Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump could hardly be farther apart politically. But they’ll spend the decisive night of their polarizing presidential campaign barely a New York minute away from one another.
For the first time in recent memory, both major-party candidates are holding election night parties in midtown Manhattan.
Trump, the Republican New York native who embodies what people variously love, hate and love to hate about the nation’s biggest city, is headed to a power hotel that boasts of having hosted every president for more than half a century. Clinton, the Democratic transplant who won over New Yorkers to start her political rise as their senator, will be at a sprawling convention center with a perhaps symbolic glass ceiling.
Smack in between is Times Square, where election-watching crowds have gathered for decades.
If the faceoff between the would-be first woman president and the billionaire businessman seeking the presidency as his first political job is an only-in-America story, its denouement stands to be an only-in-New York election night.
“It’s grand theater, it’s culturally contradictory and it’s completely par for the course” in a race that’s been an outsized spectacle featuring two New Yorkers, said David Birdsell, the public and international affairs dean at the City University of New York’s Baruch College.
On Thursday, workers were building a stage shaped like the United States, complete with outlying pillars for Alaska and Hawaii, at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, the block-sized venue where Clinton announced last week she’ll gather with supporters.
Its atrium has a glass ceiling, like the metaphorical one Clinton hopes to shatter by becoming the nation’s first female commander in chief. Her campaign website invites the public to sign up for information on tickets to the event.
Trump’s campaign revealed late Tuesday that it had chosen the New York Hilton Midtown, a few blocks from his Trump Tower home, for an invitation-only gathering.
The Hilton claims to have hosted every U.S. president since John F. Kennedy, and its big ballrooms are go-tos for many of the city’s major business, social and political gatherings. Trump used one in July for a news conference introducing Republican Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate.
New York City has been a crucible for political ambition and drama since the nation’s formative years, when it was one of the first capitals.
But this year’s presidential race is the first since 1944 to feature two major-party candidates from New York state. (Clinton lives outside the city, in Chappaqua.) While both are part of the city’s power structure, the campaign has highlighted the discontent of voters far from it and their anger at what they view as disconnected elites holding sway in Washington and on Wall Street.
It’s “ironic that they’re both going to be here election night,” said Aaron Barlow, a CUNY City College of Technology English professor who wrote a 2013 book about the country’s cultural divide. “The two candidates have both argued that they can represent the heart of the country, yet they both retreat at their most important moment to the city that a lot of the country sees as the heart of the enemy.”
The New York Police Department, working with the Secret Service, will deploy thousands of extra officers to secure the candidates’ venues. They’ll include plainclothes and heavily armed counterterrorism officers and uniformed officers assigned to crowd control, with an emphasis on watching for spontaneous protests and closing streets if necessary.
Some New Yorkers are taking their own steps to try to keep an emotional lid on the night.
Event planner Linnea Johansson said she became concerned as the campaign went through its bitter autumn “that people might start getting a little angry with each other.”
So she made sure the Brooklyn watch party she’s planning for a singles-oriented volunteering group will offer alternatives to talking politics, such as a team trivia contest. They’ll also have some opportunities to let off steam, like writing some thoughts on paper that will be tossed like confetti at the end of the night.
The party theme? “Leave Your Vote at the Door.”