Volume 21, Number 26 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | November 7 - 12, 2008

Downtown Express photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie

75 Morton St., one of many long voting lines around the city and the country Tuesday.

A jubilant Downtown celebrates Barack Obama’s win

By Lincoln Anderson, Josh Rogers and Jefferson Siegel

They were yelling and whooping into their cell phones on Dominick St. in Soho.

“We did it! We did it! It’s about goddamn time!” shouted Ben Basalla-Taxis, 24.

“Who won? Who won?” Jess Woodward, 21, crowed victoriously into her phone. “And guess what color Virginia is? Blue! Blue! Blue! God, life is just…nice now!”

The two had been at a “Comedy for Democracy” party at HERE theater with music and political satire, and the place had completely exploded in cheers a few minutes earlier when networks called the presidential election for Barack Obama.

Basalla-Taxis, a Greenpeace organizer from Astoria, and Woodward, a CUNY student from Greenpoint, expressed the excitement — and now the euphoria — that this campaign has embodied, especially among young voters, and which has swept across the city, the nation and the world.

“It’s about time we broke down these barriers we needed to break down,” Basalla-Taxis said. “I am happy to say Obama is my president.”

Woodward said Obama’s flipping her home state of Virginia, a Republican presidential stronghold for four decades, was that much sweeter.

A friend of Basalla-Taxis from Zimbabwe noted that Obama, whose father was African, is a phenomenon there, too.

“People have Obama bumper stickers on their car,” she said. “It’s a win for the whole world.”

With more joyful whoops, they headed off to Times Square to continue their celebration with others beneath the Jumbotron.

At Caring Community’s senior center in Tribeca the next day, two Obama supporters, one black woman, one white man, said they never thought they’d see a black elected president.

“I didn’t think so,” said Isabelle Ayers, 67, a Brooklyn resident who regularly goes to the center. “I would say ‘maybe,’ but it seemed like it was far off.” She worried that people would not vote for him because of his experience “but he had his campaign so well laid out.”

She gushed as she spoke of Obama’s speech — “seeing people crying, young people stood there and voted. My husband died last year — I wish he could have seen it, history in the making.”

Jack Schiavone, 70, an Independence Plaza resident, said “It’s just time. It’s history.”

Another senior, a Southbridge Towers resident who declined to give her name, said she was inclined to vote for John McCain for his experience, but turned away after he picked Sarah Palin for his running mate.

Did she vote? “Is my hair on my head,” she replied. She voted for Obama.

All over Lower Manhattan, there were long lines to vote in the morning. Hilda Dunne, a poll worker at P.S. 234 in Tribeca, said she had never before seen hundreds of people on line at 6 a.m. at the site. She said 700 people voted in the first hour and Obama won by a 3:1 ratio at her machine.

Valerie Vasquez, a spokesperson for the New York City Board of Elections, confirmed there was an “unprecedented voter turnout in the city” on Tuesday.

Obama’s campaign office on lower Broadway reported crowds of volunteers jamming the hallways Tuesday to call voters in battleground states around the country.

Lines stretched around the block outside P.S. 41 on W. 11th St. and 75 Morton St.

David Deport, 60, exiting P.S. 41 at about 11 a.m. with his seeing-eye dog, Xia, said he’d voted for Obama and that the new, handicapped-accessible Ballot Marking Device machine worked pretty well, though “the paper was jammed” on the first try.

“I think he’s incredibly smart,” Deport, a freelance editor, said of Obama. “I think it will be incredibly exciting if he wins. I have to admit, I voted for Senator Clinton in the primary, but I got tired of her. That primary went on a bit long.” Asked his views of the Republican ticket, he said, “Sarah Palin is just unbelievably scary. I think Xia would be a better president.”

Martin Sheridan, 58, owner of the Ear Inn bar on Spring St., voted in Tribeca, where he has lived for the past 35 years after emmigrating from his native Ireland.

“My first time to vote,” he said. “I only registered as a citizen after 2001, and George Bush and people were coming down on everybody. That’s the reason I did it: It was the negativity that made me do it.” It took him four years to get his citizenship.

“It was very exciting,” Sheridan said of his inaugural voting experience. “It was one of the most exciting days as a public citizen. We need change. We need a great leader. And the world — particularly in this time — needs a great leader. You had it with Churchill, you had it with Gandhi and now we have Obama in America.”

In the midst of midterm exams, New York University was buzzing with energy on Election Day. Students did homework while they waited in line to vote, student groups passed out fliers reminding passersby to get to the polls, and the College Republicans and N.Y.U. Students for Barack Obama made last-minute calls to voters in swing states.  

Emma Crichton, a freshman from Jamaica, stood in line outside her dorm — Third North, on E. 11th St. — in a handmade Barack Obama T-shirt. While she waited, Crichton watched an episode of “Smallville” on her iPod.

“It’s cool here,” she said. “It’s the first year I get to vote!” Chichton planned to watch the returns with her resident advisor in her dorm.  

At P.S. 20 on the Lower East Side, Matt, a private equities trader who declined to give his last name, pulled the lever for Obama. “He has a better presence, better poise, he’ll be a better leader for the country,” he said.

At the poll site at Avenue C and 11th St., block-long lines had formed an hour before the polls opened at 6 a.m.

Philip Santora, the senior manager for the New York Road Runners Club, voted around 3 p.m. and found a short wait as the lines had diminished by then.

“I’m tired of the Republican Party,” Santora said between sips from a cup of coffee after casting a ballot for Obama. “It’s never been inclusive of me as a gay man. I can’t vote for a party that doesn’t acknowledge I exist.”

Santora also saw fundamental problems with McCain: “Someone who was raised with a military consciousness develops a dependence on it.”

Bryan Cooper, an African-American Republican candidate, was running against incumbent Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh. Cooper stopped by to see how voting was proceeding.

“You know McCain,” he explained as his reason for voting for the Vietnam War veteran. “You know what he’s about. As much as I admire Senator Obama, he’s just not ready to lead the country at this time.”

Asked if there were any circumstances that would have encouraged him to vote for Obama, Cooper didn’t hesitate.

“2012, Obama, yeah,” he said, discounting a McCain second term, since, “He’s too old.”

Asked about Sarah Palin, McCain’s running mate, Cooper was less than enthusiastic. “She’s still got some seasoning to do,” he said.

As the afternoon light dimmed and more people arrived to vote, Jalia Schuler, a member of the Lower Eastside Girls Club, arrived with a plateful of cupcakes for poll workers. The Girls Club was also bringing cupcakes to other busy polling places in the East Village and Lower East Side.

Councilmember Rosie Mendez said she visited 10 East Side poll sites. At Campos Plaza, poll workers “were cheering for each first-time voter,” Mendez said.

There were some voting glitches reported, however, a recurring one being that some registered voters’ names were not on the books at poll sites.

A resident who voted on Lafayette St. between Grand and Broome Sts. said there were two machines at the location, but only one had attendants. The wait to vote was two hours or more in the morning.

“The police were wonderfully helpful but the Board of Elections people were awfully slow,” she said.

Amy Gross, 32, an attorney who lives on the Lower East Side, reported that the neighborhood was teeming with celebration after Obama’s victory. Cars were honking their horns, she said; as an ambulance went by, one of the E.M.T.’s blared out over its loud speaker, “President Barack Obama!”

“This is pretty awesome,” she marveled, speaking around 11:30 p.m. “Mobs are dancing in the streets.”

With reporting
by Isabel Wilkinson, Julie Shapiro and Albert Amateau




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