Saratoga County

Local voters excited to cast ballots for a black man

Outside the voting booth, Kissair Savage prayed.

To view a video report, click Kathleen Moore |
Donna Wojcik of Schenectady, left, and Bryan Yager of Scotia smile as they watch Barack Obama’s projected win in Iowa on the big screen in the GE Theatre at Proctors in Schenectady on Tuesday night.
Donna Wojcik of Schenectady, left, and Bryan Yager of Scotia smile as they watch Barack Obama’s projected win in Iowa on the big screen in the GE Theatre at Proctors in Schenectady on Tuesday night.

Outside the voting booth, Kissair Savage prayed.

“Everyone that fought for us to get here, finally we got it,” the Schenectady mother said solemnly. “All they did finally paid off.”

Such moments of contemplation were rare throughout Schenectady, where some Obama supporters began celebrating the moment they pulled the lever.

Barbara Fisher of Schenectady ran out of her polling place shouting for joy after she cast a ballot for Obama.

“What does it mean? It means hope!” she said, clutching her children and dancing back and forth. “It means our children could be anything they want to be — and we can say it to them and mean it!”

Others marveled that they didn’t just get any black candidate — they got one they loved.

“I’ve been voting for Caucasian males for so long,” said J.B. Brown of Schenectady. “It’s a thrill to see a black man running for president. Not only that but he makes sense! We came a long way.”

Online extra

View President-elect Barack Obama’s victory speech by clicking here.

The Civil Rights Act was signed a dozen presidential elections ago. At the time, blacks said, they could never have believed that the first black president had already been born.

“I never thought I’d be alive to see it,” said Fred Clark, vice president of the Schenectady Chapter of the NAACP.

Clark, 65, said that even if Obama didn’t win, the support he received proved that racism is dying out.

“I have white friends, Hispanic friends. I know they’re good around me, but I didn’t know how good it was around the whole country,” Clark said. “Seeing the support he got — I think that the racism era is diminishing at a much faster rate than I perceived.”

Even young blacks said they never thought a black man would win the presidency in their lifetime.

“Practically every president has been of the same background. I didn’t think a change like this could come about so quickly,” said Nick Loaknauth, 28, an Albany Law School student. “I’m really excited that this is all going on in my lifetime. Having a person of color as president is more representative of our country. The way his upbringing was, it’s very similar to my background and many other people of color.”

Blacks were also encouraged when white voters in Schenectady said they supported Obama for his policies, not his skin color.

“Being the first black, it doesn’t matter much to me,” said Tom Gibson. “It’s more what they’re about than who they are. I was much more excited this time around — I couldn’t wait to get here and give it up for him.”

Barbara Hotaling said she wanted Obama because he would understand people in a way that wealthy scions of two-parent families could not.

“It’s a wonderful thing because the world needs a change. He’s experienced a lot more in life than most white people: raised by a single parent, learned to get by on his own,” she said. “He’s more of a people’s man.”

beyond color

Fisher said such comments prove the country has transformed to a post-racial world.

“We’re doing it better now because we’re going beyond skin color,” she said.

Voters turned out in record numbers in Schenectady. At Schenectady High School, the voting place for 5,400 city residents, more than 67 percent of the voters had cast a ballot by 8 p.m. Polling inspectors said they’d never broken 60 percent before — and with an hour to go, they were hoping to hit 70 percent.

At Yates Community Center, the polling place for 2,500 voters in the poorer area of Goose Hill, 60 percent of the voters had turned out by 8 p.m. The turnout there was unprecedented. One of the three Yates districts recorded 543 votes. In past years, the district had never gotten more than 150 of its 950 voters to show up.

The Democrats’ Goose Hill neighborhood leader, Carl Erikson, said he didn’t even have to remind voters to go to the polls. Everyone his volunteers called had already voted.

“In past elections there’s always been a lot of effort to get people to vote. People are more passionate this year,” he said. “I think what it comes down to is Barack is bringing something other candidates, for a lot of years, haven’t brought. He brings hope.”

tense hours

But even with the record turnout, voter excitement and polls showing Obama holding a commanding lead over Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., many Democrats couldn’t believe he could win. Even after he took Virginia at 7 p.m. and then won Ohio, they cheered but stayed on the edge of their seats, watching closely as news broadcasts played at the county’s Democratic headquarters and Proctors Theater.

“I’m not totally nervous but I’m skeptical. History has shown the polls aren’t always right,” said Pat Tonko, sister to successful congressional seat winner Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam.

Locally, the race seemed close: of the two Capital Region counties that could have swung either way, Saratoga went to Obama by a whisker, 51,932 to 49,734, while Montgomery went to McCain by a vote of 10,428 to 8,592.

When Obama won the state of Florida at 11 p.m., Democrats finally let themselves celebrate.

Betty Dufresne of Glenville said the vote left her feeling encouraged by the country after eight years of discouragement.

“I’d say they’re becoming more diverse in their thinking, more accepting — moving in the right direction,” she said.

Republicans said Obama didn’t so much win the election as McCain lost it.

“I blame this party as much as anything for letting him get away,” said Republican Cathy Lewis. But after listing a series of criticisms about the national Republican strategy, she said the country would be worse off without a strong Republican minority.

“You need to have both positions, or many positions, represented. You talk about diversity, you need to have diversity of opinions too,” she said.

Republicans also predicted that Obama voters would regret their decision.

“Tonight the voting public was a drunk that got married in Las Vegas,” said Schenectady County Legislator Joseph Suhrada, R-Rotterdam. “Tomorrow I’m not sure they’ll like the bride.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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