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Behind the Glitz, the Hamptons’ Working Class Residents Are Losing Jobs and Loving Trump

The Republican frontrunner's message on immigration and making the economy great again is really resonating among many locals in New York's elite vacation spot.

by Olivia Becker
Apr 18 2016, 4:00pm

Imagen por Mary Altaffer/Associated Press.

When most people think of the Hamptons, the first image that comes to mind is the ultra-wealthy summer destination where Jay-Z and the rest of New York's elite spend their summers drinking rosé and living on yachts. That's only one side. The second Hamptons is made up of the blue-collar community that lives here year-round and is largely invisible during the months between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Donald Trump, who has made his flashy wealth a cornerstone of his presidential campaign, appears to be a creature of the first Hamptons. But it's among the second where he has found widespread popularity.

While there is tremendous wealth concentrated among the summer population, said Rich Gherardi, who works as a contractor and lives in East Hampton, "the locals suffer out here."

"It's all about jobs," Gherardi said. "The last eight years have been so difficult."

Like many other locals supporting Trump, Gherardi is planning on voting for the real estate developer in New York's primary on Tuesday because of the Republican frontrunner's promises to fix the economy and halt immigration.

That was also echoed by John J. LaValle, the current chair of the Republican Party in Suffolk County, which encompasses the towns on the eastern tip of Long Island that make up the Hamptons. LaValle recently endorsed Trump, as did the GOP chair of neighboring Nassau County, Joe Mondello, throwing considerable weight behind the frontrunner from the local political machine.

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"Manufacturing jobs have completely disappeared from Long Island," LaValle said explaining Trump's popularity among his constituents. "We're hurting, everyone here's hurting and people are upset."

That frustration is what has drawn many voters to Trump, who is after all, reflecting that emotion better than anyone else in the 2016 presidential race. Amos Goodman, a member of the East Hampton Republican Committee who ran for the county legislature last year, is not a Trump supporter himself but acknowledged that "Trump has been pretty masterful at exploiting that anger that many people here feel."

Much of this anger has been directed toward Latino immigrants in the Hamptons and throughout Long Island. Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric — vowing to build a wall on the Mexico-US border, calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals — has resonated with many voters here for cultural, as well as economic, reasons.

Some towns in Suffolk County have gone from being nearly all-white just two decades ago to now being one-quarter Hispanic, which has provoked a backlash against Latino immigrants, according to an investigation by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization. Since 2000, the Hispanic population of the East Hampton public school district has tripled and now makes up nearly half of the student body, according to the 2014-2015 New York State report card.

These demographic shifts in the Hamptons, combined with the stagnation of the year-round economy, are key to understanding why Trump has found a foothold here. The dominant industries are construction, landscaping and domestic labor, all depending on the summer tourist season around which the area's economy revolves. Those jobs have become increasingly scarce for the locals who have long relied on them, as an influx of Latino immigrants — the fastest-growing population in Suffolk County — has come to eastern Long Island in search of work.

But the economic stagnation that many locals complain of is obscured to outsiders driving through town.Luxury retailers like Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers and a Jaguar dealership dot the manicured streets of downtown Southampton, although most of the businesses don't open until June and then close up again in September. Forbes recently ranked Sagaponack, a village within Southampton where Billy Joel recently sold his $20 million mansion, as the second-most expensive zip code in the country.

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The Hamptons may be synonymous with exorbitant luxury, but the community is also home to one of the greatest displays of wealth disparity in the country. That wealth is simultaneously on conspicuous display and inaccessible to the vast majority of the population who live here year-round. The manicured lawns and multi-million dollar mansions — most of which are only occupied for a few weekends a year in the summer — serve as a constant reminder to many locals of the growing divide between the country's haves and have-nots.

"There are those Manhattan finance plutocrats who come out in the summer and then there's those struggling to get by," the East Hampton Republican Committee's Goodman said.

Five minutes down the road from the Jaguar dealership in Southampton is the Human Resources Center of the Hamptons, a charity that provides clothing, food, and other services to 600 local households a month. Hilton Crosby, the center's executive director, said demand for services exist all year but it peaks in the winter months, when the wealthy vacationers go away, leaving less work for locals.

About 40 percent of East Hampton students are economically disadvantaged, meaning that they or their families participate in some type of public economic assistance program such as food stamps or free lunches.

Trump, of course, is the embodiment of the Manhattan plutocracy that Goodman described and for which the Hamptons have become known. But that doesn't seem to bother his supporters, many of whom see his wealth as proof that he can bring the same to their own community.

Trump "may be a billionaire [but] he's going to fight to bring jobs back to the average men and women in our country," LaValle, the county GOP chair, said.

George Overbeck, who lives in Westhampton and works as a contractor, is supporting Trump for the same reasons. He said he is struggling to support his family because cheap immigrant labor has driven down wages while the local cost of living continues to go up.

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"Every time I go to a job, the job is being performed by illegals from 7-Eleven," Overbeck commented, referring to the day laborers who gather outside of the convenience store in Southampton every day looking for work.

Many locals complain of the overcrowding from the stream of laborers that come in the summertime when there are more job opportunities. Indeed, one of the signs that summer has arrived in the Hamptons, locals say, is the so-called "trade parade" of day laborers in construction and landscaping trucks that leave town every afternoon and return in the mornings during the summer months.

The lack of job opportunities that allow one to live full-time in the Hamptons and support a family is causing many of the young people who grew up here to leave. Gherardi said most of his son's friends left after they graduated high school or college. "[They] never came back because there was no chance of them getting a job," he said.

This anger that is driving many locals to supporting Trump in 2016 isn't new to this area. The Southern Poverty Law Center investigated hate crimes against Latinos immigrants in Suffolk County in 2009 and found that they "are routinely the target of violent attacks, harassment and abuse driven by a virulent anti-immigrant climate that has been fostered by community leaders and law enforcement practices."

Local leaders have taken steps to integrate the growing Latino immigrant community, yet some say that those efforts have yet to reach the secluded world of the Hamptons.

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Isabel Sepulveda immigrated from Chile and has lived in the Hamptons since 1991. She co-founded the Organización Latino Americana of Eastern Long Island in 2002 as an advocacy organization for the local Latino community and culture, yet said frustratingly little progress has been made since.

Sepulveda blames inaction by local political institutions for the continued isolation of the immigrant community in the Hamptons. One Southampton public school hired a Spanish translator who was a native Portuguese speaker and spoke little Spanish, Sepulveda said.

"The school board should be a mirror of their community but I cannot name one school district that has a Latino representative," she said.

Last Thursday, Trump held a controversial campaign event in the Suffolk County town of Patchogue, just 20 miles from Westhampton, stoking tension among local immigrants and activists. The venue for Trump's event was less than four blocks from the site of the 2008 murder of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant, who was stabbed to death by a roving anti-immigrant gang of local teenagers. Lucero's killing was a defining moment in Long Island's struggle with racial issues, and local Latino civil rights groups urged Trump not to hold his event at such a sensitive location.

LaValle, the county Republican party chairman, said that he invited Trump to Patchogue, and brushed off the protesters' concerns about the event. They were "politicizing the tragedy" of Lucero's killing and "should be ashamed of what they're doing," LaValle said. He added that the Suffolk GOP had invited all of the Republican presidential candidates to the event, which was planned months ago, and only Trump accepted.

But to others, Trump visit to Patchogue was a slap in the face. Luis Valenzuela, the director of the Long Island Immigrant Alliance and one of several community leaders who organized demonstrations outside of the event, said he was stunned when he first found out Trump was coming to Patchogue.

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"This can't be. This just can't be," Valenzuela said. "When you invite someone who's spewing that type of xenophobia, racism and misogyny to a community that's still healing from a brutal slaughter of one of their residents, how can you feel anything but sad?"

In the Hamptons and throughout the country, Trump is resonating with people who are angry at an economy and system that no longer works for them. And that feeling is even more palpable among New Yorkers — from the working-class neighborhoods of Staten Island to rural upstate towns to the year-round residents of the Hamptons — and that is why he is heavily favored to win big in the state's primary on Tuesday. Trump currently leads his rivals, Ohio Governor John Kasich and Senator Ted Cruz, by nearly 30 points statewide.

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @oliviaLbecker