Reaction around North Brooklyn to the historic and transformative victory of President-elect Barack Obama was both joyous and cathartic, as revelers spilled from local bars and danced in the streets of Williamsburg, disrupting local traffic.
Many Williamsburg and Greenpoint residents had long been involved in the presidential campaign since the beginning of the primary election process when Obama first declared his intentions to run for office. Matt Cowherd, founder of New Kings Democrats and a volunteer for Obama, celebrated the victory from New Hampshire where he was sent by the campaign to help the state’s get-out-the-vote efforts.
“The thousands of Brooklynites who participated in this campaign feel empowered to continue to bring about real change, not just nationally, but locally,” Cowherd said. “The status quo of old-school, non-transparent, machine style politics is no longer acceptable.”
Elana Levin, a Brooklyn-resident and UNITE HERE! Spokesperson, helped coordinate volunteer efforts where Brooklyn labor activists were sent out of state to help register voters and canvass registered Democrats just before the election.
“I’m extraordinarily proud that I got to spend election day with our Unite Here members working in North Carolina to elect our first African-American president and a true progressive leader,” Levin said. “It’s important for people to recognize that the efforts of working Americans put this election over the top and it was no accident.”
Matt Painter, also a volunteer with UNITE HERE!, traveled to Philadelphia for four days before the election. Hours after learning the result, Painter said he was exhausted but happy with the outcome and hopes to continue political organizing work in Greenpoint.
“I think that the next four years are going to be really hard for Obama and for our country, but I think that what we all can do is make sure that he lives up to the promises made during the campaign and support some of the hard decisions he’ll have to make,” said Painter.
Marc Climaco, another UNITE HERE! volunteer, said union supporters would have to be vigilant during the first hundred days of the Obama presidency and turn their attention to state and local labor issues.
“It’s not just about getting Obama elected as it is about the work that needs to be done during his administration,” Climaco said. “We have a highly mobilized social movement behind him that is starting to gain a lot of traction at this time.”
While celebrations poured into the streets around Bedford Avenue this week, with an enthusiasm and intensity that several people said surpassed New Year’s Eve, the reaction in households supporting John McCain was more subdued.
“Both candidates fought a hard fight,” Rick Tarashinsky, who owns a military surplus store on 245 Manhattan Avenue, said. “Whether the best man won, we don’t know, but we’re going to find out. The one thing I’m committed to doing is supporting Barack Obama as President of the United States.”
Will Montagno, a longtime Williamsburg resident and Republican, shared Tarashinsky’s disappointment with the result and said he was not sure how his party would respond.
“We took a beating yesterday,” Montagno said. “This has happened before. We’ll get off the floor and come back.”
Local political leaders and future candidates for office expressed optimism about the process. City Council candidate Stephen Levin reflected on what the election meant to Brooklynites, saying that it was “a testament to America’s ability to change, and I look forward to seeing our country get back on track.”
Assemblymember Joseph Lentol, who said he is looking forward to working with a Democratic-controlled State Senate, believes that the election could lead to better candidates running for public office and constituents respecting public officials.
“The most important thing about this for me is that we may see a return to politics the way it used to be,” said Lentol.