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.
Park Slope, 8 a.m. – 11 a.m.
Two hundred and forty-eight voters—plus children and at least seven baby stollers—were waiting in a U-shaped line, stretching from the Fourth Street entrance to P.S. 51, continuing down the entire block of Fifth Avenue, to a spot halfway around Fifth Street, a little before 8 a.m. in Park Slope.
It’s a neighborhood that eats, drinks and breathes “hope” and “change,” from the Obama cookies at Trois Pommes to the temporary Obama phone bank inside the Brooklyn Lyceum. Thus, all the Obama buttons, T-shirts and other paraphernalia along the lengthy line—and only one guy in a McCain cap. (He conservatively declined comment.)
Across the street, the usually daunting line stretching out the door of Bagel World seemed quite reasonable by comparison.
“I was so touched when I saw the line—it made me feel good about my neighbors,” said nearby resident Christy Newman, the charming wife of A. C. Newman, frontman for the popular rock group New Pornographers.
“There were helicopters filming the lines in Park Slope for NY1,” Ms. Newman noted.
The couple had just returned to Brooklyn from a tour overseas. “New Zealand, Australia—everybody’s like, ‘Please tell me you’re voting for Obama,’” Ms. Newman said. “It’s worldwide news.”
Greenwich Village, 9 a.m.
“This is fucking nuts,” said Kaylan Keane, 36, summing up the sentiments of everyone in the stretched-as-far-as-the-eye-could-see line that snaked its way around the block of the alternative high school City as a School on Clarkson Street in the West Village. Ms. Keane, who works at EMI, had her 2-and-a-half-month-old son, Tor, strapped around her torso and she shifted her weight back and forth as she inched (slowly) forward. “He’s an Obama supporter, of course,” she said, rubbing Tor’s back. Tor blinked a few times in response. “I’ve been voting here for over 10 years,” she said. “And it’s never ever had a line past the [school’s] steps.”
The liner-uppers carried coffee from the local favorite, Grey Dog Café, while others had newspapers, books and iPods to pass the time. A NY1 camera crew filmed the crowd while a producer asked if anyone wanted to talk about being “pissed at the length of the line.” There were no takers. “It’s worth it,” said one longtime West Village resident, while a few of the people around her nodded.
“That was actually really exciting,” said Biz Zast, 27, a tall and model-esque beauty who works at Henri Bendel, as she skipped out the door. Ms. Zast hails from Illinois and said that she felt “a little emotional” when she pulled the lever for Obama. “I don’t mind at all that I waited for so long.”
Washington Square, 11 a.m.
“What I’ve discovered is that if people haven’t voted in four years, their names have been released from the book,” said Carla D. Packer, the 60-something site coordinator at the polling place at Hayden Hall, the New York University dorm on Washington Square Park.
“Sam Shepard was here with Jessica Lange and he apparently just re-registered. He got his notice to register to vote here, but his name wasn’t in the book, and when I went out to speak with him, I discovered he hadn’t voted in four years. And one year ago, I had the same problem with [Ms. Lange], and I had to give her a provisional ballot.”
Ms. Packer also said that former Mayor Ed Koch and MSNBC legal analyst Dan Abrams usually vote at her polling place toward the end of the day, along with “a couple people from soaps who I don’t know.”
Austin Scarlett, the Project Runway season one contestant who now designs bridal wear, was voting at Hayden. He was instantly recognizable, and perfectly put together, in navy pinstriped pants, brown shoes, gray suit jacket, blue patterned ascot, brown bowler hat and vintage brown glasses.
“I love Michelle Obama’s style,” Mr. Scarlett said. “She’s definitely, I think, closely modeling herself on Jackie O, which I think works for her. Cindy McCain sort of has this evil queen beauty about her that is intriguing. She’s always composed and she’s definitely a well-dressed and chic lady.”
Does vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin have style? “No, the hair is just bad,” said Mr. Scarlett. “Even with the hundreds of thousands of dollars she’s spending, she’s still just a little on the frumpy side. And, you know, when you’re going for an international role that you’re gonna fill, you really need to sort of dress the part of a world-class leader and she’s not that.”
And what about Mr. Obama? “Well, Barack, he’s so handsome,” said Mr. Scarlett. “I’d like to see him in something in a little more fitted, a little more streamlined, while still keeping the classic, conservative look that you have to do.”
On Mr. McCain, Mr. Scarlett was emphatic: “I would just keep him in his uniform!”
Union Square, Noon
The Rub DJs, along with DJ Rekha and Chez Music’s Neil Aline, were starting an afternoon DJ party at the Raise the Volume Election Day Party at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square around 1 p.m. On the decks: “Elected,” by Alice Cooper; “I Believe” by Simian Mobile Disco; “Funky President” by James Brown; “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want,” by the Smiths; George Clinton’s “Paint the White House Black” and more. Start your own playlist!
Governor David Paterson walked into the voting booth with his wife, Michelle, today, but said afterward, “I pulled the lever myself.”
Paterson did not use a Braille ballot when voting for Barack Obama. (He doesn’t read Braille.) Mr. Paterson conducted a walking press conference with reporters while on line to vote at the same Harlem elementary school where Representative Charlie Rangel voted hours earlier.
“I’ve never seen so many people stand on line for so long and be so excited,” Mr. Paterson said. “I’ve never seen so many people look so happy, even though they have to wait over an hour to vote.” He said the “struggles” of African-Americans, women, Hispanics, the disabled, elderly and others “may all be congealed in this sort of symbolic moment. But symbolic moments have often been the catalyst for great change in this country.”
When asked by a radio reporter about the Bradley effect possibly sinking Mr. Obama today, Mr. Paterson said, “There have been so many times in this neighborhood when we thought we’d be treated like everybody else, and it turned out that we didn’t. It’s so many times that we pay taxes, we fought hard overseas for this country, and went back and found that prisoners of war from other countries were treated better than us.” Mr. Paterson added, “I can understand that skepticism, that superstition.”
Midtown, 2:30 p.m.
It was Tuesday afternoon around 2:30, and Chris Matthews had been up since early in the morning, working the phones, jotting down notes, marveling at American democracy and the turnout in North Carolina, thinking about Roosevelt, and Truman, and J.F.K. In a few short hours, he would be on the air at MSNBC, guiding viewers through the returns.
Already, his mind was racing.
“If Obama wins it will be a time when the world once again looks at us with wonder,” Mr. Matthews told The Observer.
“The great thing about America is that people have always looked at this country and said, how do they do it?” said Mr. Matthews. “How do they win at everything? How do they invent everything? Why is America where all the modern drugs are created, where all the modern technology comes from? What is it about the American reality that is so, almost, miraculously novel? I think if Barack wins that will be the message. People will once again look at us with wonder.”
And if McCain wins?
“If McCain pulls it out, I think it’s a testament to his grit,” said Mr. Matthews. “And because the country wasn’t ready for too big of a change and resisted what looked to be too big a leap.
“But my feeling is that this country has almost always in times of crisis made the leap,” Mr. Matthews continued. “That’s why people came to this country. You know why? Because they couldn’t live with the way things were. We are the children of the people who came to this country because they wouldn’t put up with mediocrity.”
The question, said Mr. Matthews, is whether Americans will get behind the guy once he’s in office, the way they got behind him on the campaign trail. “Having given him the ball, are they going to let him shoot?” said Mr. Matthews. “Are they going to let him take the outside shot? Are they going to root for him? Are they going to rally to him? Or are they going to stand back and say, ‘Let’s see if he can do it?’
“I think it’s very important not to do one of these scorched earth things on the other side where Bill Kristol writes a column every week trying to bring down the government like he did with the Clintons,” said Mr. Matthews. “I think that’s rotten. I think this guy deserves a shot. Bush got his shot. The country rallied behind him and gave him his tax cut and supported him through 9/11 and this war.
“I think this guy ought to get his shot.”
Greenwich Village, 3 p.m.
Kenny’s Castaways—a rock dive on Bleecker Street between Thompson and Sullivan—has been a daytime hangout for lowlifes since time immemorial. (Or at least the mid-1970s, when it opened; Bruce Springsteen played his first gig here.) Early this afternoon, Jerry the Methadonian came by to rally the flock. “Is everyone voting? You’re all getting out there right?” Everyone grunted in response.
A gallery worker named Sam, one of the few regulars with a job, wondered aloud if Jerry was a canvasser. But by this point he was off, on to the next shithole. “Fuck politics,” was the response of Tommy Kenny, the owner.
Paul Sudia, a porter at the Back Fence next door, had another take. “There was a line around the block on 13th,” he said. “I told someone that was voting for Obama, ‘Look, you just don’t vote and it’ll be good, it will cancel each other out.’ Everyone just stared at me, though. It’s a great system, but you can’t trust people,” he said with a sigh.
We were skeptical. Mr. Sudia lit a cigarette. “Uh, to be honest I wasn’t gonna vote anyway,” he said.
Columbus Circle, early evening
On election night, Ted Sorensen, legendary speechwriter and shadow of John F. Kennedy, and his wife were preparing an election-results gathering in the three-bedroom, 3,444-square-foot apartment they bought last November for $10.75 million.
This was where people who are smarter than just about everyone currently alive in New York City would be gathering to privately mark the occasion, and watch the results pour in.
“I’ve spent my life writing books about political power,” the godly 73-year-old biographer Robert Caro told The Observer on the phone (while we were trying to get in), “and for me, there’s no one on the face of the earth that I’d rather be watching an election night with than Ted Sorensen, with the exception, of course, of Lyndon Johnson.”
Mr. Caro, of course, won one of his two Pulitzers for his third book on Johnson, President Kennedy’s successor.
Ambassador William J. vanden Heuvel, who is even better-spoken than that mellifluous, multi-syllabic name suggests, was invited, too. He was Robert F. Kennedy’s assistant in the ’60s.
Sadly, Mr. Sorensen and his wife, a senior adviser to the United Nations Foundation, are not allowing uninvited guests.
“He has, of course, been a participant in some of the great primary and general-election contests of American history,” Mr. Caro said about the speechwriter, “and this is going to be another one.”
In some Harlem precincts, as the day progressed, it became not so much a question of whether Barack Obama will win, but how his victory will be thwarted.
“I think it’s going to come down to a mess-up in the voting,” said 70-year-old Ervin McLean, a golf caddy who lives in the neighborhood.
McLean was hanging out today with a couple of other caddies on 130th Street, off Lenox Avenue. The three of them described Obama’s victory as simultaneously imminent and impossible.
Sonny Clifton, a 73-year-old, predicted violence if something goes wrong with voting machines or vote counts.
“If you’re white, get out of Harlem,” said Mr. Clifton, who was missing most of his teeth and had an empty Budweiser can by his feet. “If they kill him, don’t be seen in Harlem,” he told me, adding, “They got these young boys who will turn this place out.”
Thomas Mullins, a 52-year-old fellow caddy, was less pessimistic.
“I definitely think they’re going to throw a monkey wrench into the machine,” he said, but, “I don’t think there will be no disarray. There will not be unrest, but there will be a lot of disappointed people.”
He added that if Obama loses, and it’s blamed on voting irregularity, it will “stay in the consciousness of America’s mind.”
Harlem, late afternoon
At 125th Street and Lenox Avenue, State Senator Bill Perkins hopped onto a bus heading downtown.
Perkins, who represents Harlem, was one of the first elected officials in New York to endorse Obama.
On the ride to 108th Street, a man on the bus called him “courageous” and said he had “character.” Perkins nodded and said thank you.
Another passenger, an older African-American woman, echoed concerns about voting fraud I heard earlier in the day, wondering aloud, “Do you think they’re going to steal it?”
Perkins said no, because the turnout is so large. “They can’t steal an elephant,” he said. He told me the fear that the election will be somehow taken from Obama is one he’s heard often. “That it’s going to be stolen, yes. So, we believe if there is a big landslide, it’ll be harder to do, impossible to do.”
One older black woman said there was a line five blocks long when she went to vote in Harlem at 7 a.m. She took it as a sign that something was amiss.
Perkins was optimistic. “It’s a record turnout,” he said with a smile.
The Lower East Side, 4:30 p.m.
By late afternoon on Essex Street, the line to vote at Public School 20 was nonexistent, and voters trickled out at five-minute intervals.
Which is not to say voting here was entirely seamless.
“The machines were weird,” said neighborhood resident Nikki, 30, emerging from the gymnasium in a black puffy jacket after voting for Obama. (She asked that her last name not be used.) “I’ve voted before, but I had to ask how to do it. I’m kind of worried about that, actually, because what will happen to the people who aren’t so sharp? I don’t know if they’ll be able to figure it out.”
“It’s a bonk process,” she said. “Kind of prehistoric.” She said it took her 15 minutes total.
Lower East Sider Danny Rivera, 23, had also voted for Obama, but not with a lever. “My name wasn’t on the list, so I had to do an affidavit,” he said. He thought perhaps it was because he hadn’t voted in the last election, because he knew he was registered. He was with Maritza Alimonte, also 23, who had voted for Obama earlier in the day in the Bronx. They couple was confident Obama would win, but they were not Obamaphiles.
“I don’t trust him,” said Ms. Alimonte. “I don’t trust any of them.”
Midtown, 6 p.m.
By nightfall, midtown Manhattan was awash in jumbo news screens and fresh-faced temp workers handing out TV news schwag.
Outside the News Corp. building, a young lady passed out “fair and balanced” buttons and Fox News paddles. There was free hot chocolate, she said, and pretzels. Overhead, spotlights swirled through the night, catching here and there on the facades of the buildings. A crowd of onlookers watched Bill Hemmer and Brit Hume announce the early returns on a screen parked on 48th Street.
A few blocks away, at Rockefeller Plaza, a guy in a donkey costume posed for pictures with passersby. On the north end of the plaza, two al fresco screens carried Brian Williams coverage on NBC News. On the south end of the plaza, a single screen carried the MSNBC coverage. There were more free buttons to be had, these of the commemorative variety, celebrating “NBC’s Election Plaza.” The armada of American flags ringing the center of the plaza drooped in the sill, mild air.
At 6:45, Nora O’Donnell did a stand-up report from the plaza, on the latest news about the Elizabeth Dole’s difficult path towards reelection in South Carolina. “Elizabeth, go get some botox!” a middle-aged woman in an Obama t-shirt yelled at the screen.
Bits of nervous analysis—“The fact that Georgia is too close to call is a good sign,”—flitted through the crowd.
A few minutes later, MSNBC announced McCain the projected winner in Kentucky. Silence. Then MSNBC announced that Barack Obama was the projected winner in Vermont. The crowd cheered lustily.
At Times Square, ABC News and CNN jostled for attention. To the south, Diane Sawyer’s face floated high above the crowd. To the north, men and women sat in risers and watched on a giant screen as Wolf Blitzer interviewed a hologram of Jessica Yellin. Cheerful helpers handed out free CNN=Politics hand towels. There appeared to be no ABC News freebies.
Hell’s Kitchen, 7 p.m.
At the old Times building at 1475 Broadway, there was an electric “zipper” running up the side of the building that New Yorkers used to consult to find results. This time, the first ever election night at the new Eighth Avenue Times Tower, the building opened itself up for two hours for a panel session with Times editors and writers.
The panel took place at the TimesCenter, the ground floor auditorium that fits 378. Tickets are available WQXR listeners for $80 a pop and attendees are treated to a buffet afterward that includes free beer, hot dogs and popcorn.
Magazine contributing editor Matt Bai and metro reporter and host of the NY1 show The New York Times Close Up, Sam Roberts, were the moderators for the event. They were sitting behind a desk, not unlike the one a moderator sits behind at a debate, or that Katie Couric sits behind on the CBS Evening News. Behind them was an enormous screen that was expected to bring in instant results.
To their left were three office chairs, which rotated Times editors.
Jill Abramson was the first guest of the night. She was wearing a knee-length gray skirt.
Did it seem at all odd or interesting that on election night, the masthead of the Times could make time for what is essentially a promotional event for the business side?
“This is the most exciting campaign I’ve ever covered and I’m embarrassed to say I’ve been covering them since 1976,” she told the crowd. “The length of this campaign—I feel like I’m going to suffer from terrible withdrawal tomorrow! I feel like I may not be able to do with myself tomorrow.”
She said an Obama administration would change Washington “hugely.”
“Eight years of, you know, the Bush White House, it’s hard to re-create this for you. The whole social axis of Washington will turn. The city that had a Democratic elite and centered in Georgetown gave to a Republican elite centered in Virginia. I think that if Obama wins, you’re going to see a fascination with the new first family that will remind us with an obsession with the Kennedy family when they moved into the White House because there are small children in the picture again. The Obamas have a kind of celebrity that remind me a little bit of the Kennedys in 1960.”
During the summer, masthead editors at the Times went behind two-way mirrors and consulted readers on how they’d feel about a section consolidation (and it worked! You’ll now find Metro and sports in different sections).
With that spirit mind, Rick Berke took to the crowd to get their advice on The Times’ banner headline for the next day’s paper.
Mr. Berke took out a galley of tomorrow’s edition. The banner headline read WINNER, with a subhead underneath.
“What we decided to do, after great deliberation, we came up with a headline like this. What Bill Keller was suggesting we do, and tell me if you think it’s a good idea, and I’ll go up and tell him because we have time to change this. If Obama wins it’ll say ‘OBAMA’ instead of ‘OBAMA WINS.’ And if it’s McCain, it’ll say ‘MCCAIN.’ It’s more simplistic. So, if you like the simplicity of just Obama or McCain, no exclamation point, just their name, clap right now.”
The majority of the crowd clapped.
He reminded them it’s not a democracy, but he can make a recommendation to Keller.
Only a smattering applause came for the alternate headline.
“This will be a front page for the ages, one of those great front pages.”
Lower East Side, 7 p.m.
By Tuesday afternoon, The Onion’s ‘War For the White House Election Night Spectacular,’ at Fontana’s on the Lower East Side, was already sold out. Three hundred and fifty people were on the waiting list, and 800 others had been turned down.
As things got underway around 7 p.m., Onion features editor and party organizer Joe Garden joked that he was still hoping for a win for Bob Barr. He’d voted earlier in the day in Windsor Terrace, where it only took five minutes. (And we think we know who he really voted for.)
So, would it be harder to make jokes about an Obama administration than it has been about Bush?
“No way, that’s bullshit. That’s lazy comedy. You should always be able to make fun of the guy who’s in charge,” said Mr. Garden.
Flatiron District, 7 p.m.
A little after 7 p.m. at the Old Town Bar and Restaurant on E. 18th Street, where a casual after-work crowd had gathered for some election-night boozing, one of Old Town’s co-owners, Gerard Meagher, whose family has owned the place for decades, walked towards the back of the bar, ordered a fine Scotch malt whiskey, and started talking politics.
“We’re probably the only place in New York that has Fox News on,” joked the 56-year-old Mr. Meagher, who, on this unseasonably warm evening, was wearing his customary outfit of tan shorts and brown loafers without socks. The three-inch McCain-Palin button affixed to the lapel of his navy blue blazer was an unmissable clue as to which candidate he had voted for earlier in the day at a polling station on 50th Street where, he said, he had to wait in line for more than an hour to cast his ballot.
“I think this is better than the Super Bowl!” he said.
The returns wouldn’t start coming in for about another hour, and although many of Old Town’s patrons, and indeed much of the city, seemed nervously poised for a Barack Obama victory, Mr. Meagher was holding out hope.
“I don’t believe this election is over,” he said, questioning the “relevance” of recent polls that have put Mr. Obama well ahead of John McCain in many states. “The polls were wrong the last time. I have no idea who’s gonna win.”
Mr. Meagher said there are a number of reasons why he supports the McCain-Palin ticket (though, he admitted, he would have rather seen the Republican nomination go to Mitt Romney), some of which boil down to the candidates’ personas. He said that when it comes to Sarah Palin, it doesn’t hurt that she is, well, kind of a looker.
“I just like what I see,” he said. “I think she’s a beautiful woman. I think she reflects the frontier qualities of the American spirit. I like that she’s a hunter, a fisher, a mother. I think a lot of people on the left really see her as a threat. I said the same thing about Ronald Reagan.”
Chelsea, 7:00 p.m.
A little before 7 p.m., Matthew Modine was watching the TV screen at the Half King bar on 23rd Street in Manhattan, a few blocks from where he lives.
“I tell you if Obama loses and there’s a sense that there’s been some funny business, there’s going to be fucking riots,” said the 49-year old actor.
Mr. Modine has been paying close attention to this election. He traveled to both conventions with the Creative Coalition, the nonprofit political advocacy organization, of which he is a board member. He went to more parties, lunches, dinners, functions, what-have-you’s than he cares to remember. He watched Barack Obama speak at Invesco Field with a number of people who cried from start to finish.
Earlier that afternoon he had accompanied his 18-year-old daughter to a voting booth in the East Village. He said she doesn’t really get what the big deal is.
“It’s amazing how things have changed,” he said. “The other day she was doing her homework and the TV was on and she looked up and said, ‘Did you hear what he just said?’” The newscaster had just noted that Mr. Obama would be the first black president. That fact had apparently not struck her up to that point.
Greenwich Village, 7 p.m.
At the election night party at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise gallery, on Greenwich and Leroy streets in the West Village, balloons were attached to the ceiling. If Barack Obama won, they would be released onto the floor. If he loses, they’d be left to slowly deflate.
Mr. Brown is British and can’t vote here. Still, he said, “if [Barack Obama] loses, the city will feel betrayed. People will be angry.”
“A man like [Obama] can be so inspiring. Win or lose, nothing will be the same tomorrow.”
Earlier in the evening, 40-something Columbia English professor Carol Peters, who was clad in all black, had stopped by. Ms. Peters had voted at 6:30 in the morning at a school on Spring Street in Soho, where she has been voting since 1982. “I feel part black anyway because I’m a New Yorker,” she said. “I have a lot of black friends. I feel honored to be alive right now. … I understand if by 7 [Obama] wins Virginia, then we’re home free. And if by 2 it’s still undecided, then we can expect anything. It almost seems too good to be true if he’s elected.”
The artist Cecily Brown stopped by wearing a brown Obama T-shirt and jeans tucked into black boots. “I am so nervous,” she said. “I am terrified it will get stolen somehow. In fact I’m going home right after this. I need to be watching it in private. I’m just stopping by to say hello to some friends and hang out. I have never felt this way about a candidate before.”
Artist Jonathan Horowitz’s installation takes up the entire gallery. In the main room, chairs are lined up in a circle—one side blue, one red. Two flat-screen televisions face either side of the red-blue divide: The red side is tuned to Fox News, while the blue is tuned to CNN. There are also several attention-grabbing images: one pair features Jamie Lynn Spears walking in a pink dress and says “Vote Obama”; the other is a photo of Snoop Dogg carrying Britney Spears and says “Vote McCain.” Then there’s the image that’s Katie Couric on top and Britney Spears’ vagina on the bottom. And lining the walls of the entire gallery are images of every president. At the very end, a picture of Mr. Obama is lying on the ground. If he wins, it will be hung up on the wall with those of the other presidents. If not, it will stay on the ground.
Mr. Horowitz, who is 41 and lives on the Lower East Side, told us that the image of Ms. Couric and Ms. Spears is called CBS Evening News/www.britneycrotchshot.org. “For Katie Couric’s inaugural broadcast, there was a decision made that her legs would be part of the broadcast,” said Mr. Horowitz. “So I just paired that with Britney.”
Greenwich Village, 8 p.m.
At a West Village party thrown by former Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff’s chief of staff, Angela Sun, a Barack Obama tree made of tinsel and Mr. Obama lollipops is the grand prize. “I made the tree but I didn’t make the lollipops—I had them made,” said Ms. Sun.
Her boyfriend, Tom Brown, walked in and introduced himself; Ms. Sun informed us that Mr. Brown is a Republican. A real Republican?
“Yes, he’s a real Republican,” she answered.
For his part, Mr. Brown wasn’t very forthcoming about what he did for a living. “Nothing much,” he said. “Well, investment management. And real estate management.” (A Republican in investment management probably isn’t the most popular character in town these days, we suppose.)
The television sound in Ms. Sun’s apartment is off. “I don’t know what’s going on—I’ve been just helping out with everything,” said consultant Hattie Elliot, who lives in the West Village. “I talked to my cleaning lady today and she said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s a good sign that his grandmother died.’ I’ve been optimistimic all day because of that.”
Constantine, a British employee of Mr. Bloomberg’s, didn’t know which color pen to pick for the election poll that Ms. Sun was running. “Red and blue mean completely different things here,” he said.
Soho, 8 p.m.
A cheer went up at 8:15 p.m. at the party for Huffington Post humor site 23/6, as MSNBC called Pennsylvania for Senator Obama. Looking over at Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper projected on another wall, a guest was overheard asking, “Where are the holograms?”
Another poured his beer from a blue 23/6-branded cup into a simple plastic one because, he says, the 23/6 cups smell like an old man. A reporter was obliged to smell it for himself and confirm: the cups did smell rancid.
Off in the “quiet room,” where bloggers were invited to partake in the Huffington Post’s intermittent Wifi and blog the event in real time, hugs were exchanged.
“I feel absolutely confident that Obama will win,” said Penelope Bunn, a 51-year-old journalist. “I travel abroad and the whole world wants this.” Asked if she felt at all fatigued by the long campaign, Ms.
Ms. Bunn fairly beamed, “It seems like he just got started yesterday!” She added, “McCain’s not a bad guy. It’s just not his time.”
— Matt Haber
Harlem, 8:31 p.m.
As the jumbotron on 125th Street showed CNN announcing that Barack Obama is leading in Florida, the crowd here cheered.
But 27-year-old arts administrator Daisy Rosario of Harlem pressed a blue Obama poster over her mouth and tried not to cry.
“The last eight years have been awful,” she said. “On September 11, I was in the first tower that got hit. Since then,” she went on, referring to the Bush years, “it’s been a long, sad journey.”
She added, “I just want it to be over.”
West Midtown, 9 p.m.
Before they started “loading people in” to Comedy Central’s “Indecision 2008” special with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, 200 people were lined up outside. Network folks were passing out water and popcorn. The folks in line, Siobhan McCarthy, 25, and Valerie Adabbonizio, 25, had set up shop at 2:45 in the afternoon. Ms. McCarthy and her sister, Fiona, 23, who was there too, went to the same high school as Mr. Colbert’s kids, Montclair Kimberley Academy.Ms. Adabbonizio is also from the Garden State. Their friend Asher Kaboph, 24, is a grad student at MIT.
To occupy themselves, they’d brought knitting and a radio, which blared NPR. They were also jotting down results as they were called in an issue of The Economist.
Ms. McCarthy the elder and Ms. Adabbonizio wore silver New Years hats they found in their basement. They’d been waiting for this day for a long time—they’d ordered tickets back during the first primary. They were optimistic that the big surprise tonight would be some live animals. They’d seen a carriage pull up earlier and unload some donkeys.
Another fan, Mira Weisenthal, 24, from Astoria, said she just got the ticket tonight through a friend. “I had no election party plans but then when I voted this morning there was real electricity in the air and I decided to do something social,” she said. She came straight from a dentist appointment with her friend Allisa Boulette, 21, who lives in Enfiled, CT. Ms. Boulette ordered her tickets back in April.
“It’s the greatest place to be on election night because Jon Stewart together with Stephen Colbert is something that you never see,” she said. As she entered the studio, she checked her iPhone for results on mobile CNN and MSNBC.
A little after 9:30 p.m., Susan Sarandon walked in with husband Tim Robbins and the kids.
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