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Armed with a modest checkbook but a big pulpit, Jonathan Litt is going after Big Office. Can he prevail?

first_imgJonathan Litt of Land & Buildings (Getty Images/iStock)The morning of July 20 was dry and sunny, perfect for taking in the grand metropolis of New York from its most celebrated vantage point.After plowing $165 million into an extensive renovation of the Empire State Building’s observatory, Empire State Realty Trust had been forced by Covid to close it in March. With the city now coming back to life, the landlord had a lot riding on the reopening of the attraction, which pulled in $125 million last year.But shortly after 10 a.m., photographers arrived at the tower and captured an empty lobby, souvenir shops undisturbed by tourists and just one other group making its way to the 86th-floor observation deck.The photographers had been dispatched by Jonathan Litt, an activist investor who runs hedge fund Land & Buildings. “Opening day was a bust,” Litt tweeted a day later, sharing a slick slideshow with the photos set to music. “L&B photographers had the place to themselves.”ADVERTISEMENTThe move was classic Litt, who’s known for taking REITs to task with both granular financials and an activist’s bullhorn. With just $500 million in assets under management, Land & Buildings is tiny by hedge fund standards. But Litt, 56, has managed to become a prime foil for REIT bosses, waging campaigns to overhaul companies from retail investor Taubman Centers to developer Forest City Realty Trust to hospitality giant MGM Resorts. Make some noise and a tidy profit while you’re at it — that’s the Litt way.“The activism is a strategy to buy discounted real estate, and have a strategy for unlocking value,” Litt said during an August interview with The Real Deal.Since 2008, Land & Buildings has engaged in 30 campaigns, producing average returns of around 25 percent, the company said. If that seems high, that’s because it is — hedge funds returned 10 percent on average last year, according to research firm eVestment, with activist firms reporting returns just under 17 percent. On at least one deal, Land & Buildings claims it did even better: It pushed Liberty Property Trust to divest its office holdings and then sell itself  to warehouse giant Prologis for $13 billion, which Litt said generated returns of 42 percent in just 15 months.Now, with the pandemic asking existential questions of the city’s office market, Litt is busy building another war chest. In March, his firm said it will deploy as much money as it can raise to target underperforming companies. When Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman said in April that the pandemic proved the bank’s ability to operate with “no footprint,” Litt turned to his team and said, “That’s an issue.” BlackRock’s Larry Fink further fueled that instinct a few days later, saying  “I don’t think any company’s going to go back to 100 percent of the workforce in the office.”In May, the Wall Street Journal reported that Litt was shorting New York City office stocks, including Vornado Realty Trust, SL Green Realty and Empire State Realty Trust. In a six-page white paper, Litt warned of an “existential hurricane” making its way to the market and said ESRT would “bear the full brunt” of it.Stats from the first half of the year seem to bear this out.  Manhattan office leasing activity in the second quarter was the slowest since the Great Recession of 2009, Colliers data shows, with just under 3.2 million square feet of deals signed. And then there’s the WFH dilemma for landlords: What will remote work mean for long-term space demand and the value of office holdings in prime markets?“The truth lies somewhere in between Armageddon and all green lights,” Litt tweeted on June 25. “It will be a painful re-adjustment.”Or forever hold your silenceAn activist investor is a particular financial animal, buying into underperforming companies and creating corporate discord to replace leadership and drive up share price. Since the 1980s, the likes of Carl Icahn, Kirk Kerkorian and Barry Rosenstein — then known by the far less flattering term “corporate raiders” — have made fortunes through the approach. But it’s only recently that this community has turned its attention to REITs.Litt had an inside track. He rose through the ranks as a REIT analyst at Salomon Brothers, Paine Webber and Citigroup, where he was ranked a top analyst by Institutional Investor for several years running. In the 1990s, he met Vornado founder Steve Roth, just after Roth acquired a controlling interest in bankrupt retailer Alexander’s in a real estate play hailed as one of the most lucrative of its era.“Watching him do that over and over again has been enormously valuable,” Litt told Bloomberg in June.Even as an analyst, Litt displayed an activist streak.In 2002, he became convinced that Peter Munk, the mining magnate who chaired Trizec Properties, was lining his own pockets. During an analyst call that summer, he told Munk to turn on the TV in time to see WorldCom executives being arrested for accounting fraud. He threatened to report Munk to Eliot Spitzer, the then-attorney general of New York who had styled himself the “Sheriff of Wall Street.”In 2008, Litt went into business for himself with $50 million of seed money from his former Citigroup bosses. Among his first targets was BRE Properties, a San Francisco apartment REIT whose shares were trading at a big discount despite an enviable portfolio.Litt pushed for a sale (even bidding $4 billion himself) before Essex Property Trust swooped in to buy BRE for $4.3 billion. When Essex’s shares surged, Land & Buildings earned 40 percent on its bet, according to Forbes.“He has always represented the investors very effectively,” Sam Zell, the billionaire founder of Equity Group Investments and one of Litt’s mentors, told the Journal in 2014. “That’s what this industry needs, to hold people’s feet to the fire.”A source who worked closely with Litt for years disputed the idea that he’s got the Midas touch.“Excellent analysts rarely make great money managers,” the source said.Litt’s big break came in 2015. He went after MGM Resorts, urging the gaming company to spin off its valuable Las Vegas real estate into a REIT. After a public spat, MGM formed MGM Growth Properties. In 2018, the entity sold the Bellagio to the Blackstone Group for $4.25 billion; last year, a JV including Blackstone bought the real estate of the MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay for $4.6 billion.In 2016, Litt zeroed in on Forest City Realty Trust, an investment firm founded by the dynastic Ratner family. Litt saw the firm as a morass of debt, mismanagement and mismatched assets, and pushed for a sale. Instead, the REIT replaced its board and Litt sold his shares. But other activists picked up the fight, and in 2018 Brookfield Asset Management bought the company for $11.4 billion.“Clearly, the involvement of multiple activist investors contributed significantly to the ultimate sale of the company,” a former executive at Forest City said. “But Jon was the first and the loudest.”Inside baseballWhen Covid hit, the doomsday prophets were ready.Legendary activist investor Carl Icahn revealed in mid-March that he had bet on credit-default swaps on assets backing mortgages for malls and corporate offices.Noting that it was his “biggest position” by far, Icahn likened those mortgages to “selling insurance to someone who’s going to go to the electric chair in a couple of months.”In July, Starwood Capital founder Barry Sternlicht predicted office buildings could lose 40 percent of their value and a third of hotels could go bankrupt.In New York, the worst of the pandemic coincided with proxy season, the period between April and June when most public companies hold annual meetings. Mid-March is when investors typically decide whether to engage in a proxy fight or stand down. Land & Buildings faced one such decision. In February, it  acquired 1 percent of American Homes 4 Rent, a single-family rental REIT, and put forward a board candidate. But on March 23, Land & Buildings withdrew its nomination.A cynic might say Litt knew better than to start a fight he couldn’t win. Yoel Kranz, a partner at Goodwin Procter who has defended REITs against Litt, called it a “gentlemanly” move.Litt had previously profited off of the company.  In 2015, he had bought shares in American Residential Properties, when the stock was stuck at around $17.“It was pretty clear that we needed to either do a JV with somebody or an out-and-out sale,” recalled ARP founder Stephen Schmitz. Soon after Litt took a position, ARP struck a deal to be acquired by American Homes 4 Rent for $1.5 billion.“He knew our stock was undervalued,” Schmitz said. “When we sold, he made out like a bandit.”In a 2013 affidavit filed as part of divorce proceedings, Litt reported total assets of $13.9 million. Property records show he owned a $3 million home in Greenwich, Connecticut, which Zillow shows hit the market last year asking $5.95 million.Schmitz described dealing with Litt as amicable, which is more than can be said about Litt’s battle with Taubman Centers.Litt lost a proxy battle in 2017, won a board seat in 2018 and threatened a third proxy fight last year, when he said CEO Bobby Taubman bore “most of the responsibility for Taubman’s terrible track record.”What Litt accomplished is up for debate. Some say he distracted Taubman and cost the mall operator millions. (In its latest annual report, Taubman disclosed $44.3 million in expenses related to shareholder activism between 2017 and 2019.) The stock currently stands near $38 per share, about where it was last year.“Big picture, nothing changed,” said Alexander Goldfarb, a REIT analyst at Piper Sandler.The source who worked with Litt said the former star analyst’s network meant that he was heard, but it’s unclear what impact he had.“When he started pounding the table about doing x, y and z, they’d sometimes laugh and say, ‘You’re at best a 0.5 percent investor,’” the source recalled. “’You can’t do anything.’”Litt hopes his latest battle with Big Office will be more consequential. New York-heavy office REITs have tumbled since the start of the year. As of Aug. 10, shares of ESRT were down 49.2 percent, SL Green and Vornado were down 40 percent, Columbia Property Trust 37.9 percent and Boston Properties down 31.4 percent.“You can’t sugar coat how difficult [the] NYC office market will be in [the] coming years,” Litt tweeted on June 30. By July 21, he described the office market in “free fall.”Though the market got a boost in early August, when Vornado announced Facebook had completed a much-speculated-about 730,000-square-foot lease at the Farley Building, the euphoria is likely to be fleeting. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said half of his employees are likely to be remote within a decade, while Google, which has spent over $4 billion buying up prime space in Chelsea and hundreds of millions of dollars more on leases in Hudson Square, is letting its 200,000 employees work remotely until July 2021 and has hinted at greater openness to distributed work.Moody’s Analytics predicts the value of U.S. office buildings will drop 17.2 percent in 2020.“Losing one tenant that occupies 30 percent of your space might have a very big multiplier effect on your income that puts you underwater really quickly,” Moody’s economist Victor Calanog told the Journal this month. But not all are as bearish. In a July 24 note, Michael Lewis of SunTrust Robinson Humphrey said it remains to be seen if office reductions become the norm “rather than the exception.” Piper Sandler’s Goldfarb said companies’ need to de-densify will offset any permanent shifts to remote work.“When you put it all together, New York office will figure its way out,” Goldfarb said.“They should be killing it”When Litt spoke to TRD in early August over Zoom, he was in the thick of earnings-call season, estimating that he had listened to between 50 and 60 over three weeks.“This was an extremely important earnings season, outside of, really, 2009,” he said, shoveling egg into his mouth between answers. “You’ve got to be on your game.”In the early days of Covid, Litt said, his team put together a number of sector-specific plays. It first went after data center REITs and cell tower and single-family rental stocks. Litt said he’ll be looking at high-impact opportunities in hotels, office, gaming and senior housing REITs “as we’re starting to get a sense of how they’re playing out.” As of June 30, Land & Buildings had equity investments in 22 REITs totaling $408.3 million, regulatory filings show. It had total gross investments of $772.1 million, according to its March 27 form ADV, which shows both long and short positions.The hedge fund has three undisclosed activist positions, but only one public campaign being waged, against American Homes 4 Rent, which reported a 31.5 percent drop in net income in the second quarter. “Their peers are killing it, and they should be killing it,” said Litt.“What the pandemic will lay bare are the underperformers within peer groups,” said attorney Andrew Freedman, a partner at Olshan Frome Wolosky who has worked with Litt.In 2019, there were a total of 10 activist campaigns against U.S. REITs, according to research firm Activist Insight. By July, Kranz, the attorney, was tracking 20 activist campaigns, 11 of which launched since April.Much of the increased activity is coming from smaller players like Litt, who make up for what they lack in financial muscle with showmanship and media savvy.Litt has a penchant for using white papers, videos and slick websites — such as — to push his views. Litt often turns to Sloane & Company, a communications firm specializing in activist investing work. Its slogan: “We know what it takes to win.” (Subtlety is not Litt’s thing; as an analyst, he once sent red gumball machines to 700 clients and colleagues to warn them the commercial real estate bubble was going to pop.) He also engages a phalanx of photographers to snap revealing pictures at casinos and malls. This spring, while cycling the hills of Connecticut, he personally catalogued an influx of out-of-state license plates, in support of his call that suburban housing is hot. “We’ve been riding here for 20 years, and it was a real noticeable uptick to see all these New York plates hanging out in Connecticut,” he told Bloomberg.Paul Adornato, who worked for Litt at Paine Webber, called his former boss a “media master.”“That’s how the game is won,” he said.The Forest City executive said Litt was known internally as a “gadfly.”“He’s an activist who’s willing to go very public, very early in the process,” the executive said. “He never really had a big position in our stock, and by the time the other, heavier-weight activists got involved, he was largely gone. So whether he played a role in raising the flag and getting people’s attention … I don’t know.”“Activists aren’t coming in and buying 20 percent stakes,” Kranz said. “They don’t have to do that. Your weapons here are not absolute control by owning a lot of shares. Your weapons are your ability to disseminate information.”  Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on LinkedinShare via Email Share via Shortlink TagsEmpire State Realty TrustNYC Office MarketREITScenter_img Share via Shortlinklast_img read more

Hovis launches granary Seed Sensations loaf

first_imgHovis has this week launched a granary loaf to its Seed Sensations brand.It can be found this week in Tesco ahead of a national rollout in September.The Seed Sensations Soft Granary Batch (RSP £1.60) contains a blend of nine seeds and multigrain and is free from artificial preservatives.Hovis estimates the bread will deliver 60% incremental sales to the £69m ‘bread with bits’ category’ [Kantar Worldpanel 52 w/e 25 May 2014].The launch marks the second new product to market since splitting from parent company Premier Foods earlier this year. In April it launched sliced Taste Sensations in Basil Pesto, Fiery Sweet Red Pepper and Sundried Tomato flavours (RSP £1.49).last_img read more

Kristen Bell Makes a Practically Perfect Mary Poppins

first_imgSometimes, a spoonful of sugar and a showtune help the economic appeals go down. Kristen Bell isn’t ready to give up her Disney singing chops just yet. In this musical sketch from Funny or Die, the Frozen star, as a politically astute Mary Poppins, educates the Banks children on the absurdity of the minimum wage. Those poor penguins. It’s, as she says, supercalifragilisticexpialibullsh*t. Sigh, it’s a shame we won’t be seeing her fly–sans umbrella, plus fairy dust–in Peter Pan on the small screen later this year (but we’re more than fine with her starring in Hair next month). Maybe we can add her to the mix for The Music Man next year? View Commentslast_img read more

And I and Silence Opens Off-Broadway

first_img View Comments The play will run through September 14 at the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Center. Related Shows The U.S. premiere of Naomi Wallace’s And I and Silence opens officially on August 25. The Signature Theatre production, directed by Caitlin McLeod, stars Trae Harris as Young Jamie, Rachel Nicks as Jamie, Emily Skeggs as Young Dee and Samantha Soule as Dee. Show Closed This production ended its run on Sept. 14, 2014 And I and Silence explores the fierce dreams of youth and the brutal reality of adulthood in 1950’s America. Two imprisoned teenagers, one black, one white, form a perilous bond. As the young women serve time, they forge a plan for survival. When the outside world proves even more dangerous than the jail itself, their private world becomes an untenable practice ground for their new lives. And I And Silencelast_img read more

Brazilians Spend More Time on the Internet than Japanese and Americans, Study Says

first_imgBy Dialogo July 16, 2009 SAO PAULO, 15 July 2009 (AFP) – Brazilian Internet users spent an average of seventy hours online in June, a record figure that surpasses those of Japan and the United States, according to a study by the Brazilian Opinion and Survey Institute (Ibope/Nielsen). The survey also revealed that around 44.5 million Brazilians have access to the Internet at home or at work, the highest level recorded since the study was first done in September 2000. Among the ten countries surveyed, “Brazil continues to have the most time per user, both for navigating webpages and for total time, including online programs,” the study indicates. While Brazil accumulated a total average time online of 69 hours and 55 minutes per user in June, Japan came in at 68 hours and 14 minutes, and the United States at 65 hours and 10 minutes. This total time includes time dedicated to online applications like instant messaging, music players, download programs, and internet telephony, in addition to navigating webpages. In this regard, the principal subcategories used in Brazil during June were instant messaging, virtual communities, and email, which registered growth of 1%, 5%, and 16% respectively in the course of the month.last_img read more

USS New Orleans Arrives in Colombia in Support of A-SPS 2010

first_img USS New Orleans along with Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 5, and other embarked units arrived at Naval Base Bahia Malaga, Colombia for the third stop in support of this year’s Amphibious-Southern Partnership Station (A-SPS) 2010. A-SPS is the amphibious portion of the annual Southern Partnership Station, which is a deployment of various specialty platforms to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility in Latin America and the Caribbean. The mission’s primary goal is mission-focused information sharing with navies, coast guards, and civilian services throughout the region in order to enhance regional maritime capabilities and security. This visit supports U.S. Southern Command goals of ensuring theater security, enhancing regional stability, and strengthening relationships among regional partners. New Orleans conducted exercises and multinational exchanges with Mexico, Peru, and Colombia to build on relationships built through previous SPS deployments. In addition to subject matter exchanges, A-SPS 10 conducted humanitarian and civic assistance through community relations projects and Project Handclasp deliveries in the local area of Bahia Malaga. The ship and embarked units have planned several subject matter exchanges including damage control, firefighting, engineering, and medical. These exchanges take place aboard New Orleans, as well as a Colombian navy ship. In addition to the professional exchanges, service members from the U.S. and partner nations participate in a sports day, some social events, and in painting a local school. “This is a great opportunity to get out and interact with our Colombian counterparts,” said PHIBRON 5 Commodore, Capt. Peter J. Brennan, A-SPS mission commander. “This professional exchange of knowledge and seamanship is a great way for all nations involved to learn from each other and to enhance their own processes. I am also thrilled that we can provide some extra manpower and supplies to a local school. I know the Sailors are really looking forward to it. The sign-up sheets asking for volunteers were filled up the first day.” The New Orleans, along with partner nations and Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force 24 (SPMAGTF 24) most recently participated in both Partnership of the Americas 2010 and Southern Exchange 2010 in support of A-SPS, conducting joint amphibious operations in Salinas and Ancon, Peru. Subject matter experts from the U.S., Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay have been participating in cooperative training exercises, and information exchanges in a variety of subjects such as refueling at sea, boarding team operations, and damage control. Service members from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay deployed with New Orleans in order to facilitate interaction between their navies and the U.S. Navy through subject matter exchanges and interaction. This was accomplished through presentations, personal interaction, and hands-on, joint exercises. They boarded the ship in San Diego on June 10, and while the rest of the partner navy service members departed in Peru, those from Colombia remained on board. Lt. Cmdr. Luis Pulgarin is one of the Colombian officers still with the ship. “The most important thing for me to take back to my country is how you do business on the ship, for example how you handle emergencies on board, and how you conduct business on the bridge,” said Pulgarin. “When I compare the way [the U.S. Navy] does things to the way my country’s navy does things, there may be some things I can take back to help improve how we operate. I can also offer suggestions that may help the way [U.S. Naval] officers conduct their business as well.” USS New Orleans, along with PHIBRON 5 and other embarked units have already visited Manzanillo, Mexico; Lima, Peru; and are also scheduled to visit Balboa, Panama during the three-month deployment. By Dialogo August 03, 2010last_img read more

Jamaican drug lord gets up to 23 years in prison

first_img NEW YORK CITY — A U.S. court sentenced Jamaican drug lord Christopher “Dudus” Coke to 23 years in prison on June 8, bringing the curtain down on the career of one of the Caribbean’s most notorious gangsters. Coke, 43, had pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to commit assault in aid of racketeering following his 2010 extradition from Jamaica. In addition to the sentence passed in New York federal court by Judge Robert Patterson, Coke was sentenced to 4 years of supervised release and ordered to pay $1.5 million in forfeiture. He is responsible for multiple murders and years of cocaine, crack and marijuana trafficking that he presided over in his Kingston stronghold. The head prosecutor for Manhattan, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, said Coke’s crime empire had finally crumbled. “From his home base in Jamaica, Christopher Coke presided over an international drug and weapons trafficking organization that he controlled through violence and intimidation for nearly two decades, enlisting an army of ‘soldiers’ to do his bidding,” Bharara said. “With his conviction, he is no longer able to traffic drugs in the U.S., move guns across our border or terrorize people, and with today’s sentence, he will now spend a very long time in prison for his crimes.” Coke led a powerful gang called the Presidential Click with members in the United States and other countries, who helped supply firearms and sell drugs manufactured in Jamaica. Coke was put on the U.S. list of the world’s most dangerous narcotics traffickers and was finally arrested in June 2010, and extradited to New York. His arrest was accomplished only after Jamaican police fought a pitched battle with his Shower Posse gunmen in the Tivoli Gardens area of Kingston. [AFP, 09/08/2012;, 08/06/2012] By Dialogo June 11, 2012last_img read more

ACH picks up speed

first_imgThe rails built for economical heavy payment traffic weren’t built for speed, but that’s changing with the introduction of same-day ACH. NACHA The Electronic Payments Association will move ACH to same-day credits and debits pretty quickly, predicts Peter Olynick, senior practice lead for retail banking at NTT DATA Consulting Inc., Plano, Texas.“You’ll see multiple batch windows, maybe one every four to six hours. And that will become one viable fast payment option, but we won’t see just one winner. There will be multiple options with multiple speeds for multiple situations.”This faster payment option is being phased in, notes Deborah Phillips, managing director for payments strategy at CUES Supplier member Jack Henry & Associates, Monett, Mo., with intraday transmissions already occurring in Step 1 of a three-step process. CUs and banks now must receive same-day ACH credit files at intervals throughout the day (“intraday” presentments).“So far, the impact has been modest,” she says. “We’re primarily seeing expedited payroll files at this point. NACHA reports higher than predicted volumes, which could be an indicator of market appetite for faster payments.” 24SHARESShareShareSharePrintMailGooglePinterestDiggRedditStumbleuponDeliciousBufferTumblr continue reading »last_img read more

Pennsylvania Trump Voters Charge Fraud

first_imgBut others were not swayed by Mr. Biden’s appeals for unity after four divisive years.Jessica Bell, a Trump voter in suburban Philadelphia, said, “we are locked and loaded” because she sees the country headed for civil disorder.“I have my TV on the news 24/7,’’ Ms. Bell said. “I have my phone in my hand keeping up with social media. I’ve gotten about six hours of sleep since Monday. I’ve been watching very, very closely.” PITTSBURGH — Like many Trump supporters, Dennis Tippie watched the steady tallying of votes that wiped away the president’s early lead in Pennsylvania, not with a faith that democracy was playing out but with dark and rising anger.“If he does end up with that number of electoral votes,’’ he said last week of Joseph R. Biden Jr., as Mr. Biden appeared on his way to winning the state and the White House, “he would have gained them through fraud, deception and simple criminality.’’- Advertisement – Updated Nov. 8, 2020, 5:12 a.m. ET She cited reports on social media and Fox News in support of her belief that the election was hijacked: black Sharpies given to Arizona voters made ballots invalid; Republican poll watchers in Philadelphia were not allowed to see the counting; Nancy Pelosi controls the company supplying election machines in Nevada.Those charges, some raised by the Trump campaign and the president himself, are distortions or outright conspiracies. Arizona election officials, for example, said black Sharpies do not invalidate a ballot, and a judge allowed observers in Philadelphia within six feet of ballot canvassing.But Ms. Bell, 32, who left a job this summer as an assistant in a doctor’s office, insisted that “Americans are being silenced” and made the baseless charge, “It’s a coup.” Many of the president’s supporters were swayed by his blizzard of disinformation that illegal voting had been rampant and election officials were suppressing a Trump victory. They envision a Democratic White House that would kowtow to leftists, give up the fight against China and embolden rioters and looters.While Mr. Biden did slightly better in Pennsylvania’s many Trump counties than Hillary Clinton did in 2016, the margins did not tighten as much as Democrats expected or hoped for. With record turnout approaching 7 million in the state, Mr. Biden’s advantage over Mr. Trump was less than 1 percentage point as of Saturday night — a far cry from Barack Obama’s victories of more than 10 points in 2008 and more than five in 2012.Certainly, there were Trump voters ready to accept the results as fair and to move forward.Chace Torres, 37, was making grilled-cheese sandwiches for his family in Northampton County on Thursday night. At the time, Mr. Trump’s lead in the state, once close to 700,000, was ebbing away as mailed-in ballots were counted.“I think the Trump supporters are going to suck it up and move on,” said Mr. Torres, a union railroad worker. “We’re not going to run out tomorrow and loot and riot. We’re going to put our heads down, go to work, feed our children, take care of the country like we always do.” No evidence exists of fraud, deception or criminality in the tallying of absentee ballots that piled up during the worst health crisis to hit the nation in a century. The state’s Republican-controlled legislature refused to allow those ballots to be processed as they came in, compounding the delays until the race was called on Saturday, making Mr. Biden the 46th president-elect.But Mr. Tippie, a retired truck driver who imbibed the president’s words partly through Fox News, agreed with Mr. Trump and his surrogates that the election had been stolen before their eyes. He lives in Nanty Glo, Pa., in the interior of the state that the so-called elites in Philadelphia sometimes call “Pennsyltucky.” To Mr. Tippie, Mr. Biden is “a total fool,” his running mate, Kamala Harris, is “a very scary woman,” and a Biden presidency would be both illegitimate and disastrous. Four years ago, Cambria County, which includes Johnstown, went for Mr. Trump by 37 points. This year, the county favored him by an identical margin.“The Trump support here in the rural counties and out west, it will linger for two years,’’ Mr. Gleason said.He predicted that with Mr. Biden in the White House, Republican senators will block him at every turn, with an eye on gaining seats in the 2022 midterms.“You know the Senate won’t give him an inch,” he said.Democrats’ opinions of Trump supporters over the past five years have been driven partly by reporters’ treks to places like Johnstown, once a Democratic stronghold. Many Democrats view the president’s base as being in thrall to an authoritarian, energized by his racism and xenophobia, and unable to separate reality from his endless lies. Many Trump supporters, in turn, have no more generous view of Biden voters. “Most of them are morons,” said Lois Peters, a retired department store saleswoman in Westmoreland County.She was baffled that Biden voters could not see what she does, that the former vice president is mentally unfit to lead, and that a permissive, liberal Biden administration would give rise to violence and looting, as in the aftermath of some demonstrations against police shootings and abuse of Black people this spring.“That V.P. of Biden’s, oh my God, that woman is vicious,” Ms. Peters said of Ms. Harris. Then she caught herself. “Now I’m sounding vicious,” she said. She continued, “But I feel like that, I do.”Mary Jo DePalma, 60, who with her husband owns a jewelry store in Westmoreland County, said Democrats “seem to hate the president so bad” that she feared even Mr. Biden’s victory would not end their animosity toward the right. “It’s going to take a miracle to heal the nation,” she said. “I believe this started a long time ago, not just in the past three years.”“I hope two years from now, I’m dead wrong,” she added. “I want the country to be united. I want to continue to have faith in America.”center_img Some Democrats were hopeful that with Mr. Trump out of office, the nation would return to a semblance of normalcy, that sowing division as government policy would end.In Erie County, which Mr. Trump had won in 2016 after it long voted Democratic, the president had raised expectations and hopes with his promises of restoring industry. But Mr. Trump lost Erie County this year, in part because of his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic and the chaos he sowed, said Carl Anderson III, a Democrat on the county council.“His flaws have been exposed,” Mr. Anderson said. “There are elements of extremists and ideologues who will initially not accept the outcome and perhaps protest, but as the dust settles and reality emerges, normalcy will take over.”The nature of Mr. Biden’s narrow victory in Pennsylvania underscored the challenges he will now face. His vote count was driven by a surge of suburban voters: He improved on Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 margins in the vote-rich counties surrounding Philadelphia by notable margins, including by more than 7 percentage points in Chester County and nearly five points in Montgomery County, the state’s third most populous. But, he said, “I’m not resigned to him being president.”- Advertisement – But in red Pennsylvania — a vast swath from the northeast through the center to the southwest — Mr. Trump gave up very little ground. He won most rural and small-city counties, with their faded industrial economies, by landslides. It suggests that the message behind Trumpism — a combination of a promised industrial restoration and white grievances — has lost none of its appeal.“The people here still feel forgotten,” said Rob Gleason, a former chairman of the state Republican Party who lives in Johnstown, once a steel-making center, now bleeding population and struggling. “I can’t tell you how many people are saying Trump’s saying what I’ve been thinking all my life.” While Mr. Biden pulled off major successes in flipping Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania back to Democrats, and achieved the rare ouster of an incumbent, he did not notch the landslide demolishment of Mr. Trump that many Democrats had yearned for, despite leading in the popular vote by more than four million.Instead, Mr. Biden will inherit a country where many Americans are already backed into mutually hostile corners. It threatens the president-elect’s most basic campaign pledge: to unite Americans, to move past divisiveness as a governing strategy, to heal the “soul of the nation.”“I think we’re a long way from unifying the country, and I’m sure that Trump will continue to work on dividing us,” said Catherine Lalonde, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party in Butler County, a blue-collar region in western Pennsylvania.- Advertisement – “I don’t believe his supporters will accept Biden’s win and wouldn’t even if it were a larger margin,” she added. “I have a feeling that all the Trump flags and signs will stay put until they disintegrate.”Interviews with voters in Pennsylvania, primarily Trump supporters, showed that Pennsylvania mirrored a nation still mired in tribal polarization. The country may be staggering forward as bitterly divided as ever. – Advertisement –last_img read more


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