Presidential debates tend to absorb a little of the local flavor, wherever they’re held. When Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders debated in Flint, they talked about the city’s water crisis. When they met in Miami, the moderators talked to the audience in Spanish.
So when the two contenders met for their ninth debate in Brooklyn Thursday, there was a typically quirky flair to the affair.
The event was held in the Duggal Greenhouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a former shipbuilding hub now full of exposed brick and iron scaffolding, peppered here and there with old-fashioned manufacturing tools whose uses were not evident to the crowd at hand. Huge American flags and bright CNN signage were complemented by exposed vents and the occasional graffiti.
Clinton and Sanders have become increasingly testy with each other, and they pushed each other harder in the debate than in the past. The crowd, typically boisterous, seemed to egg on the confrontation, cheering and booing lustily.
“It was pretty raucous,” says Jennifer Palmieri, communications director for Clinton. “We thought that a Brooklyn debate might be like that. We thought the Brooklyn audience came with a lot of energy, but we knew New York was going to be a rough and tumble.”
After the debate, the candidates’ surrogates mingled with the usual national political reporters and a mix of New York media types only on hand for the debate in their own backyards. It felt, at times, as though the characters on Girls had shown up in an episode of Veep.
Brooklyn Navy Yard is itself a symbolic reminder of some of the most pressing economic issues at stake in the election: once a major New York manufacturing and shipping hub, 70,000 people worked here during WWII. Today, only 7,000 people do. 10,000 more jobs are expected to be created there in the next four years, thanks to artisanal companies like Mast Brothers Chocolate Makers moving into the space. Incidentally, Girls is usually filmed at Steiner Studios, just a few yards away.
Out back, food trunks were selling artisanal reubens to a mix of TV journalists in pressed suits and jewel-tone dresses and bloggers in denim jackets. But the real Brooklyn giveaway was the headwear: at least one man-bun was spotted, as well as several fedoras and numerous yarmulkes.