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Political Newcomer Jim Himes Makes Bid For Shays' Seat
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Jim Himes meets with voter - Nancy Eve Cohen photoJim Himes meets with voter - Nancy Eve Cohen photoFormer Goldman Sachs vice-president Jim Himes, whose only political experience is serving on Greenwich municipal boards, is making a bid for the seat of ten-term Congressman Christopher Shays. WNPR’s Nancy Cohen recently caught up with Himes as he campaigned on the train platform in Greenwich.

Jim Himes spent ten years taking the train from here to Wall Street. Today he’s looking for a ticket to Washington.

“I’m a Democrat running for Congress this year. How are you?”
“It’s so nice to meet you.”

Himes is button-holing this captive audience of early morning commuters. But Christine Kopprasch doesn’t seem to mind.

“I’ve been to a lot of Obama events so I know all about you. And I’m excited to vote for you”

That link between Obama and Himes is something Himes underscores when he speaks with 35-year-old Keesha Davis

“Can I give you one of my campaign flyers? I’m running with that Makes Bid guy. You might have heard of him”.

“Of course. Of course”

The flyer features a photograph of Himes with Barack Obama. Even though this is the only time Himes met the Presidential candidate, riding Obama’s coattails is part of his strategy. Himes’ spokesman Michael Sachse.

“If the people who vote for Barack Obama also vote for Jim then we’ll win this election.”

Like Obama, Himes is against the war in Iraq and says U-S troops should be withdrawn. But some voters, especially Republicans, aren’t convinced.

“Let me give you one of these I know you’re on the other side of the aisle, but you know I might persuade you. Right?”

In the case of this voter, probably not. But just up the platform another voter has made the switch.

“As the economy just plummeted that was the icing on the cake.”

Susan, a life-long resident of Greenwich, who declined to give her last name, says she hasn’t seen much change in Republican incumbent Chris Shays in the last few years. Especially when it comes to pocketbook issues.

“Just seeing the upper class get tax breaks and the corrupt large businesses get away with what they’re getting away with it and we’re having to pay for it.”

Susan says she’ll vote Democratic even though Jim Himes has close ties to large businesses. He got a half million dollars donated from people in the financial sector. And he worked at Goldman Sachs. But in this economic climate Himes says that kind experience could be an advantage. As he explains to voter Karl Bylciw

“I was in banking for 12 years. I wouldn’t have said this a year ago but having somebody in Congress who actually understands that industry because we’re going to be picking up the pieces for a long time.”

But Bylciw, a CFO at Citi Bank, is still undecided. He asks Himes about the advantage of sticking with Chris Shays

“Chris Shays has been there forever. I know within Congress everything is based on seniority. What would Connecticut lose if we lose that seniority out of the whole process?”

“That’s a great question…”

Himes says having a Congressman who is part of the Democratic majority will bring resources into the district.

Himes crosses to the other side of the railroad tracks, where he finds people who commute north, away from New York.

“Es muy importante para mi mobilizar la communidad Latina porque hasta ahora la comunidad no participa demasiado en las electiones.”

Himes tells Angelica Collin, who cleans houses, that mobilizing the Latin American community to vote is important. But he’ll have to wait for her to become a citizen for her vote.

“Gracias”

“OK Muchas gracias”

“Gracias”

“Hasta luego. Mucho gusto”

Himes, who is 42, learned Spanish growing up in Peru where he was raised by American parents. When he was ten he moved with his single Mom to New Jersey. 25 years later he was working on Wall Street when the twin towers were attacked. He was not impressed by the response of the government.

“There was a moment there where we recognized everything was different and yet we didn’t seize that moment.”

About a year later, Himes decided to seize it himself. He left Wall Street and went to work for a non-profit, where he helped develop affordable housing. Today, he says investing in rebuilding bridges, railways and roads will stimulate the economy.

“Just as our financial infrastructure was decrepit so is our physical infrastructure. So I’d really like to see Congress and if I were there right now I would be banging the tabletops to get a very significant infrastructure-oriented stimulus package put together.”

Back on the south bound platform Himes’ stimulus package isn’t convincing Nina Renna, who manages a medical office

“I think the concerns are deeper and more grave and for everybody involved --- I gotta get on this train.”

Stepping on the train to New York Renna says before the economic meltdown she would have voted for Himes. Now she’s not sure.

“I don’t know what anybody can do right now. Its a lot more difficult than it was two weeks ago. Making a decision like this.”

But as they say this train is leaving the station. And Himes has just a few weeks to convince voters they should give him their vote

For more coverage of Election '08, check out CPTV & WNPR's Democracy Project.

Will this Presidential race attract the youth vote? Get the history, forecast and young voter's opinions on the CPBN.org web original series, Youth Vote.