It’s presidential election time! And while politics can make for strange bed-fellows — both donkeys and elephants are invited to head down to Bay Street Theatre in coming weeks to watch the presidential debates on the big screen.
“This is another opportunity for Bay Street to give back to the community by opening its doors for free,” says Tracy Mitchell, the theater’s executive director. “We welcome all to join us — no matter what your political inclination. Bay Street is a great place to enjoy gathering with your friends and neighbors for events that affect all of our lives.”
To that end, the theater will broadcast all three presidential debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney — October 3, 16 and 22 — as well as the vice-presidential face-off between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan — October 11. All four debates begin at 9 p.m.
Bay Street will also offer live election night coverage on November 6 (when doors open at 8 p.m.) Because “all politics is local,” the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons will join the October 16 debate with information available in the Bay Street lobby … and because politics can also be highly theatrical, refreshments will be available at the lobby bar.
A week after Sag Harbor’s L/Cpl Jordan Haerter was honored posthumously with the Navy Cross for his act of heroism saving the lives of dozens of fellow Marines from a suicide bomber last year, he was singled out in President Barack Obama’s speech this Friday morning, February 27, at Camp LeJeune, where Haerter had done his basic training. In his speech, Obama declared the combat mission in Iraq would end by August 31, 2010, and he praised the servicemen and women who fought to liberate the country. In particular he lauded those who gave their lives, mentioning L/Cpl Haerter and the other Marine who died with him that day, Corporal Jonathan T. Yale.
“In an age when suicide is a weapon, they were suddenly faced with an oncoming truck filled with explosives,” the president said on Friday. “These two Marines stood their ground. These two Marines opened fire. And these two Marines stopped that truck. When the thousands of pounds of explosives detonated, they had saved fifty Marines and Iraqi police who would have been in the truck’s path.”For an excerpt and video of the speech, see theÂ end of this post. Â Â
It was just after 2 a.m. when the bus pulled out of the Pierson High School parking lot in Sag Harbor last Friday, February 20 — headed for the Quantico Marine Base in Virginia for an 11 a.m. ceremony, posthumously awarding the Navy Cross Medal to Lance Cpl. Haerter.
It was a decision made by the Secretary of the Navy, the highest-ranking military official —Â second only to the United States President, that two particular men receive the award for valor.The Navy Cross is the second highest medal awarded for valor in the military, next to the Medal of Honor.
Haerter was a 2006 Pierson graduate, enlisted into the Marines and sent to Iraq last year. His duties came to an abrupt end when he, along with Corporal Yale, were mortally wounded, defending their post from a suicide truck attack in Ramadi, Iraq.
As the two Marines held their positions at a checkpoint just outside a security station, they motioned for the truck to slow down. Both Haeter and Yale noticed the truck was ignoring their requests and identified the vehicle as a threat. They shot at the truck, killing the driver, but at the same time, setting off the 2000 pounds of explosives in the vehicle. Both Haerter, 19 and Yale, 21, belonged to the First Battalion, Ninth Marines. Now they are credited with saving 33 of their own men, and hundreds of others through their heroic efforts.
As friends, family, and military personnel found their way to their seats on Friday at the Quantico Marine Base in Virginia, Marines surrounded the room, poised at attention.
Haerter’s father, Christian, recalled walking through the museum, when he first arrived, and said it was “breathtaking.”
“It was like a shrine to the Marines,” he said, “a lot of history oozes from there, and to know that we were there specifically in honor of Jordan, brought tears to my eyes.”
As the Marines escorted people into the museum, portraits of both Haerter and Yale stood on easels, underscoring the story of their heroism for everyone who entered that day.
Christian also added there were small framed photos of both Haerter and Yale in the gift shop, with their dates of birth and death. He said he saw those photos and realized what his son’s heroism meant to so many others.
The ceremony began with the Marine band playing the National Anthem.
The men in the One-Eight and One-Nine battalions then “snapped to attention,” according to JoAnn Lyles, Jordan’s mother, as Secretary of the Navy, David Witnner looked them over, to make sure their uniforms were up to military standards. He then released them to parade rest and gave his speech.
“The ceremony was really beautiful,” Lyles recalled. She said the secretary spoke “eloquently”Â about bothÂ young men being honored that day.
“Today’s ceremony is a great occasion to give the American people some sense of the debt we owe to our Marines and to all of our military forces who defend freedom around the world,” said Witnner, the day’s only speaker.
“Jonathan and Jordan are shining examples of the promise of America’s next generation,” Witnner continued. “They could have had many other opportunities in life. Yet they chose to leave these things behind and devote themselves instead to the calling of their country. They gave their lives as they lived them, for truths as emphatic as they are simple: Brotherhood. Loyalty. Devotion. Sacrifice. Extraordinary Heroism—those words epitomize their last selfless act on this Earth.”
Lyles said, amid tears, that she had mixed emotions sitting, listening to the speech.
“As the citations were being read, all the military stood [out of respect] and we were told to stay seated,” Lyles said.
“It was tough,” she said, “it was truly an honor and I was fighting back tears.”
First Witnner stood in front of Yale’s wife, and read the entire citation to her. Then, Witnner moved to both Lyles and Christian and read the citation to them. Witnner presented each parent with the Navy Cross.
During reception ceremony, Tom Toole, a Sag Harbor native and retiree from the U.S. Air Force, who knew Haerter from a young boy, gave Lyles and Christian a hand-made shadow box, made of cherry wood, with replicas of all Haerter’s medals, his dog tags and a reproduction of the Navy Cross inside. Toole also gave each of them a flag that flew over the capital in Albany.
Lyles said now, in her living room, she has a new coffee table, with a velvet lined draw and a glass cover to showcase her son’s achievements.
Sag Harbor Mayor Greg Ferraris and Assemblyman Fred W. Theile Jr. both flew down to Virginia Friday morning to participate in the honoring of the two young men.
Ferraris felt the ceremony was impressive and said he was “deeply honored to be able to witness this event, and humbled at the same time.” He added that Haerter was being awarded for such an amazing sacrifice.
Christian said that now, as he sits and reflects on the experience, he told his friend this very same thing:
“I’ve kind of come to realize and accept Jordan’s death. The thing that is hard to believe is the magnitude of what Jordan accomplished and the sacrifice that allowed him to do what he did that day.”
From President Barack Obama’s speech at Camp LeJeune, February 27, 2009:
“The starting point for our policies must always be the safety of the American people. I know that you – the men and women of the finest fighting force in the history of the world – can meet any challenge, and defeat any foe. And as long as I am your Commander-in-Chief, I promise you that I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary, and provide you with the equipment and support you need to get the job done. That is the most important lesson of all –Â for the consequences of war are dire, the sacrifices immeasurable.
You know because you have seen those sacrifices. You have lived them. And we all honor them.
“Semper Fidelis” – it means always being faithful to Corps, and to country, and to the memory of fallen comrades like Corporal Jonathan Yale and Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter. These young men enlisted in a time of war, knowing they would face great danger. They came here, to Camp Lejeune, as they trained for their mission. And last April, they were standing guard in Anbar. In an age when suicide is a weapon, they were suddenly faced with an oncoming truck filled with explosives. These two Marines stood their ground. These two Marines opened fire. And these two Marines stopped that truck. When the thousands of pounds of explosives detonated, they had saved fifty Marines and Iraqi police who would have been in the truck’s path, but Corporal Yale and Lance Corporal Haerter lost their own lives. Jonathan was 21. Jordan was 19.
In the town where Jordan Haerter was from, a bridge was dedicated in his name. One Marine who traveled to the ceremony said: “We flew here from all over the country to pay tribute to our friend Jordan, who risked his life to save us. We wouldn’t be here without him.”
America’s time in Iraq is filled with stories of men and women like this. Their names are written into bridges and town squares. They are etched into stones at Arlington, and in quiet places of rest across our land. They are spoken in schools and on city blocks. They live on in the memories of those who wear your uniform, in the hearts of those they loved, and in the freedom of the nation they served.”
It takes the soul of a poet to capture in a few words the historical significance of how the son of a man who grew up herding goats in a dusty African village has shaken off that dust to become the 44th President of the United States. As rapper Jay-Z so aptly put it, “Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther King could walk. Martin Luther King walked so Obama could run. Obama ran so we can all fly.”
As if to remind us all of the ultimate objective of Dr. King’s dream, Synclair Taylor, age six, while waiting for the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade to begin, paraphrased the dream. “I have a dream: no white people, no black people, just people,” the boy said.
This report comes alive from inside the gates that open to our nation’s capital. What it took to get there is a miracle. A few days before the inauguration my thoughts drifted to my lady friend, a woman of color, and how Obama has captivated her heart. “I knew from the jump that he’s real,” she told me. “Whenever I reflect on what this means to our nation and our children, I am brought to tears.”
As I appreciated the indomitable spirit of this woman, a thought came to me that in retrospect should have been immediately rejected as “an impossible dream.” But because life has taught me that my faith in miracles must be totally unlimited for miracles to happen, one thought led to another until I had convinced myself that realizing the dream was more than possible; it was inevitable.
And so I dreamed: Wouldn’t it be something if I could score tickets to Barack Obama’s inauguration for my lady friend? Immediately a wave of inspiration washed over me that instead of drowning me in doubt carried me straight through the security gates of the National Mall to experience the inauguration live. I believed in my dream, though I had no clue how it could come to fruition. But then…that’s what faith is all about.
I called a friend with connections. He had just given away his last two tickets. No worries. A deluge of astonishing phone calls and emails later, somehow, by the grace of God, two tickets magically appeared for us in Queens. My lady friend had to pinch herself. “Is this really happening?” she asked me, shaking her head in disbelief.
Tuesday morning at one we boarded a tour bus in Times Square. At six we arrived in Washington, took the Metro, and by eight we stood shivering two blocks from the mall. Squished together like sardines in a giant can, we inched our way closer to pay dirt before the massive crunch of bodies would drown out the tiny sliver of daylight. It was the same story getting out, only more intensely maddening. Someone voiced the obvious question, “What would we do if we had this to do all over again?”
Three hours later we passed through the security gates and hiked our way toward the capital amidst the buzz of deliriously happy people, right on time for the inauguration ceremonies to begin. While my lady friend’s heart welled up with pride when her favorite recording artist, Aretha Franklin, lifted her inspired voice to “My Country, ’Tis of Thee,” I kept turning around to marvel at the ocean of people that must have amounted to 10 Woodstock festivals rolled into one. I smiled at the connection.
As my lady friend would say on our drive back to Sag Harbor, “When you want to do something badly enough, you have to be willing to do things you don’t want to do to make your dream come true.”
I have been asking myself what it actually means that Obama ran so we can all fly. What is the indicator that proves this is true? I can only account for what is true for me. I don’t have to wait four years for the evidence. I am not waiting for the unemployment rate to drop, for the economy to thrive, or for the war in Iraq to end to decipher what it means to fly high into the sky of unlimited possibilities.
All I have to do is recapture the image of Barack Obama strolling down Pennsylvania Avenue with that big wide radiant smile and waving to the American people while holding hands with the love of his life. When I study that image, I see two extraordinary people joined as one by the power of their love for each other, their children, and the American people.
Naturally, for some, the jury is still out on Barack Obama. Not for me. I am blessed enough to have caught the vibe emanating from this man’s countenance as he strolled down the street so light on his feet he might as well have been shooting hoops. He would never say it himself; he would probably never even allow himself to think it, so I will say it for him:
I am Barack Obama, and I am just like you. We all have wings to fly as high as we want. I am your proof. I am here, the son of an African goat farmer. I never saw myself as underprivileged. I saw myself as free to dream; and through the power, the clarity, and the unshakeable focus of my own mind, the Red Sea parted. I will do my best to give all of God’s children every opportunity under the sun to flourish. But whether I do or whether I don’t, you already have your wings. Now go fly as high as you like.
Or as Abraham Lincoln more succinctly put it, “…That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Dear President Barack Obama, we trust that you, Michelle and the girls are settling in nicely to your new home in Washington D.C. Now that the parades, balls and parties are over, you have a big job ahead of you, and it’s not one that we envy. Nor is it one that we know you will take likely.
The economy is in shambles, our biggest employers and most stalwart industries are collapsing before our very eyes, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to grind on, and there are a load of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay who no one knows what to do with.
Yet despite all this, we can’t begin to convey the incredible optimism that many of us feel about your arrival at the White House.
We can only imagine it’s the same sense of optimism that certain previous generations felt when a new and charismatic leader has taken charge in times of despair. The legions who witnessed the inauguration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, for example, in the midst of the Great Depression when a quarter of Americans were out of work and two million were homeless, or the vision of a young and vibrant John F. Kennedy, Jr. calling on all Americans to fight the common enemies of man — “tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself” during his inauguration in 1961, for another.
There are times when the position of president transcends the man. For better, or for worse, the figure who enters the political arena as our president at critical junctures in history often becomes the embodiment of hope — what is possible for us as individuals and a nation — and our beacon in the face of fear and uncertainty. These are the presidents whose words are recalled and recited decades down the road when we all have the benefit of hindsight.
The scores who turned out to witness your inauguration bears this notion out — and we’re not only talking about those million plus souls who made it to the Mall in Washington. We’re also talking about Sag Harbor, where the Bay Street Theatre was filled to capacity with viewers who watched the proceedings on a big screen. We’re talking about schools, where children were pulled out of class and put before the TV and small, private gatherings where people sat silent, tears in their eyes, as you took the oath of office. There was a feeling that this was important… this was not to be missed. Like the landing of the first man on the moon (another Kennedy promise), we felt we were witnessing our history as well as our future.
So to the list of emotions many are feeling this week we add another — gratitude. Gratitude that you have agreed to take on this most difficult job. It’s one that precious few in this country have ever held and even fewer today would say they want right about now. It’s gratitude that, even in the short time you’ve been on the scene, you have shown the strong and confident manner we need, the guidance we crave and the wisdom and clear vision we pray will heal the weary world.
Hugs awaited friends and neighbors as they entered Bay Street Theater on Tuesday morning for a live screening of the Inauguration of America’s 44th President. People couldn’t wipe the smiles off their faces as they scanned the capacity crowd within the theater that included several families with children. At one point the audience chuckled as a toddler danced joyously on stage in front of the screen, perhaps wishing to join in her unselfconscious dance of joy. For the most part people sat transfixed in their seats, at least those who were lucky enough to get a seat, watching with awe the crowds gathered on the Mall as well as the procession of VIPs on screen leading up to the moment Barack Obama came out onto the front steps of the Capitol to take the oath of office. The crowd stood up and cheered as the almost President Obama’s image appeared on screen.
Bay Street Theater directors Sybil Christopher and Murphy Davis said they decided to host the presidential debates, Election Day results, and the inauguration because they wanted to serve the community. They really wanted local residents to see the theater as a community center, and to use it as such.
And besides Ms. Christopher said, “it’s really theater. It’s superb!” On a personal level Mr. Davis said viewing the democratic process had reinforced for him, “that we can be a great country.” Ms. Christopher added that she had actually attended Martin Luther King Junior’s “I have a Dream Speech” in 1963, and that the election of Barack Obama really symbolizes how far we’ve come.
In the audience was at least one other person who had heard Mr. King’s famous speech in person. Pamela Harris, a Southampton resident was a ten-year-old child when she walked the Poor People’s March on Washington in 1963. She sat with tears in her eyes as she watched the live coverage.
“I am beside myself here. I can’t believe this is happening in my lifetime,” said Ms. Harris. “When I was a child there were people in America who were being killed because they had the audacity to go out and vote. When I was growing up in this country there were no black people on TV. If one came on it was such an event we’d call people to let them know.”
Her friend Rita White, of Southampton said, “I really see this as a new beginning. A positive beginning that brings everyone together in American and in the world. My cousins in Germany told me I had to vote for Obama!”
White recalled being a child in Brooklyn with a German mother during World War II, and being stoned in the street because of their heritage, despite the fact they were American. She said it was most important to her that people didn’t continue to judge each other by their differences, and that this president symbolized this promise for the future.
Michel Mazuret, originally from France but currently an East Hampton resident, said he had to come to Bay Street to watch this event with a crowd because, “this is an exciting moment. All of Europe is having a big party today. Everybody over there is watching and listening. We need this big change for the planet.”
Audience members sitting around him nodded in agreement, as they watched yet more people pour into the theater. At one point there was a line of people waiting to get in, and theater management opened up the rehearsal space at the top and pushed some chairs together so more people could fit in safely.
As Obama took the oath of office several people wept and held on to the person seated next to them, as he finally became the president, the crowd stood up and, roared its approval for at least a minute. People were screaming and shouting with joy. His greatly anticipated inaugural speech silenced the crowd as they nodded approvingly to the President’s statement that “our common humanity will reveal itself” and that “we’ve chosen hope over fear.”Â Occasionally breaking out into applause or words of assent.
After his speech the audience stood and joined together in a heart-felt national anthem. With continuing smiles, and hugs of farewell many people left after that. However several people lingered in the afterglow of the jubilant proceedings.
Katharine Battle, a community activist and Sag Harbor resident, commented, “How good it was to have a president who is articulate. Especially one who could articulate the specific issues of our generation.”
Liz Oldak, a Pierson Sophomore who attended the viewing with her parents, would certainly agree with Ms. Battle. She said originally she wasn’t that involved with the presidential election, but once she heard that the then Senator Obama was proposing to have a Secretary of Technology she got more involved because she felt this candidate really understood what was important in the present and the future. She also said her parents had almost nightly discussions with her about Presidents Obama’s historic significance.
In the days leading up to the election, the noise level at the Barack Obama office in downtown Pittsburgh was deafening. Dozens of people squeezed into the one-room space. A team of volunteers sat around three plastic tables calling local voters. “Hello, how are you doing today? I am a volunteer with the Obama Campaign for Change. Do you know who you will be voting for on November 4th?” each caller asked the person on the other end of the line. The chorus ofÂ volunteers reciting this script started to sound like a loud and badly-timed musical round. At a row of computers along the wall, an orchestra of electronic beeps emanated from a crew of five, who were scanning voter registration bar codes into an online database. In one corner of the room, an office manager screamed out poll updates to other senior employees as he stared at the three computers resting on his desk.
“Welcome to the Obama Volunteer Army,” said Alex, an 18-year-old campaign organizer, who showed me the office. I had arrived in Pittsburgh that morning. It was a Tuesday and one week remained before the presidential election. I was planning on volunteering for a full month, but due to a new job offer, the amount of time I could volunteer had shriveled down to just four days.
Alex grew up in Southampton, but for the past few months he lived in Pittsburgh to work for the campaign. Before Alex moved to Pennsylvania, he held phone-banking sessions at his home in Southampton during the summer. Witnessing the excitement with which Alex greeted every volunteer who came into the office, it was clear that he was devoted to the campaign.
I didn’t tell Alex this, but I came to Pittsburgh as a jaded supporter of Obama. I wholeheartedly believed he was the best candidate. During Ted Kennedy’s endorsement speech, I cried when Kennedy said “With Barack Obama, we will close the book on the old politics of race against race, gender against gender, ethnic group against ethnic group, and straight against gay.” I voted for Obama in the primaries and avidly followed his success in the news.
A nagging voice inside of my head, however, argued that the United States still wasn’t ready to disentangle itself from racism. This point of view seemed to be aligned with the Republican vision, and I recalled the landscape of the many states shaded in red from the last two elections. Sag Harbor is a liberal town, at least in my mind, located in the liberal state of New York. Even in Sag Harbor, though, I see daily reminders of how racial and class exclusion coincide decades after the civil rights movement. How could Obama transcend the racism which remains in even the most liberal parts of the country?
By my first afternoon in Pittsburgh, this opinion was beginning to change. In the span of two-and-a-half hours, I called nearly 150 people. A majority of the registered voters of them supported Barack Obama. Alex then sent me out to do some door-to-door canvassing. Clutching my folder of Obama literature, I knocked on nearly fifty doors. The number of Obama leaning citizens I met that day was overwhelming. My qualms over America’s readiness to elect a bi-racial president were put on the back burner. Instead I concentrated my energy in enlisting others to join the volunteer army.
It was late in the afternoon on my third day in Pittsburgh. I stood outside the library of Carnegie Mellon University shouting, “Do you know where your closest polling location is?” A premature snowfall dampened my hair and coat. An hour passed. I silently offered campaign stickers to passersby without reciting my political litany. Finally, I decided to return to the Obama booth inside, near the student lounge. “How did it go?” asked Tommy, who was in charge of organizing volunteers from the CMU campus. “Four more,” I replied rubbing my red fingers together. I had signed up four volunteers in the past hour. My total for the day was 10 and I was elated by this number.
Tommy and two British guys, James and Tom, sat at the booth. James and Tom, two recent college grads, flew into the United States almost four weeks ago to work on the campaign. An older man came up to the booth and asked for a sticker. James said “certainly.” “Oh you’re British,” the man said. “And you came all this way to work for Obama?”
“Of course I did,” James jokingly replied. “You guys did a good job at messing things up and I came here to make sure you got it right this time or [he pointed to himself] we’re America back.”
Tommy, Tom and James looked exhausted. Dark circles hung around their eyes. Lately, they left the office at three, sometimes four, in the morning, and returned at 8:30 a.m. Every fifteen minutes Tommy’s phone rings. Most of the time, it is someone from the office. Tommy is a sophomore at a college in Ohio, but took the semester off in order to work on the Obama campaign.
As the hum of student activity died down, the guys discussed the logistics of their election night party: rides, food and drinks. “But what if he doesn’t win,” I found myself asking. Tommy didn’t look at me, and just shook his head. “Not going to happen,” he said over and over again. “It can’t happen. It simply can’t.”
I know how Obama overcame the issue of racism in this election. It was because of the support of people like Tommy. He not only believed in the possibility of a new America, he expected it. There was a notable solidarity amongst people like Alex, James and Tom. They abandoned the sluggish apathy that marked the Bush administration, and devoted themselves to a candidate who appealed to voters of all classes, genders and races. By my last day in Pittsburgh, I was converted and I felt that the dawning of a new era for this country was just around the corner.
On election night, I was in New York City. A large gathering had erupted in the streets of the East Village. People cheered, hugged, kissed, cried and chanted “U.S.A, U.S.A,” while waving American flags in the air. Hearing those three letters shouted in the streets, it was the first time I felt pride for this country instead of a shudder of guilt. It is the dawning of a new America and everyone feels it.
For the nation—indeed the world—the presidential election last week was, well the word being used is transformational. The notion of transformational leadership was introduced 30 years ago by presidential historian James MacGregor Burns and he defined it as leadership that reaches “high levels of motivation and morality.”
That’s what a resounding majority in the nation thought Barack Obama is about. So despite this country’s horrible racist history—including recent history—a man of mixed ancestry described as a black person will be our president.
My first newspaper job was at the Cleveland Press and News in 1960 when the big question was whether a Catholic, John F. Kennedy, could—or should—be elected president. As for African-Americans, the black reporter at the paper was consigned to doing obituaries. Oh, how far in my lifetime we have traveled!
Suffolk County, which in the 70’s and 80’s competed with then equally conservative Orange County, California in giving the highest pluralities of any large U.S. county to Republican presidential candidates, went for Democrat Obama 52 to 47 percent. That wasn’t as enormous a percentage as many areas in the U.S., but not only was Suffolk for many decades prime GOP turf, it’s a county where the Ku Klux Klan marched through the 1920s, a place where housing patterns have been racially segregated and acts of racism numerous.
For Barack Obama to carry Suffolk County comfortably—and do it with political coattails—was remarkable. The times, they have a-changed.
There were other important aspects of the election here especially the landslide 59 to 41 percent win to the New York State Senate of Democrat Brian Foley, the reform-minded Brookhaven Town supervisor and former county legislator, over 36-year GOP incumbent Caesar Trunzo. It will be the first time Suffolk will have a Democrat as a state senator since 1902 and it helped change the balance of the Senate.
Noteworthy, too, is the second re-election of State Assemblyman Marc Alessi, a Democrat, in a district including Shelter Island, the North Fork and northern Brookhaven, represented for decades by Republicans. He was a 29-year-old in the state comptroller’s office who helped expose financial scandals in several Long Island school districts when he first won the seat in a special election in 2005 after former Suffolk GOP Chairwoman Patricia Acampora stepped down. His victory by a 60-40 margin announces his hold on the seat and a healthy two-party system in that sizeable part of Suffolk.
Important, too, and a measure of the political independence and sensitivity of Suffolk voters, was the big re-election win, once again, of State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. in a district that includes Southampton, East Hampton and a slice of Brookhaven Towns. Considering the ballot this year with the Democratic line on top, Obama-Biden first and then judicial candidates and Tim Bishop for Congress—and a majority of voters staying with the Democratic ticket—it took a little work to hunt for Republican Thiele’s name. That many, many people who otherwise turned Democratic levers voted for this fine public official was a reflection on them and him.
The Democratic wins—subject to recounts—of Sally Pope for town board and Andrea Schiavoni for town justice against Republican incumbents in Southampton Town are noteworthy as well. There were the Obama coattails, their Independence Party endorsement and anti-George W. Bush sentiment, but what more might be brewing in Southampton Town?
About Barack Obama, I first realized how extraordinary he is after an old friend, Bill Farnum of West Hampton Dunes, gave me a copy of his autobiography, Dreams From My Father. Reading it caused me to realize, at once, that this was a person who not only soared in speechmaking but expresses himself, in general, in a dazzling way, his thought processes just brilliant. It became my view that if Mr. Obama won the presidency, we’d have elected a man the caliber of a Franklin D. Roosevelt.Â
With the enormous amount written and said about Mr. Obama, reading Dreams From My Father and his new book, The Audacity of Hope—both in paperback—enables you to learn about him first-hand. It’s some great fortune he’s to be our next president, especially after what we’ve been through and considering the challengesÂ
While Bay Street Theatre may not have been able to boast the crowds that packed Chicago’s Grant Park, on Tuesday night there was a palpable sense of excitement in Sag Harbor as village residents gathered at the theatre, The American Hotel and Bay Burger to bear witness to the historic Presidential election of Illinois Senator Barack Obama.
Obama, the Democratic candidate, was not just successful in the Electoral College, where he bested Republican Arizona Senator John McCain 349 to 163, with 26 electoral votes out of North Carolina and Missouri still hanging in the balance as of Wednesday, but took states like Indiana and Virginia – states that had not voted for a Democratic president in decades. He was also able to easily take the popular vote collecting roughly 63 million votes to McCain’s 56 million.
Nationally, an estimated 64 percent of the electorate turned out on Tuesday to cast their ballots for president – a record turnout. However, residents of Suffolk County appear to take their voting seriously year in and year out, with an estimated 70 percent of registered voters pulling the lever for a presidential candidate this election cycle. In 2004, about 72 percent of the electorate stepped out to vote in the presidential contest between Democrat John Kerry and President George W. Bush.
As was the case in 2004, a majority of Suffolk County and East End residents voted for the Democratic candidate this year, with Obama taking approximately 52 percent of the votes cast to McCain’s 47 percent. On the East End, and in particularly Sag Harbor, Bridgehampton, Noyac, North Haven and Sagaponack Obama won by far greater margins.
On the Southampton Town side of Sag Harbor (districts 1 and 21) 741 voters turned out to support Obama, with McCain earning 309 votes. On the East Hampton side of Sag Harbor, 515 residents turned out in support of the Democratic candidate, with 124 voting for McCain. In Northwest Woods, 533 of the electorate pulled the lever for Obama with 232 voting for McCain.
In Noyac (districts 2 and 36), Obama took 725 votes with McCain clocking in with 428. In North Haven-Baypoint, voters handed Obama 432 votes and McCain a solid 368. In Bridgehampton and Sagaponack (districts 3 and 13), Obama snared 830 votes to McCain’s 369.
While there may have been a number of supporters of the Republican candidate on the East End, at Bay Street Theatre and The American Hotel on Tuesday night, prior to the election being called in Obama’s favor, it was as if he had already won the race with many residents offering their enthusiasm and advice for the man who would later that evening become the United State’s first African-American President.
Sag Harbor resident Mia Grosjean said she had little advice for the president-elect, as he already seemed to be moving in the direction she supports – community activism.
“Encourage young people to remain active, get involved and make a difference,” piped in Helen Samuels of her hopes for Obama.
“Govern with peace and justice,” advised Dennis Carr.
Many also spoke of their desire to see a country united, and their hope the 47-year old senator will be the man to do just that.
“To make people proud to be in this country and to make it something it was when I was a child,” said North Haven resident Richard Demato of his hopes for the Obama regime. “Make it something to be excited about.”
“I want him to bring us together,” said another guest at The American Hotel on Tuesday night. “And never forget he’s the president of the whole country.”
Â Congressman Tim Bishop, who handily regained his seat in the United States House of Representatives securing 58 percent of the vote to Republican challenger Lee Zeldin’s 42 percent, had similar thoughts about the future of the federal government and the mandate he says the American people have now handed the Democratic Party, which will have control of the House, the Senate and the Executive branches.
“I think that it gives us great hope for the future,” said Bishop. “I think the other thing is we have to be very careful to not make the same mistakes the Republican Party made when it had a majority, where the national party really allowed itself to be moved to the right. We, as a party, need to resist the temptation to move to the far left. We need to recognize that we need to achieve balance and govern from the middle. That is Obama’s message, and it is an important one.”
Like Obama, Bishop took every election district in Sag Harbor, Noyac, North Haven and Baypoint, in Northwest Woods, Bridgehampton and Sagaponack, often securing more than double the votes Zeldin was able to gather in his inaugural bid for political office.
In a prime example of the continued success of the Democratic Party on Tuesday, Democrat Sally Pope bested incumbent Republican Dan Russo to earn a seat on the Southampton Town Board securing 52 percent of the vote to Russo’s 48 percent by a narrow margin of 741 votes. However, with over 2,000 absentee ballots expected to be counted next Wednesday, Russo has said the race is too close to call.
According to preliminary results out of the Suffolk County Board of Elections, Russo was only able to win two districts in our area – one in Sagaponack-Bridgehampton (district 13) and the other in Noyac (district 36). Pope took the remaining districts in Sag Harbor, one in Noyac, in North Haven and another in Bridgehampton.
Sag Harbor resident and Democratic candidate for Southampton Town Justice Andrea Schiavoni also appears to have been successful in her attempt to oust Republican justice Thomas DeMayo, taking 56.5 percent of the electorate to DeMayo’s 43.5 percent by earning 2,822 more votes than the incumbent. Schiavoni won all districts in Sag Harbor, Noyac, North Haven and Baypoint, Sagaponack, Bridgehampton and in Northwest Woods.
One Republican on the East End who coasted to victory with relative ease was incumbent New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. who won his seat over Democratic challenger W. Michael Pitcher with 63 percent of the vote to Pitcher’s 37 percent. Thiele was victorious by over 12,000 votes.
New York State Senator Ken LaValle, a Republican incumbent who was running unopposed also earned reelection in Tuesday’s race.
But like many Republicans nationwide, Thiele is looking at a Democratic majority, not just in the assembly, but likely in the senate with a Democratic governor in place.
However, Thiele is not worried, noting he was pleased to see 15 percent of voters who turned out to support him did so under party lines that were not Republican, meaning those outside his party supported his bid for reelection.
“My approach has always been to not be overtly partisan,” said Thiele. “I think that is what people are looking for in government.”
Tuesday night, Barack Obama was elected the next president of the United States. Like many across the country we are thrilled with the possibilities; but we can’t help wonder about the challenges to the dream.
Without doing a lot of hand-wringing, we are concerned about the real possibilities of sustaining the harmony we heard on Tuesday night. Both sides were inspiring. Obama crafted a speech that was passionate and was designed to illustrate his desire to reach across not only aisles, but social and cultural barriers as well. McCain’s gracious concession speech showed him to be the good soldier he is, and, by example, urge his fellow Republicans to recognize the nation’s new leader.
This is, in fact, a very troubled time in United States history and it requires a truly bi-partisan effort to resolve problems much larger than many of us have seen in our lifetimes.
We have seen what power can do, however. The Bush administration, greedy and selfish, did such damage to the Republican Party that they’ve lost both houses and will need years to rebuild. We are hoping the new president can escape what may be his biggest problem – his own party —Â and hope they not become too flushed with power.
This may prove to be Obama’s biggest challenge, if his dream is to be realized.