Harlem Brought Its Soul to Obama Victory Celebration

PHOTO: Nicaices Makasso-Kuno wore Obama bling at Sylvias in Harlem. A patron at Londels wears election-themed nail tips.
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Barack Obama's decisive victory resonated throughout Harlem -- the "heartbeat" of black America -- where voters swelled the polls Tuesday, sure from the start that the first African-American president would get a second term.

Now gentrified with big box stores and trendy restaurants, Harlem was home to early civil rights activists Marcus Garvey, Adam Clayton Powell and black separatist Malcolm X, who was assassinated here in 1965.

At Sylvia's restaurant, just around the corner from the Apollo Theater, where blues and jazz greats once got their start, Obama supporters whooped, danced and broke into song.

"I am so very, very happy," said Nicaise Makasso-Kune, shift leader at the local landmark, after the swing state Ohio put the president over the top. "But I am also relieved because I was afraid of Romney -- I couldn't trust him."

The 35-year-old African-American waiter showed off his election bling -- a black shirt, bejeweled with Obama's face, and a matching sequined skull cap.

"It's wonderful, a total blessing," echoed Erik Kilpatrick, a 61-year-old black actor enjoying the festivities.

Columbia graduate student Allie Conti said she had "a lot at stake" in the election. "I am young, a woman and gay," said the 23-year-old.

In the last months of his campaign, Obama voiced strong support for gay rights and lambasted his opponent for his stance against a woman's right to choose abortion.

As the evening progressed, a racially-mixed crowd cheered as each state fell to Obama -- Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania. All to the backdrop of classic soul music.

When ABC announced the victor, Steve Wonder's, "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" -- Obama's signature campaign song -- thundered through the lounge.

Twelve blocks up at buzzy Londel's, an upscale lounge in the heart of historic "Striver's Row" in Harlem, red white and blue balloons hung from the ceiling as classic rhythm and blues blared through the bar.

Guests were offered nail tips with a photo of Obama, thumbs up, against the backdrop of the American flag.

"Obama's heart is with us," said owner Londel Davis, an imposing African American, impeccably dressed in a three-piece pin-striped suit with a red bow tie.

The 65-year-old grandfather of six said Obama's first term had been marked by "frustration," but added, "We are going to be fine."

"People realize he is the president of America, not the black president," said Davis. "The survival of this country is what is so important."

"I have so much optimism that things will be better the second time around," he said. "With the Republicans it will be more about compromise. Obama sees how the political process works."

Watching Obama's response to Superstorm Sandy and his bear hug with New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie, Davis said, "This is what the political arena is supposed to look like -- two parties who come together."

A more jubilant atmosphere prevailed in Harlem in 2008, when thousands of supporters lined 125th Street where a Jumbotron aired the election of the first African-American president.

But local officials say just as many -- perhaps more -- voters showed up at the polls than four years ago. Many had problems with a new system, casting ballots by hand, then scanning them. Missing ballots and a limited number of scanners frustrated voters.

"People were confused," said Edgar LeBron, 37, an African-American who manages a business that helps people with disabilities, as he watched election results come in a Londel's.

"Honestly, I feel like we'll be more secure," LeBron, the father of a 1-year-old, said of an Obama victory. "There will be a continuation of ideas put forth and a restoration of the spirit of America."

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