The lobby at 152 Stuyvesant Place doesn’t look like a beachhead for John McCain’s assault on the nation’s political Establishment. There’s no bunting, no placards – nothing, really, to distinguish the two-story office building from the other businesses near Staten Island Borough Hall – just an entry on the building directory: mccain campaign hq. That’s right: John McCain’s entire New York state campaign is run from a two-room office a few steps from the St. George ferry terminal.
The second-floor war room is a hive of activity – or as much of one as eight people working three semi-functional phone lines and a couple of PCs can be. “Things are going through the roof!” says operations director Mario Bruno, dressed in a flannel shirt and jeans. “Bell Atlantic is installing extra lines right now so we can make outgoing calls.” Outside phone lines that work would be nice, considering that McCain has drawn within striking range of George W. Bush in the polls and his Website has been raking in $30,000 an hour – none of which is being used to hire more seasoned help. Only one of the New York office’s six full-time employees, Gerry O’Brien, is a professional political consultant. Political director Sean O’Sullivan is a student at Brooklyn Law. And Bruno is on leave from an engineering firm. The crew does have connections, though, to McCain’s state-campaign chairman, Borough President Guy Molinari. “Molinari wasn’t too happy with Pataki’s people,” says Bob Helenius, who, like his colleagues, has worked on races for Molinari protégés. “So he reached lower and got us.”
Down the hall, workmen are feverishly installing phone banks in a vacant office. “The veterans are going crazy for McCain,” says Bruno. “We gotta give them something to do.” The local branch of the Harley-riding ‘Nam Knights of America has already been going door-to-door on behalf of the senator. But its members won’t be giving him an escort anytime soon: The Straight Talk Express has yet to schedule a pit stop on Staten Island.
McCain’s operation is undeniably tiny – he only got on the ballot two weeks ago, for crying out loud! – but at least he’s trying. Bush, who thought he’d be running unopposed on March 7, didn’t even bother with a New York State office. “Believe it or not,” says state GOP spokesman Dan Allen, trying to put a positive spin on the front-runner’s lack of real estate, “Bush’s campaign has been very grassroots-oriented.” If W decides he needs a state HQ, there’s still some cheap office space on Stuyvesant Place.