Barack Obama was John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. all rolled into one for an overflow crowd of supporters at the junior senator from Illinois’ first official campaign stop in Brooklyn on Wednesday night.
Standing before the emotional and heterogeneous crowd at the Brooklyn Marriott in Downtown, Obama gave a charismatic stump speech, pacing the stage and throwing red meat lines to a hungry audience while touching on the issues of the day: education (he supports it), health care (he wants to expand it), and the war in Iraq (he wants American out of it).
By the end of his 40-minute rallying-cry, Obama was engaging the crowd in a call-and-response chant, “Are you fired up?” he yelled.
“Fired up!” yelled back the supporters, each of whom paid $25 to get in.
“Are you ready to go?” he yelled.
“Ready to go!” screamed the crowd.
Many in the audience were downright starry-eyed, fanning themselves with folded paper and rushing the stage to get his autograph.
Elvia Alexander, of East Flatbush, compared Obama’s charisma to that of John F. Kennedy, who was 43 when he was elected to the presidency, five years younger than Obama would be in 2008.
“When I think about him, I think about Kennedy,” said Alexander. “I think he will bring change to the world.”
Gillian Charles, a Prospect Heights resident, chose different historical predecessors: Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
“He has charisma, he’s engaging,” said Charles. “He has a voice, it’s compelling, and people listen.”
Other supporters pointed to Obama’s background as one of the primary reasons for their support of him over other Democratic contenders.
Frank Alert, a black resident of Bedford-Stuyvesant, said, “Obama is someone who looks like me, who is articulate, who has hope.”
Even so, Alert was skeptical that someone who looks like him could get elected.
“I don’t think he’s going to win, because he’s black. ” said Alert. “I’m not cynical. I’m realistic.”
The fundraiser and rally came only a month after Obama’s under-the-radar (and apparently “unofficial”) $1,000-a-ticket fundraiser in a Brooklyn Heights mansion, where big-time donors got a chance to engage the possible future president of the United States.
But on Wednesday, Obama worked a mass audience, invoking his Brooklyn roots, repeating nearly verbatim the recollections he shared with The Brooklyn Paper in July.
“I don’t how many of you know this, but I used to live in Brooklyn,” said Obama, the junior senator from Illinois. “I used to live in Brooklyn,” he repeated, to good effect.
“You know, when I was going to Columbia University and afterwards, I had an apartment in Park Slope for a while. I couldn’t even afford it back then. I definitely couldn’t afford it now.” (The crowd laughed approvingly.)
“But I always loved Brooklyn,” he continued. “I loved the Promenade. I used to run up and down there. I used to grab a bagel over at the red line stop.” (Red line? Oops.)
This rally and his recent high-end fundraiser could help Obama even the score with front-runner Sen. Hillary Clinton, who, as of July, had raised more than $424,000 in Brooklyn to Obama’s $231,000.
Although Clinton is technically New York’s “favorite daughter,” Obama is certainly a prince of Kings, if the frenzy of Wednesday evening’s crowd was any measure.
“I’m a very big Barack supporter,” said Jumaane Williams, vice president of the Brooklyn chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
“Of all the people running, he has the freshest ideas. He’s not an insider.”