As election night neared, New York’s power elite—but also its creative class, its political class, its partying class, lurched to find the center of gravity for election night.
The premonition that New York’s obvious choice, Barack Obama, was likely to win was not the smallest consideration here.
And then there were those who attempted to provide the city with its own massive town square, to hold election night, for the first time in eight years, as a massive, citywide, public event.
ABC did Times Square, NBC of course did Rockefeller. Harvey Weinstein and Georgette Mosbacher cultivated a list, checked it twice, added a bunch of plus ones and basically accounted for every boldface name in town.
Then there were the churches, the political power centers of Black New York, which suddenly realized they might have the first black president on their hands. Charlie Rangel would spend some time in midtown with the Democrats, but then planned to go uptown, and try to move the center of gravity there.
Every neighborhood bar put up a sign: free hot dogs, CNN all night. And New York put on its suits and frocks and went out for a risky, big, historic night.
But the day began early in the morning, with floods of New Yorkers eschewing habit to pull themselves out of bed well before the break of dawn to get themselves to their polling places, often, like Joseph and Mary, in some obscure neighborhood they have long since outgrown, and sometimes, in the very same place their family has voted for generations. The lines were long and the passions were high—ask Tim Robbins!—but the historic day had begun.
Harlem, before 6 a.m.
Sixty-four voters waited on a line outside an elementary school polling place on West 134th Street before 6 a.m. on Election Day.
Carole Branch, a 41-year-old project architect who lives around the corner in the Lenox Terrace apartments (where the Rangels also live), got there first.
“My mother-in-law told me to wake up early and beat the rush,” Branch said. She said she didn’t want to wait in line “but would have” to cast a vote for Barack Obama.
Her mother-in-law, Inez Branch, a 70-year-old retired H.H.C. administrator, stood nearby sipping hot chocolate. “I was looking for change and wanted to vote for Obama,” she explained matter-of-factly.
Inez’ son, 49-year-old Skip Branch, was walking around in jeans and sneakers.
“I haven’t voted in God knows how long,” Branch, a bus operator, said. His wife, Carole, nodded in agreement.
Inez’s 79-year-old-sister, Chris Lovelace, also retired from a job as an H.H.C. administrator, said she was excited to vote for Obama.
“It means a lot,” she said, hoping it might “give these kids a different outlook.”
Election officials wouldn’t open the site till after 6 a.m. But soon after they did, Mr. Rangel appeared. The line had by now grown to about 200.
“This is beautiful. This is exciting,” he said. “Who would have thought it?”
Mr. Rangel, wearing a black overcoat, yellow tie and carrying a New York Times tucked under his arm, said, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
He had little doubt about the prospects of his candidate, Barack Obama, on Election Day.
“No, no. He’s ahead in almost every poll.”
“Those Europeans never thought the slaves would be in charge,” Mr. Rangel was heard telling the young woman in front of him.
Harlem, 7 a.m.
A little later on, 23-year-old Harlem resident Rachel Arnett, who works in advertising, corralled three of her friends to pose for a photo next to a “vote here” sign next to the polling station they just emerged from.
“Duh,” Arnett said. “Because I love Obama and want a record that I voted for him” and to have “something to show the grandchildren” proving she “voted for the first black president.”
Upper East Side, 8 a.m.
A line of approximately 270 voters had formed by 8 a.m. outside a polling station on East 82nd Street when No. 271 arrived—billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“Can’t cut the line?” one woman joked. He said he couldn’t because the press was watching. Besides, the mayor went on, he has a Spanish lesson afterward. “So what’s the rush?” he deadpanned.
According to one of Blooomberg’s aides, one of the 270 people in line was Eliot Spitzer, but we didn’t catch him.
Williamsburg, 8 a.m.
Between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. in the hipster havens of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, young artists and professionals managed to carry themselves out of bed a bit earlier than usual to hit the voting booths, often for the first time. So which way were the winds blowing?“What do you think, man?” asked Matthew Achterberg, a 25-year-old video producer outside of P.S. 017 on North Fifth Street in Williamsburg. “It’s all about fucking Barack Obama over here.”
Mr. Achterberg wore a beanie and a hoodie. He was holding a cup from Oslo, the popular Williamsburg coffee shop, and a copy of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.
“I’ve been waiting for this ever since the Democratic primary ended,” he said.
“I don’t know if I’m a political junkie, you know?” he said. “I’m more like a political novice—a political amateur.”
“I’ve never seen this neighborhood care before,” said T. J. Stacy, a 39-year-old art director who was sipping a coffee outside Oslo and has been a Williamsburg resident since 1992. “But Obama really has the younger voters in the neighborhood excited.”
And inside Oslo, which is across the street from P.S. 017, the lines were heavy and packed for a cup of coffee.
Cobble Hill, 11 a.m.
At around 11 a.m., Elizabeth Pappas, a 28-year-old Obama supporter, dressed in jeans and Yankees cap, sat on a couch in the Tea Lounge, in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, and tapped on her laptop.
Ms. Pappas, who recently graduated from law school, said she felt nervous. At the moment, she was trying to compare an electoral projection map on MSNBC.com with one on the Web site of Fox News, hoping to glean something, anything, about what was happening out there in the heartland with voters.
Did she think Mr. Obama was going to win?
“Oh, God, I hope so,” said Ms. Pappas.
She planned to spend the night at her friend’s apartment watching the returns come in on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. “I’m too anxious to go out,” she said.
“Have you found a McCain supporter yet?” she added. “Good luck in this neighborhood.”
Over at the counter, a sturdy fellow in jeans, a hoodie, and work boots was finishing his espresso and reading the New York Post. He said his name was Alex, and that he was 40 years old. He declined to give his last name. “Call me Alex the Demolition Guy,” he said. “You know, like Joe the Plumber.”
“I’m Main Street,” he added.
Alex said he lived on Long Island, where he owned a demolition company. He was voting for Sen. Obama. And, speaking of Joe the Plumber, he wasn’t a fan. He figured the guy’s business must be grossing, like, $600,000 a year. “He’s not a good example of the middle class,” said Alex.