FLINT — With the wind blowing so hard outside that walking
had become difficult, Bob Reams spent the day inside at Halo Burger
in downtown Flint, watching ESPN’s SportsCenter and sipping a
drink he had bought.

He ate the granola bar he had brought with him. He said he would
like to be eating the No. 1 combo, but unemployment doesn’t
allow him to buy things that he doesn’t really need. Even
worse is the fact that one of the unemployment offices Reams used
to go to regularly has recently closed down.

“I go to the other unemployment office in the city all the
time, but they always say their computers have broken down,”
he said.

Now any job he can get lasts only two to three months, leaving
the certified mechanic to collect benefits from the local Social
Security office, where he picks up a monthly check of $500.

At a nearby Taco Bell, manager Yashia Thames says she has had it
pretty good. She says she has a decent job with a great health care
plan — but the same is not true for the other employees at
the fast food joint.

“The people that work under me have to turn to welfare to
compensate. It’s been worse in the last four years. They
don’t get much from Social Security,” she said.

Thames added that the number of people coming in asking for job
applications had increased since 2000.

In a city of nearly 125,000 residents, 8.3 percent of the people
were jobless as late as last month — an unemployment rate
that’s among the highest in the state, according to the
Bureau of Labor Statistics. Michigan’s unemployment rate, 6.8
percent in September, is the second highest in the nation.

Because of this burden, Flint has been a campaigning target for
President Bush and Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry, both
trying to convince voters that they will best fix Flint’s
economic problems if elected tomorrow. Yet most recent polls show
the state is evenly divided between Bush and Kerry, and predictions
will be hard to make until ballots are counted.

One voting bloc that Kerry can count on is the United Auto
Workers. Flint is one of several Michigan cities where car
production has been vital to the economy, and most of its job loss
has been in the manufacturing sector. The UAW has sponsored two
advertising campaigns in favor of Kerry.

Michelle Kelly is ready to do just that. As one of the owners of
a nail and hair salon in a small residential area, she said she is
encouraging everyone to vote, regardless of who they may vote for.
But she will vote for Kerry, finding Bush at fault for almost all
domestic problems — especially health care, which has been
problematic for her since Bush took office.

“Because I’m self-employed, I always had to try and
find affordable health care,” Kelly said. “Prior to
Bush (taking office), I was able to go to clinics and get free
care, such as mammograms. Now I can’t even do
that.”

Next door, Otis Williams’ Barbershop is full of people
waiting for a haircut. Owner Williams said he is also voting for
Kerry, but not because of the economic situation in Flint. His
business has been unaffected and consistent, he said between phone
calls to set up new appointments. His main concern comes from
Bush’s foreign policy as well as the outsourcing of jobs. His
customers tell him that the companies they work for, especially
automotive giants, constantly travel to Mexico to train workers and
find cheap labor.

But he said many black voters in the area, including his mother,
are facing a dilemma in voting for Kerry.

“Since Kerry is such a liberal, he’ll let a lot of
the restrictions on gay marriage and abortion go,” Williams
said. “Personally, I think that’s the only positive
thing Bush was doing.”

Bush supporters in the city are largely drawn to what they
consider the president’s adherence to moral values. Isaiah
Mays is a student at Verity College, a Christian school in the
city, and said he knows who he will be voting for.

“I’m voting my Bush back in,” said Mays,
adding that the president is one of his biggest heroes.

Mays is among many of Bush supporters who have strong Christian
backgrounds. Although Mays said he realizes that people are dying
every day in Iraq, he said he might not understand yet the wisdom
of what Bush had done. “I want someone that’s going to
make the right decision whether I understand it or not, at least
I’ll see it at the end,” he said. At the end, Mays said
it was important that Bush had an “audience of one” and
only sought God’s approval when making decisions.

Similarly, Janice Caudle at Paul’s Pipe and Tobacco Shop
has already voted for Bush because of his stances on abortion and
gay marriage. “He’s a man of faith and he turns to the
Lord for a lot of his decisions,” she said.

Caudle and her brother Dan Spaniola work at the shop, owned by
their father, Paul Spaniola. The Spaniolas would not reveal who
they supported, but they had strong opinions about many domestic
and foreign matters.

“(Business) is getting harder and harder because they put
more and more taxes on the owners. (General Motors) and other big
companies get big breaks, but the small businessman doesn’t
get anything,” he said.

His father, Paul, has been alive since William Taft was
president. He said the government covers the $3,600 shot he has to
get every four months for prostate cancer treatment, but warns both
men running for the White House to be careful or Social Security
will soon be gone.

He also criticized Bush for the current deficit the country
faces.

“This guy has gotten us so deep in debt that we’ll
never get out of it,” he said. “My grandchildren will
pay for it.”

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