From fish markets in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to coffee shops in Chappaqua, New Yorkers made Tuesday’s election, like so many other things, all about themselves — their personal idiosyncrasies, their campaigns for social justice, their immigrant journeys and their settling of old political scores.
Eager to expound on a contest with opinions that until now nobody had really asked for, they described their preferences at the ballot box with a combination of New York know-it-allism, emotion and parochialism.
A Manhattan actor was eager to punish Bill Clinton for the sin of mocking Barack Obama eight years ago in South Carolina. (His choice: Bernie Sanders.) A retiree wanted to align herself with Ted Cruz because they shared so much. (“I’m Hispanic,” she explained. “I’m voting for Ted.”) An immigrant from Britain tried to single-handedly tug the Republican Party to the left with a vote for John Kasich.
“I’m not really a Republican,” the man, a 35-year-old screenwriter named Mayuran Tiruchelvam, confided as he explained his electoral calculations outside a polling site on West 101st Street in Manhattan. “I want to ensure that the least socially conservative candidate is the nominee.”
Across the state, on a balmy April day conducive to higher voter turnout, millions of voters showed up for presidential primaries that bestowed an unfamiliar role on New York: potential kingmaker at a point when party nominations have usually been sewn up.
“I can’t remember the last time the New York primary actually mattered,” said Bill Weeden, 75, a Manhattan Democrat who has voted religiously, and with little impact on the primary process, for decades. “This time, we count.”
The reality produced an unusually intensive campaign in which candidates from both parties lavished their time and attention on frequently overlooked upstate towns like Scotia and Syracuse.
But much of the action on Tuesday unfolded in the southern half of the state, where the vast majority of New Yorkers live and where New York City streets were filled with crisscrossing caravans of candidates and their armies of volunteers. The five boroughs became a colorful canvass of campaign fliers and placards as supporters competed, like sharp-elbowed real estate agents, to festoon lampposts and subway stairwells with their candidate’s name. In Manhattan, Broadway was a sea of baby blue “Bernie” signs. In the Bronx, car-mounted megaphones echoed with Hillary Clinton’s name.
For many, dozens of interviews show, this is an oddly intimate campaign. The leading contenders are not the distant, out-of-state figures of the past; they are classic, recognizable New York characters who were born and raised here, in the case of Mr. Sanders and Donald J. Trump, or who now call it home, as with Mrs. Clinton.
For Laurie Matthews, 50, a lawyer in Chappaqua, a wealthy suburb to the city’s north, the political was very personal: Mrs. Clinton is a neighborhood fixture whom she bumps into at Starbucks. “Some say she’s very cold,” Ms. Matthews said, “but in this environment she’s very warm.”
Across the state, voters expressed anger and confusion over election rules that forbade independents to vote in Tuesday’s primaries, foiling plans to cast ballots for the popular candidacies of Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump.
In a small fish market on Lee Avenue, a commercial artery of the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Williamsburg, Emerich Tauber, 69, said he wanted to vote for Mr. Trump. The problem: He is a registered Democrat.
“He’s crazy. But we need change,” Mr. Tauber said as he stood beside tubs of live carp. “He can do it.”
He dismissively waved off the Democrats. “The old guy — surely not,” he said, reducing Mr. Sanders, a United States senator, to a demographic.
Throughout New York City, individual voters kept finding ways to defy this year’s conventional wisdoms: that Jewish neighborhoods would uniformly vote Democratic; that Republicans would find little support in boroughs like the Bronx; and that black communities were widely skeptical of Mr. Sanders.
“Bernie supports black people, plain and simple,” said Corey Smith, 30, a black hotel worker in the midst of a shave at the Gabaron Barber Shop on 116th Street in Harlem. Mr. Smith has an 8-year-old son, and he said Mr. Sanders’s plan for free college tuition appealed to him. Besides, he added, he couldn’t get past Mrs. Clinton’s support of the 1994 crime bill.
Outside the Mitchell Community Center in the Bronx, Edda Reyes, 74, a pastor’s daughter who moved to New York from Puerto Rico when she was 10, explained why she was voting for Mr. Cruz: a shared heritage and a disgust for his Republican rival Mr. Trump.
She grew agitated at the mere mention of the New York businessman’s name. “He a racist,” she said, pointing to his plans to build a wall at the border between Mexico and the United States.
During choir practice at her nearby church, that consensus is unmistakable, she said. “In the choir, nobody likes Trump.”
Of course, this being New York, consensus was elusive on Tuesday. And voluble arguments were inevitable.
So it was that on West 72nd Street on Tuesday, two close friends, retirees and Democrats who had met through a Jewish men’s group, made the mistake of discussing how they had voted.
Mark Fleischer, 79, favored Mrs. Clinton; Abraham Hershow, 88, backed Mr. Sanders.
“Sanders,” said Mr. Fleischer, “I can’t stand how he talks and we don’t need a socialist. That leaves me with Hillary, I guess. She’s experienced and I like her husband.”
Mr. Hershow shook his head emphatically. “I can’t stand someone who takes hundreds of thousands of dollars for speeches,” he said, referring to Mrs. Clinton.
Mr. Fleischer cut him off. “How come?” he pressed his friend. “Good for her.”
“Look, look, the issue here is money and power,” Mr. Hershow shot back. “Just read Paul Krugman.”
Mr. Fleischer rolled his eyes.
“You know what?” said Mr. Hershow. “We should avoid talking politics if we’re going to remain friends.”
On that they could agree, allowing Mr. Fleischer to move on to the next order of business. “Oh shut up!” he yelled at a man who sped by on a motorcycle.