VICTORY SCENE: Part of the hopeful crowd in the Biltmore ballroom.
Shortly before 9:30 pm on Tuesday, a huge roar went up among the Democratic crowd packing the 17th floor ballroom at the Providence Biltmore. Barack Obama had been projected as the winner of Ohio — a state that Republicans have almost always had to win to gain the presidency — and the steady optimism among the assembled turned into something more ecstatic.
The throng, which slowly started to gather at 8 pm, was unusually diverse — young and old, black and white — for such an occasion, seemingly befitting Obama’s barrier-breaking victory.
In the flush of the win, and the dawn of a new presidency, it was easy to forget that most of the members of Rhode Island’s Democratic establishment had reflexively backed Hillary Clinton during the bygone primary season.
Cliff Monteiro, president of the Providence chapter of the NAACP, had been so excited on Election Day, he says, that he woke up at 3 am and couldn’t fall back asleep, watching cowboy movies to try to relax and pass the time before voting.
“I never thought it would happen in my lifetime,” Monteiro says, “but I am so grateful that a man who represents all of America — because he is half-black and he is half-white — and I think that this country is more central. It’s not to the extreme right, it’s not to the extreme left, and I think he is more central and focused [on] the feeling of America. And I’m just excited that it’s the right man at the right time to lead our country out of the terrible dilemma that we’re in economically and politically.”
In some respects, Obama’s win was conventional, since poor economic conditions and a very unpopular incumbent almost always spell a loss for the party in power. At the same time, the meteoric rise of a once little-known black Democrat was nothing less than remarkable.
“To me, it will mean a change in the way that government is run, from top to bottom,” says Chris Blazejewski, a lawyer who heads up the Providence faction of Drinking Liberally.
Former Providence mayor Joseph R. Paolino Jr. says, “Bush just blew it, between the economy and the war.” He assigns global importance to Obama’s victory, predicting that it will rally financial markets: “I tell you what it’s going to do overseas. It’s going to give people a second look that we need to feel good again about Americans, to the people that are our friends and allies in Europe who have been disillusioned by what’s been going on these last few years, our friends in the Middle East, throughout the world. They’re going to have more trust in Obama.”
Although a bit more of a socially conservative Democrat, former US representative Robert Weygand says he likes Obama’s politics and believes that he will be “great.” Recalling how he was 12 when John F. Kennedy was elected and how he served as a college worker for Robert Kennedy, Weygand says that Obama “inspires me at 60 years old like those people did.”