Volume 78 - Number 23 / NOVEMBER 5 - 11, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie

Voters wrapped around the block at Hudson and Barrow Sts. Tuesday morning at the poll site at 75 Morton St. in the West Village.

‘Life is just…nice now!’ Obama wins after huge turnout at polls

By Lincoln Anderson, Isabel Wilkinson 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?” said Jess Woodward, 21, 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 before when everyone from NBC to Jon Stewart had 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 noted she’s from Virginia, so Obama’s flipping that state, which has gone red the past two elections, to blue 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.

According to Valerie Vasquez, a spokesperson for the New York City Board of Elections, there was “unprecedented voter turnout in the city” on Tuesday. However, anyone who went to the polls Downtown, could tell that for themselves.

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

David Frey, 23, the door clerk at P.S. 41, said the turnout was “much more than I’ve ever seen. People were lined up at 5:30 a.m. The flow of people was pretty consistent till about 10:30.”

David Deport, 60, exiting the school 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 native Villager and 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 immigrating from his native Ireland.

Villager photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie

Sarah Jessica Parker, center, and her husband, Matthew Broderick, not shown, voted at P.S. 41, accompanied by their children.

“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.  

N.Y.U. students hail from all 50 states and 127 countries. As a result, many out-of-state students voted absentee. Michelle Sibio, a freshman from Westchester, N.Y., for example, sent in an absentee ballot instead of returning Upstate to the polls.

“I didn’t feel like going home, or waiting in the lines. And the post office is right there!” she said, motioning toward Fourth Ave.

For Henry Ma, a freshman from China who is a permanent resident but can’t vote, it was hard not to feel left out of the process.

“It means being able to have your opinion counted,” Ma said of the U.S. voting system. “Isn’t that the American ideal — to be able to voice your thoughts?”

On a campus — and in a city — that is largely liberal, student Republicans are hard to find.

“We’re the absolutely, miniscule minority,” said Annie Peck, secretary of the N.Y.U. College Republicans. Peck — who sported a McCain T-shirt and cowboy boots on Election Day — said that she had experienced firsthand the building political tension between students. “Just walking into a lecture hall or down the street, people glared at me,” she said of wearing her McCain T-shirt through the sea of Obama supporters. “I’ve also heard boos and a few curses, but nothing harmful.”

Both the College Republicans and N.Y.U. Students for Barack Obama measured their ranks through — how else? — a Facebook group. Peck said the Republicans group held almost 400 members, though only around 60 to 70 people consistently attended meetings. Students for Barack Obama — which formed as a branch of the College Democrats in September 2007 — has about 375 students in its Facebook group, and around 20 to 50 consistent members. Both groups hosted trips to Pennsylvania to canvas voters. 

Miranda Sherman, campus co-coordinator of N.Y.U. Students for Barack Obama, quickly wove through the Kimmel Student Center on her way to the Obama phone bank, a last-minute effort for students to reach voters in swing states. Spotting Nate Giddings, class of ’09, in an Obama T-shirt on his computer in the corner of the room, Sherman swooped in.

“Want to come make calls for Barack Obama?” she said. Within minutes, Giddings was set up with a script and a call sheet in the corner of the bustling phone bank.

“I was doing homework,” he said, as he prepared to make his first phone call for Obama. “But this is more important!” 

After a surge of morning voting throughout the East Village and Lower East Side, lines had shortened somewhat by midafternoon.

At P.S. 20, the Anna Silver School on Essex St. near Houston St., one voter left with a sense of self-achievement.

“I voted for myself,” said Lower East Side resident Iver Findlay. “Any party that can’t defeat George Bush the past eight years doesn’t deserve my vote.” Findlay, an artist, said he had written in his name in past elections, as well.

New York voters did also have the option, however, of voting for Obama on the Working Families Party line.

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.

Brian and Ardith Nishii both voted for Obama.

“I agree with his views,” Brian, an actor and producer, said.

“This country needs a leader like him. It’s long overdue,” added Ardith, a designer.

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,” he noted.

Darryl McKay, an airport cargo agent and second-generation East Villager, also voted for Obama.

“He’s promising a whole lot more than McCain,” McKay said. “I respect his time as a P.O.W., but sometimes you have to stop thinking about fighting and killing people. We had no business being in Iraq,” he added.

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.”

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.

Mystelle Brabbee, 38, who runs the Nantucket Film Festival, said poll workers didn’t have her name at P.S. 41.

“I think I voted,” she said afterward, sounding perplexed. “My name wasn’t there, so they asked me to sign an affidavit. All I had to give was my name and birth date. An illegal immigrant or anyone could have voted.”

But Ed, a poll worker at P.S. 41 who declined to give his last name, said the Board of Elections will compare the signatures with ones on file.

“We’re very careful about the affidavits,” he said. “We want those votes to count. People need to upgrade their registration and keep track of it.”

There were some other complaints. An E. 14th St. resident who voted at 129 Third Ave. at 14th St., said that it had no ventilation and was very cramped.

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 Albert Amateau

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