Chicago’s hopes for ‘favourite son’

Barack Obama’s hometown is preparing a huge celebration if the Democrat wins.

 Long queues formed at Chicago polling stations 

There were extraordinary scenes in the city of Chicago on November 4, election day.

At several polling stations visited by Al Jazeera shortly after their 6am opening, voters snaked in long lines around blocks, some of them sanguine, others tapping their feet and eyeing their watches impatiently while chatting on their mobile phones.
All were waiting to cast their ballots in what is, by all accounts, a truly historic election.

As many as three million people are expected to cast their ballots in the city where Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, began his political career.

No major irregularities have been reported, aside from one polling station at one point running out of pens and another running out of electoral judges.

The overwhelming majority of those questioned by Al Jazeera said their choice was Obama.

“This country’s been divided and polarised for as long as I’ve been conscious of the political system, and this is the first ray of hope that we’ve had,” said Chicago lawyer Lisa Carroll, after voting in the downtown Chicago’s Fourth Presbytarian Church.

Hopes for ‘Obama landslide’

Roland Resnick, a retiree, said he was a registered Republican but had switched to vote for Obama over the war in Iraq.,

Tony Macguire is backing Obama

“I’m 85 years-old and this is the most exciting election of my life,” he said.

Tony McGuire, an engineer originally from New York, said he picked “the winner” – Obama – despite the fact he feels his taxes could increase under the Illinois senator.

But, in contrast to the excitement visible on many voters’ faces as they left the polling stations, McGuire said the fact it had taken so long since the launch of the Obama campaign to get to the November 4 polls had proved extremely wearing for many voters.

“We’ve gone through almost two years of this. We should go the British way and have a short election,” he said.

“We can make up our minds quickly and, if we can’t, then maybe we shouldn’t be voting.”

‘The right person’

At the Lawson House YMCA building nearby, around 40 would-be voters were lined up, permitted to vote after being picked in batches of 10 by a harried-looking security guard.

Tracey Dixon said the time was right for

Tracy Dixon, who works for a non-profit organisation in Chicago, said he had picked Obama as the country was “ripe for change and he’s going to lead us down that path”.

And, like several other voters, the two top issues for him were overwhelmingly the US economy and the war in Iraq.

“Obviously there is the economy, but also I think he can get us out of the Middle East conflict in a timely manner – he’s the right person to get us out of that problem,” he added.

Only one voter, who did not want to be named, seemed to have voted McCain, Obama’s Republican rival, saying: “Four words: Irish-Catholic war hero”, in reference to McCain’s ethnic heritage and navy background.

One woman, who also would not give her name, said she had cast her ballot for Hillary Clinton, Obama’s former rival in the Democratic primaries, saying she had grown disillusioned with the way the Obama campaign had conducted itself during that often-bitter nomination contest.

‘First black president’

Far south of downtown in Chicago’s impoverished South Side, where rows of crumbling, boarded-up houses sit as a sobering reminder of how badly the city has been hit by the subprime mortgage crisis, local officials told Al Jazeera that voters at the Maranatha Assembly of God Church had crowded into its car park at 5am – before polls even opened – preparing to cast their ballots before heading to work.

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Voter Edward Rivera seemed surprised when asked whom he voted for and why. “Obama, of course, because he’s gonna be the first black president!” he said, laughing.

And Barbara O’Hara, an environmentalist, echoed other voters in expressing complete confidence of an Obama victory.

“I think people are so excited – it’s the first time I’ve seen people out so early,” she said.

Obama began his career working in community organisations in the area, and all the signs in local homes, gardens and street corners are for the Illinois senator or his Democratic colleagues.

After voting early Tuesday morning in Chicago and heading to Indiana for a brief rally – Obama will return to his political home and play basketball with several long-term friends, a rather unusual tradition which apparently dates back to his time in local Chicago politics.

He will then appear at an enormous rally in the city’s Grant Park, affectionately known as Chicago’s “Front Yard” for what his supporters hope will
be a victory speech.

An estimated 500,000 people are expected to attend the rally, and as the votes are tallied in Illinois and across the nation, the Democratic candidate must be hoping that when he steps on to the podium and faces a sea of expectant faces, it will be as the next president of the United States.

Source : Al Jazeera

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