A Presidential Divide: 7th Ave. Tilts to Kerry, CEOs Leaning to Bush

Designers for Sen. Kerry, chief executive officers for President Bush — that generally is how the industry is lining up in the runup to the...

New York — Designers for Kerry, chief executives for Bush.

The statement might be a bit general in the complex world of politics, but that is more or less how the industry is lining up in the runup to the presidential election. The topics that matter to industry executives vary from the economy and trade policies to gay marriage and the Iraq War, and votes are being planned based on where the candidates stand on the respective issues.

Those issues are likely to be front and center as the Democratic Party holds its national convention in Boston, which started Monday, to nominate Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry as its presidential candidate.

Many Seventh Avenue designers favor Kerry based on social causes and the Iraq war, while some executives want to reelect Bush because of his stance on terrorism and handling of the economy. But even many of those voicing support for Kerry seem to be doing so more because he isn’t President Bush than because they are fervent supporters of the Massachusetts senator.

“There are a lot of really important issues — equal rights, universal health care, obviously what is going on right now in our world with the war and our relationships with other countries. I think Hillary Clinton is great, but she’s not running, so I am voting for a Democrat and doing whatever I can to help. John Kerry represents what I believe and my personal agenda more than Bush does. I like what he has to say about health care and what he has to say about equal rights,” said Robert Duffy, president of Marc Jacobs International.

And a large number of executives remain undecided — or at least unwilling to express their political leanings — especially surprising in the South, which backed Bush in 2000. Their indecision stems from the falloff in manufacturing jobs, which is a central election-year issue in the textile and apparel industry, which has lost 365,000 jobs over the last four years.

“I could not vote for him right now, but therein lies the dilemma: I’m not sold on Kerry,” said Roger Chastain, president of Mount Vernon Mills in Greenville, S.C.

Chastain is upset Bush hasn’t trimmed government spending more and tackled the rising cost of health care. He is equally miffed at Kerry for the recent fund-raiser in New York, where entertainers aimed caustic humor toward Bush, including comedian Whoopi Goldberg, who was subsequently dumped by Slim Fast as its spokeswoman for her sharp presidential critique.
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