2012 Morning After, Valois Part III: Obama doesn’t show, but remains the talk of the table — even for children

India Johnson, 8, claps along to a “four more years” chant while her cousin, Shane Johnson, 3, keeps himself entertained.

Despite murmurs that he might show up, after a late night at McCormick Place, President Obama did not surprise Valois diners with a guest appearance today.

His last prominent visit at his beloved Hyde Park eatery was when he publicly treated Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias and Gov. Pat Quinn to a meal before the Giannoulias lost the 2010 midterm election to Mark Kirk.

But even though Obama did not make an appearance, in the end, as we saw in parts I and II of this blog mini-series, his presence was strong: in the cheering and chanting for “four more years,” in the sign listing his favorite Valois menu items, in people’s emotive stories about watching the election results, and a few Obama hats and scarves.

Other Obamas were present in spirit too. Even when it became clear Obama was not going to show — when ABC7 and the Chicago Tribune left – one guest, Thelma Johnson Alexander, who goes by “Mama T,” in her 60s and wearing a bowler hat, chanted vivaciously:

“Twelve more years! Eight for Michelle!”

“Michelle?” said a woman walking by.

“Common sense says she’d make an excellent president,” Alexander said. “Can I get an amen? Hallelujah!”

The Obama presence was even strong with children.

While some children at the breakfast were too young to know the difference, let alone what the election was about — like Johnny Fullerlove, 18 months — others said they followed Obama.

Jennifer Johnson brought her grandchildren, cousins India Johnson, 8, and Shane Johnson, 3, for more than enjoyment.

“This is important,” Johnson said of the breakfast honoring Obama’s victory. She said she hopes keeping them involved at events like this will help them “follow politics at a very early age.”

“Then they may be able to learn for themselves who they may want to vote for when it’s time to vote,” she said.

When asked what she likes best about Obama, India said she thinks he cares “about poor people,” kind of like how she sees herself.

“I would give them something if I had something to give ‘em,” she said. “And Obama’s a good person so I think I would vote for him.”

Johnson said she and her grandchildren did not participate in the McCormick Place rally, “but I stayed up late ’til almost 1:30 in the morning, cheering them on the TV.”

She said her grandchildren watched with her for a little while, but that she recorded the rest so they could watch it in the morning.

India said she is excited about Obama winning. She said her grandmother told her the news this morning.

“I was just waking up,” she said. “About to go in the bathroom and wash my face, and she came in the bathroom smiling.”

“I asked her who won,” India said.

“She said Obama.”

Johnny Fullerlove, 18 months, didn’t meet President Obama at Valois this time, but appears to have enjoyed the orange juice.

2012 Morning After, Valois Part II: Post-election and post-elation, voters reflect

Simone Whitfield, 33, proudly showed off her voting receipt at the Valois breakfast honoring Barack Obama’s reelection.

With two pointy American flags sticking out of her bun as she bounced it from side to side, Claudletta Love was hard to miss at the Valois Obama victory breakfast.

Love, 41, said she had a hard time being able to vote. She said she went to three different polling places before landing at the right one.

The first polling station Love went to — Shiloh Baptist Church — was simply wrong, she said. “That one was my fault,” she said.

As for the second incorrect location, 8700 S. Laflin St., she said the Board of Elections “sent me a place to go and cast my vote, but when I went there my name was not there.” She said this was likely because her name changed after her recent marriage.

She finally found her polling spot at Brainerd Park.

Despite what she called a frustrating experience, Love was undeterred — she said she was determined to vote for Obama.

“I would have walked to China to vote for him,” she said. For Love, the Valois breakfast was a celebration of that vote.

For some voters munching on the free Obama victory breakfast at Valois this morning, the breakfast was not about seeing if the president would show. For them this gathering was far from frenzied.

Perhaps it was more about sipping some coffee and celebrating the simple but — for them — profound satisfaction of having voted heartily for a winner. The win, for them, was payoff for the investment of voting for someone in whom they believed.

At the very least, though, this breakfast was a chance for these voters to vent and reflect on their common experience of having just participated in an election — from voting to results coming in.

Take Simone Whitfield, 33, a housewife from Inglewood.

Every so often during breakfast, Whitfield would pull out her ballot receipt, calmly grinning a wide gap-toothed smile that she simply could not contain.

“I was just overjoyed,” said Whitfield, of learning the election results. She said she watched the outcome on TV when she was in bed with her husband. She said she was “not freaking out.”

“I was cool about it, ’cause I knew it was gonna happen,” she said. “But inside I was exploding.”

But Shirley Walker, 44, said she was exploding on the outside when she learned the results. She said she was watching from home with her boyfriend.

“Wow, I mean I was sitting on the edge of my seat,” Walker said. “And I was like, turning my head from the TV, and I was like, OK, ‘Is this gonna happen?’”

Before continuing, Walker, sitting by the window with her friend, tucked into a hot piece of toast smeared with jam and butter — a far more serene image than the one she painted of herself on election night.

“I then started pacing back and forth,” she said. “But we were sharing history together,” she said, referring to her boyfriend.

Speaking of history, for other voters at Valois this morning, the election evoked similar emotions to the one in 2008, when Obama became the country’s first black president.

Burrell Williams — 80 and on his feet, greeting other diners in a baseball cap — said he first imagined the possibility of a black president when he witnessed Harold Washington become the first black mayor of Chicago in 1983.

He said each of the two times he voted for Obama meant that much more to him because not only did he like Obama’s policies and personal character, but as a young man, he never thought he would see a black man elected president.

“I was so happy when he became the president,” Williams said of Obama. “I had the pleasure of meeting him in Springfield. I voted for him early because I wanted to make sure he got it.”

“My mother says every dog has his day, so I think that this is our time,” Williams added, referring to both Democrats after the Bush years and black people’s history of suppression and slavery in this country.

Theresa Radcliff, 55, also found Obama’s win meaningful for racial reasons, adding that this election “validates the struggle my parents and their parents went through as African-Americans.”

April Whitaker, 46, wearing a black, jewel-encrusted Obama baseball cap and a chin piercing, also talked about historical change. She added that “as a woman and as a black person,” she wanted Obama to win. Right before forking up some scrambled eggs, she said, “This is 2012 — we’re not going back in time.”

2012 Morning After, Valois Part I: Sleepless fans spill out of favorite Obama eatery, hope to congratulate him in person

Guests order their Obama victory breakfast at the Valois counter.

On election night, guests at McCormick Place rocked to a Stevie-Wonder-infused, confetti-dripping disco culminating in an impassioned presidential speech. But a lot of these people kept the party going into the next morning, in hopes to meet the president over eggs and toast.

Just as guests endured lines last night at President Obama’s reelection rally at McCormick Place — lines for coat checks and pick-ups, lines to walk to their seating areas, lines for taxis, lines in the rain for the No. 3 bus downtown — people waited some more after forming an especially long line the morning after.

That particular line ran along South 53rd Street in Hyde Park, Obama’s old neighborhood, and originated at the kitchen counter at Valois, one of his favorite restaurants. Note to the wise: It’s pronounced VA-LOYS, not VA-LWAH. Gus Sellis, the owner, keeps a photo of himself with the president on the wall, right above the ATM, so you can take a glance while you get your cash at this cash-only institution.

Just like it did in 2008, Valois hosted an Obama victory breakfast on the house.

“I don’t think we slept,” said Dianne Mehlinger, 65, between nibbles of crunchy bacon and jokes with her friends.

“It’s like Christmas,” said Paulette Alonzi, also 65, of the rally the night before.

Perhaps then Valois would be Christmas morning, when some people don’t mind getting up early — even though the gift of their candidate winning came the night before. Or perhaps the gift is a ticklish possibility heard over plates and forks clinking and over coffee pouring — a possibility that Obama may stop by for breakfast, as he has in years past.

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The morning after

After President Barack Obama’s ecstatic supporters left McCormick Place and the country has had time to digest the president’s re-election, a quiet euphoria has set in over Chicago. The president credited his supporters with his ultimately successful quest for four more years.

“It moves forward because of you. It moves forward because you reaffirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope,” the president said in his victory speech early Wednesday.

Though many of supporters had glazed looks on their face and bags under their eyes on the train home, they could not stop smiling, nor could they cease recounting the surprises of the night. These included Virginia siding with the president and Democratic wins in several local competitive House races. Democratic candidate Brad Schneider won in the 10th District and Tammy Duckworth in the 8th District.

Many of them dreaded waking up in the morning for school or work. Looking at his watch, which read 2:45 a.m., a young man said, “I have to be at work at 8 a.m.” He paused and noted, “I’m going to celebrate now. I work in the West Suburbs, a pretty Republican part of town.”

One married couple sat next to each other on the train. The wife drifted in and out of sleep while resting her head on her husband’s shoulder occasionally nodding vigorously with her husband’s euphoric proclamations. He started ticking off the Senate seats Democrats won, particularly Indiana where U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly upset Republican candidate Richard Mourdock. Mourdock’s standing in polls took a hit after controversial remarks about rape and abortion, which may have contributed to his demise.

The president’s homecoming was received with joy. Earlier in the night supporters filed into McCormick Place and cheered loudly whenever the networks projected him the beneficiary of a state’s electoral votes. When New York, New Jersey and Michigan were put in his column, the crowd yelled in support. It got even louder when polls closed on the West Coast; the networks called California, Oregon, and Washington for the president almost immediately. Together these six states brought a trove of electoral votes — 133 to be exact — into the president’s tally.

The raucousness reached a fever pitch when Ohio’s 18 electoral votes were awarded to the president, ensuring him four more years in the Oval Office. After this happened Romney did not concede to the president for a couple hours though.

Even as the sun rose for another day and people carried about their daily business in downtown Chicago, many people had an extra spring in their step and grinned a little wider. While Democrats consistently run this city, it always means more when the native son succeeds at the highest level.

The president accepts

By the time President Obama emerged to speak, it was after midnight. Nearly two hours had elapsed since he had been declared the victor, time filled with video montages, music, and Mitt Romney’s short, graceful concession speech. When Obama finally appeared on stage with his family, the crowd greeted them all with raucous cheers. Those further back in the throng couldn’t see the podium, and had to watch the president’s reserved, optimistic remarks on the hanging monitors. They gazed up with a mixture of fatigue, pride, joy, and excitement.  They smiled. They applauded. They looked resolute.

The speech ended, and the Obama and Biden families came out and congratulated one another. Clouds of red, white, and blue confetti sprung from the floor up toward the ceiling. Obama’s face filled the monitors above. As he was about to exit the stage, he stopped, turned around, and walked back out, not yet ready to leave. He waived and acknowledged more cheers. He was saying something, and it was easy to read his lips.

“One more time.”

Photo credit: John V. Santore, Medill News Service

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder: Obama’s Acceptance Speech

Although a mass exodus of rally attendees from Chicago’s McCormick Place occurred within the first few minutes of President Barack Obama’s acceptance speech, the departure didn’t detract from the excitement of the remaining attendees.

On the contrary, the fresh absence of about a hundred seemed to amplify the remaining crowd’s exuberant joy, which came out in the form of uncontrollable cheering and the shushing of interrupting audience members, alike.

Obama’s speech, which focused on topics including bipartisan cooperation, a unified, forward-thinking approach to improving the nation’s future and the debt of gratitude he felt he owed to the supporting public, was meant to conclude the night.

But instead of cueing the crowd to rest, the speech served to rekindle the collective spirit of those left sitting and standing in every possible nook of the venue.

“I think it was typical Obama: inclusive, respectful, giving all the credit to the people,” said Evanston native Jean Murphy.

Lamarr Pierce had a similar response.

“I loved the whole speech from beginning to end,” Pierce said. “He mentioned gender, sexuality, race… everything.”

Still, it seemed that the most pervasive sentiment following the speech’s conclusion was the one that Obama is arguably most known for: optimism.

“I think it brought everyone together,” said Karen Massey, a 44-year-old Northwestern University alumna from Chicago’s South Loop.

“I also liked the way he brought his confidence,” she said, emphasizing the need for teamwork to carry the nation into the future.

Anna Rios agreed.

“I just felt that it was very empowering,” said Chicago native Anna Rios. “I loved the way he defined hope.”

 

Romney’s Concession Speech Sparks Strong Reaction at McCormick Place

Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney delivered a measured concession speech on Tuesday night from the Romney Headquarters in Boston.

However, the crowd at President Barack Obama’s election-night rally at Chicago’s McCormick Place who witnessed it via huge screens suspended from the venue’s ceiling reacted with bite.

Eliciting boos at Romney’s praise of his wife, Ann, as a great would-be first lady and his “wish” to have been of service to the United States, the speech seemed to summon back the ghosts of a gritty campaign rather than ushering in Obama’s second term with a sense of graceful defeat.

But the reaction of some attendees seemed to look more kindly upon Romney’s speech.

“I thought it was gracious,” said Lydia Nantwi, a Roseland resident who attended the Chicago rally. “He spoke about bringing the country together, which was a good thing, and it was short, which was even better.”

Brandon Watts, a 31-year-old Barrington, Ill., native who was also in the rally audience, agreed.

“I thought that his speech was sincere,” Watts said. “I think he’s a person who cares about the United States but that he has a different opinion than anyone else in this room.”

(Note: Post was corrected for the addition of quotes.)

Schneider: “We did it.”

Schneider unseats first term U.S. Rep. Dold for the 10th District Congressional seat. According to the Cook County Clerks Office, the current total is 50.81 percent for Schneider and 49.19 percent and Lake County’s total is 50.38 percent Schneider and Dold is behind again with 49.62 percent.

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“I have changed for the better,” said Congressman -elect Schneider. There is still a lot of work to be done he said. He encouraged a more cooperative tone in Washington. He admitted he learned a lot and will continue in the two years ahead.

He said this is the first time in 32 years a Democrat has been elected to congress in the 10th Congressional District seat.

“From Highland to Park Waukegan this is the first time in 32 year,” he said and those newly added areas that have never ben represented by a Democrat, “Welcome.”

Although Republican’s still hold control of the House of Representatives Schneider will head to Congress January 2013 with a few new members.

Outside McCormick Place

The McCormick Place was getting a little crazy after Obama was re-elected. People were trying desperately to get credentials to see the President. People started offering money for credentials and some were successful, while some were not. Some voters decided to leave their friends behind if they received credentials. People in the lobby of the McCormick Place cheered loudly as camera crews showed up to film. Outside of the event there were vendors setting up their Obama pins and t-shirts in the rain and cold. Horns and screams could be heard in spurts in outside of the center. In addition, some voters complained about Obama not holding the event at Grant Park, which would have been a better opportunity for more people to see him.

Dold concedes 10th District race with class

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U.S. Rep. Robert Dold (R-Kenilworth) gave an unexpected concession speech around 10:45 PM in front of more than 300 supporters at the Viper Alley, a music venue in Lincolnshire.  Dold ruminated on his one term in Congress, congratulated his opponent, Democratic challenger, Brad Schneider and thanked his supporters, campaign team and family, who were standing behind him on stage.

A few hours earlier, it appeared as though Dold would be celebrating a second Congressional term as he led Schneider, by 6,000 votes with all of Lake County and half of Cook County reporting.  However, early vote counts narrowly swung the race in Schneider’s favor — by less than a one percent margin — leaving the Congressman stunned.

Dold did not want to use redistricting as an excuse for his astonishing loss.

“We fought hard, made sacrifices and did not let the daunting odds of redistricting get in our way,” said Dold, before informing the patrons that he called Schneider to congratulate him on winning the race, which drew ire from the crowd.

Dold supporter, Jay Steibler, from Prospect Heights was angry about the outcome.

“Redistricting did us in.  Bob is a much more qualified candidate than Schneider,” Steibler said. “But voters clearly did not do their homework on Schneider.  If they knew more about his background, they would not have voted for him.”

Jeff Kaminski from Highland Park blamed the loss on early voting.

“Early voting made it easier for college students to cast a vote.  It is unfortunate, we lost a good Congressman tonight,” said Kaminski with a frown on his face.

Dold ended his speech by urging his supporters to stay engaged in civic life. He then picked up his young daughter and waved to the crowd as Bruce Springsteen’s Highway from Heaven started to play from the loud speaker.

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