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A 93-year journey from the lap of a slave to the Electoral College

NEW YORK >> Hazel Ingram has seen plenty of Donald Trump, as she has been cleaning the same offices at night in Midtown Manhattan for 61 years, half that time down the block from one of the buildings Trump named for himself. Ingram, 93, still works 40 hours a week. On Thursday, while Trump, the Republican nominee for president, was giving a speech about economic development, Ingram was seated in a public atrium next to Trump Tower, discussing her life.

Born in 1923, Ingram grew up on a farm in rural Georgia and perched, as a little girl, in the lap of a grandmother who lived to be 108 and was born into slavery. This year, Ingram was chosen by the Working Families Party to be an elector who will cast one of New York state’s 29 votes in the Electoral College. The Constitution requires that the president be chosen by an Electoral College of 538 members; first one to 270 wins.

She is committed to casting her ballots, in a voting booth in Brooklyn and as a member of the Electoral College, for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee. “First lady, U.S. senator, secretary of state — I’d say she’s prepared,” Ingram said. She was already working at her cleaning job on Madison Avenue and 56th Street three decades ago when Trump built a gilded tower a block away. She was not moved by it or by him.

“What does he know about being president?” Ingram asked. “He has got everybody’s mind twisted. How can you talk about human beings the way he does and then go back and ask them to vote for you?”

In 1940, 75 years after the end of the Civil War, just 3 percent of the eligible African-American voters in the South were registered to vote. Full citizenship was a phantasm. Ingram did not vote in Georgia, and as far as she knows, neither did her mother, her father, nor her grandmother. “They weren’t able,” she said. Her father’s biggest concern was growing enough cotton and peanuts to pay the rent.

At 20, she moved to New York and lived with a family friend from Georgia. She got her first job within a week or two. For five decades, she worked by day in a women’s shoe factory in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, at the same time that she held the Manhattan cleaning job at night, while picking up weekend housecleaning gigs for people she met along the way. She married and had six children, who begat 19 grandchildren, followed by “40-something great-grandchildren” and a number of great-great-grandchildren — six or seven, she believes.

“I hadn’t seen a doctor in 37 years until 1999 when I fell in Caldor’s,” Ingram said. “Someone had spilled water. I didn’t even really need one then, but they took me.”

Asked the secret to a long, hearty life, she scoffed, then reeled off her diet. “I ate fresh vegetables on the farm and still do — collard greens and black-eyed peas, cornbread, baked chicken,” she said. “And pork chops. Pork, morning, noon and night.”

She joined a union that represented office cleaners in the 1950s. “I followed the union in politics,” she said. Her own children in tow, she knocked on doors for John F. Kennedy and then for Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress. Later, she traveled out of state to push the causes of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Today, her union, now Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, has strong ties to the Working Families Party, which initially supported Bernie Sanders before endorsing Clinton. Not Ingram, however. “Hillary all the way,” she said.

In New York, and most other states, voters may choose candidates on the ballot lines of the two big parties, or on the lines of smaller parties, like the Working Families or the Conservatives. The popular votes then funnel to committed Electoral College electors like Ingram. (Yes, there are exceptions.)

She is not entirely sure how the college works but will figure it out when she gets a minute or two. Which are scarce, given her schedule. She goes to Manhattan from her home in East New York, Brooklyn, way ahead of time because she builds a big hedge into the commute, public transport being what it is.

“Long as I’m on level ground, it’s like I’m 16 years old,” she said. “Have me come up subway steps, you’d think I was a 93-year-old woman.”

So she regularly kills time in the atrium before starting her shift cleaning offices. Around noon on Thursday, Trump’s motorcade rolled past the wall of glass on 56th Street. Ingram did not give it, or him, a glance.

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