JOHN RUCH AND DAVID TABER
Barack Obama excited Jamaica Plain voters, who turned out in what may be record numbers—over 60 percent at some polls—Tuesday as part of his historic presidential election victory.
The landslide win puts the Democrats firmly in control of the United States and puts the first African-American president in the White House. It had many JP residents both cheering and reflecting.
“I think it’s going to be sort of a shock for people all across the spectrum,” David Worrell of Jackson Square’s Bromley-Heath Tenant Management Corporation (TMC) said in a Gazette interview at the TMC offices a few hours before Obama’s win. Bromley-Heath is a public housing development with a large population of people of color, uniquely run by the tenants themselves.
Worrell expressed a feeling of kinship with the “milestone” of an Obama presidency. “Just like here, when we took over management of the place,” he said. “We run it. That was a milestone.”
Oscar Brazoban, a 17-year-old youth community organizer at the Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF), took a break from working a non-partisan HSTF get-out-the-vote phone bank to reflect on the possibility of a non-white president.
It will mean a president who “probably went through what I went through…a president who knows the struggles,” Brazoban told the Gazette. “It will be a big breakthrough. It will probably change people’s thoughts.”
“It’s a great step forward,” said US Rep. Mike Capuano in a Gazette interview the day after the election. “It’s great for the country and great for the philosophy that most people care about here.”
“Obviously, the Obama win is wonderful, but it’s only part of it for me,” Capuano said, noting the swelling Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. “It’s important to temper expectations,” he warned, but promised the government would now tackle key issues like health care and ending the Iraq War.
“I’m not seeking anything,” Capuano said when asked if he was under consideration for a position in the Obama administration. “Let me put it this way—the jobs I would want, I can’t get,” he added with a laugh.
The wall-to-wall crowd at state senator-elect Sonia Chang-Díaz’s victory party at JP’s Alchemist Lounge erupted into cheers when Obama was announced as the projected winner of Ohio—the first decisive sign of his national win. Chang-Díaz had to momentarily halt a TV interview to watch the state turn Democratic blue on TV screens.
Chang-Díaz had a landslide victory of her own, winning almost 93 percent of the vote. She had long battled incumbent Dianne Wilkerson, the state’s only African-American senator, whose campaign increasingly blamed supposed racial division in JP and other neighborhoods for her primary election loss. Chang-Díaz, a person of color, was forced to explain her ethnicity and even her name as part of the campaign.
“I think the picture that has gotten painted of the district has really not been the picture I’ve seen of the district,” Chang-Díaz told the Gazette in an interview at her victory party, saying that residents in all areas are not divided in the ways campaign rhetoric suggested. But, she added, she will begin the “work of reunifying” the district by reaching out to community leaders and possibly hold “grassroots meetings.”
“I really salute the activism of people who have been supporters of Senator Wilkerson over the years,” Chang-Díaz said, calling such activists “part of the solution.”
Socialist Workers Party candidate William Leonard, the only other candidate on the state Senate ballot, drew 5 percent of the vote. Write-in votes were unusually high—if still insignificant—at 2.45 percent. Most of them probably went to Wilkerson, the longtime incumbent, whose career has ended in federal corruption charges. [See related article.] The Boston Globe’s web site incorrectly reported on Election Day that Wilkerson was running as a write-in candidate, when in fact she had officially ended her campaign several days earlier.
Chang-Diaz’s campaign manager, Deborah Shah, told the Gazette that the Globe was also wrong about a report that Chang-Díaz had filed some last-minute complaints about Wilkerson’s campaign materials.
A report that Chang-Díaz would face a State Ethics Commission complaint over an incorrect endorsement claim appears to be going nowhere, especially because the ethics commission has no jurisdiction over the issue. Chang-Díaz had misinterpreted a favorable column by an editor of the Spanish-language newspaper “El Mundo” as an official endorsement by the paper, according to Shah.
Local voter turnout appeared to be much higher than usual, with long lines reported at several polls in the morning, though lines looked small by evening. The Ward 11 Precinct 7 poll at English High School was unofficially reporting a turnout over 60 percent—matching Boston’s citywide rate.
By 9 a.m., some Ward 11 (eastern JP/Forest Hills) polls had turnout totals equaling more than half of the typical day-long turnout in previous years. The local state Senate race drew 12,000 more voters district-wide—a 25 percent increase—than it did in 2004, the last time it shared the ballot with a presidential election.
Another big local winner was the JP-based Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a key backer of a successful ballot question to end dog-racing in the state. Voters approved the measure statewide with 56 percent in favor.
Statewide voters also crushed an attempt to end the state income tax and approved the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana.
JP voters had strongly supported Obama and Republican nominee John McCain in the February presidential primaries, bucking the statewide results in prophetic fashion.
Still, only a few local elected officials picked the winner from the start: Hyde Square-area City Councilor Mike Ross; Maura Hennigan, a JP resident and clerk of criminal courts; and Wilkerson.
Most local officials did out-of-state campaigning for Obama in recent weeks. Ross, who is also an attorney, was in Florida on Election Night as part of a massive Democratic team ensuring voters’ rights. Florida was ground zero for the infamous 2000 presidential election controversy, though it turned out Obama won the state decisively this year.
Local City Councilor John Tobin was one of the few backers of vice president-elect Joe Biden’s original presidential campaign, turning out to be half-right in terms of predicting the national ticket. Asked earlier by the Gazette whether he expected an administration job as a reward, Tobin joked, “Yeah, minister of comedy.” Tobin is also co-founder of the Boston Comedy Festival.
While it was Obama’s night in JP and across the nation, not everyone was on board.
“I am a Republican,” McCain voter Regina Flynn told the Gazette at the English High poll. “It just kind of stops there.”