be hatched," said Andy Sullivan, 44, a union hardhat who did interior work on the new Goldman Sachs tower on West St.
Frank Santarpia, 48, a real estate investor and co-organizer of the Staten Island Tea Party, says his grass-roots group charges no dues, keeps no headquarters and maintains no membership rolls.
"We're the silent majority," he said.