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thedrifter
02-06-08, 03:30 PM
February 6, 2008
About New York
No Voting Decision Can Close This Wound
By JIM DWYER

Late in the afternoon, the door swung open at 602 West 180th Street, and out came a husky man in a baseball cap and jeans, standing on the steps of his building, a captain of the sidewalk. For a long moment, he just stared into the distance of the familiar. Barbershop next door. Income tax place across the street. Neighbors, waving hello. His name is Julio Cesar Lora, and he was waiting to be asked about the one subject few people mentioned.

Along 180th Street in Washington Heights, people spoke about what drove their votes.

“The health care for the poor people and the old people, and better jobs,” Daysi DeLaCruz, 37, a cook, said. “Also, about the immigration — if you’re not a criminal, you don’t do anything with drugs and you work, they should give them papers. And the rent, the cost of living.”

Al Wilson, shepherding a group of Clinton canvassers, said: “Everyone is saying it’s all about daily needs. A lot of them don’t have health care.”

The war?

“Not very much,” Mr. Wilson said.

A dozen people said the same things. No one, however, spoke for Julio Cesar Lora, who had gone to vote at the 179th Street bus station in the morning but was sent to another polling place, on St. Nicholas Avenue. There, he was told to go somewhere else. He took a break, and emerged late in the afternoon for his third try. The topic of war is not a daily need for him, but a weight he cannot shed.

Super Tuesday also happened to be the fifth anniversary of a speech by Colin Powell to the United Nations Security Council, with George Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, seated at his shoulder.

“There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to produce more, many more,” Mr. Powell, then secretary of state, told the Security Council. He was dead wrong. The invasion of Iraq began in March, and five years later, no biological weapons have been found, no nuclear weapons machinery, no mobile death laboratories; also, no links to the attacks of Sept. 11, a claim that was tucked into the case for war by everyone from President Bush to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

The war grinds on, out of sight, out of earshot.

“My first reason for voting is that it is about time to change,” Mr. Lora said. “About time to see if we bring back our young people from Iraq.”

Mr. Lora, 58, the superintendent of his building, also spoke about the shuddering economy, but returned to the subject of galloping amnesia.

“You see that picture?” he said, pointing to a velvet-roped memorial attached to the building’s wall. “That is my son.”

Staff Sgt. Riayan Tejeda of the Marines had grown up on the block, raised by his mother, Rafaela Lora, and his stepfather, Mr. Lora. He was one of the first from New York City to die in the war, on April 11, 2003, after the Iraq government had been routed.

“That was a Saturday,” Mr. Lora said. “The day before, we hadn’t heard nothing, we were worried. I went to the Marine recruiting center on 181st Street, where he enlisted. They told me, ‘don’t worry about it. Only if you see two marines coming to your house, then he is hurt or killed.’ ”

The next morning, his wife was looking out the window onto 180th Street. A car pulled into a spot across the street.

“12:45 in the afternoon,” Mr. Lora said. “That meter, right there. My wife said, ‘Uh oh.’ I said, ‘Maybe they’re going someplace else.’ She said, ‘No, they’re coming here.’ ”

The two marines buzzed from the vestibule. Julio and Rafaela were frozen for the eternity it took them to climb five flights. They knocked. “My wife opened it, right away she said, ‘He got killed.’ The guy nodded, he said, ‘yes.’ ” He was 25.

That early funeral included politicians and a cardinal. Tens of thousands of Americans and Iraqis later, the war has lost its causes, and its deaths have loosened their command on public observance.

The mother still weeps. Mr. Lora cannot leave her side for long. Sergeant Tejeda, born in the Dominican Republic, was given citizenship posthumously; the mother declined, feeling that her son had already made her a citizen.

The street corner has been named for him; so has the post office. “We are very glad he is honored, we got the name, we got everything, but we don’t got him,” Mr. Lora said. “It seems like people forget.”

Without parsing any promises about Iraq, he would vote, he said, for Hillary Clinton, “for a better life, for a change,” but had no expectation that his house could ever be made whole. “Sometimes we think — something’s wrong, he’s alive, he’s going to come back,” Mr. Lora said. “Then time goes by, and he doesn’t come back. It’s like the feeling of being alone in the middle of the sea. No place to go. No one else there.”

E-mail:dwyer@nytimes.com

Ellie