Shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue

Election Day in Squirrel Hill: A referendum on Trump 10 days after Pittsburgh’s tragedy

“This is absolutely a referendum on Trump in a community that has been devastated by hatred and bigotry that he has unleashed,” one voter said.

Some voters in Squirrel Hill, Shadyside, Oakland, and East Liberty received these stickers at the polls.

Some voters in Squirrel Hill, Shadyside, Oakland, and East Liberty received these stickers at the polls.

Colin Deppen / The Incline
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Updated 11:36 a.m.

Michelle Lurie cast her ballot inside the fire station on Northumberland Street around 7:30 this morning.

A few hundred feet away sat the still-active crime scene at Tree of Life synagogue where a mass shooting on Oct. 27 left 11 dead — the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history.

“I think what happened there last weekend really was the final push over the edge to get me out to vote,” Lurie told The Incline.

Days earlier, the sidewalk where she stood had been thronged with protesters marching against President Donald Trump’s visit to the synagogue.

Lurie said she sought to send a similar message of protest with her ballot today.

“I think things need to change. It’s really scary, and when it finally happens in your hometown, that changes everything.”

Some Squirrel Hill voters received “I voted” stickers with the “Stronger than Hate” emblem that became widely circulated after the Tree of Life shooting.


Related coverage: 15,000 Pittsburgh voters will get special-edition ‘Stronger Than Hate’ stickers


For voters like Lurie, gun control has long been a motivating factor.

Lurie’s father Brian, who was with her at the polls, said, “It’s been an issue since Sandy Hook.” The issue has also taken on a renewed sense of urgency in the wake of a massacre so close to home.

Additionally, while this midterm was always going to be a referendum on Trump, his administration and policies, for some in Squirrel Hill it is now also a referendum on the president’s handling of a hometown tragedy and what some see as his use of the kind of rhetoric that helped fuel it.

“This is absolutely a referendum on Trump in a community that has been devastated by hatred and bigotry that he has unleashed,” said voter Liz Miller. “We are saying absolutely not, not in our community, not anywhere.”

Miller added: “This idea that there’s a time for mourning and a time for politics — and certainly the politics are deeply personal — but without some kind of sensible gun legislation we are not able to move forward and I can’t turn to my child and say ‘you’re going to be safe today.’”

A makeshift vigil for victims of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting greets voters at the JCC Squirrel Hill polling place on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

A makeshift vigil for victims of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting greets voters at the JCC Squirrel Hill polling place on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

COLIN DEPPEN / THE INCLINE

That’s not to say support for the president and Republicans was running high in Squirrel Hill before last week’s tragedy — it remains a very liberal corner of a very liberal city. But The Incline spoke to nearly two dozen voters across three polling locations this morning, all of whom said the tragedy and Trump’s handling of it only reinforced their support for those candidates favoring tougher gun restrictions and those willing to oppose the president’s agenda.

Angie Sarneso said the president and Republicans did nothing to win her over post-tragedy, adding of their response, “It was the same story with the Parkland shooting. It’s the same old thing.”

Sarneso added: “I’m telling you I voted straight Democrat this time, and I am a registered Democrat, but sometimes I’ll vote for a Republican if they’re a better candidate. But this time I’m not taking any chances.”

Judy Gusky and her husband are members of the Dor Hadash congregation, one of three with a presence and members killed at Tree of Life.

“I’m anti-Trump all the way,” she explained. “I am absolutely not a fan of the president and am quite concerned about him and his whole party. And this tragedy only solidified that for me. The fact he came here was horribly disturbing to us, and I wanted to send a message with my vote.”

Gusky said it was her first time voting in a midterm election in years, adding, “and I’m not going to stop.”

Voters stand in line inside the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire Station 18 on Northumberland Street in Squirrel on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

Voters stand in line inside the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire Station 18 on Northumberland Street in Squirrel on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

COLIN DEPPEN / THE INCLINE

Carole Coffee said she’s never missed a midterm or any election, for that matter.

“But I’m extra motivated this time,” she said, adding, “Gun control has always been a consideration for me but, yes, I’d say it’s probably a greater consideration now.”

Some were less bothered by the president’s visit to Tree of Life last week or less willing to blame him for the tragedy here. But even they said they would be voting against his party, citing policy positions that did not comport with their own.

Others said while they were going to vote for Democrats before the Tree of Life killings, the actions of the president and GOP after the tragedy only strengthened their resolve.

“I’m fairly liberal, I’m a Democrat, and I’m not very happy with the current situation with the president. And then the Tree of Life situation was so mind-shatteringly sad and that was definitely a strong motivator, but I was motivated even before that,” said Jeff Moreci who voted inside the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh shortly after 8 a.m.

Asked if his support for tougher gun laws has taken on added urgency, Moreci answered, “Yeah, because it’s in our home.”

11 people were fatally shot at Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018.

11 people were fatally shot at Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018.

LEXI BELCULFINE / THE INCLINE

Mark Fincher who also cast his ballot at the JCC added, “I think gun control is just as important to me now. I live here, but we’ve been seeing shootings like this for a long time, but it definitely does feel more real now.”

Martha Isler pointed to Democratic state Rep. Dan Frankel, who was on the ballot in Squirrel Hill today, as an example of a politician with a consistent record of pushing for what she calls “common sense gun reforms.”

“It’s one of the reasons we supported Dan in year one and why we continue to support him today,” Isler said. “Because these shootings are not going to go away simply because we wish they wouldn’t happen anymore.”

At the fire station a few blocks away, Michelle Lurie pointed to the growing list of mass shootings across the country and asked, “How many things have to happen before there’s change?”

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