Harlem Brought Its Soul to Obama Victory Celebration

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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."

African-Americans Kept the Faith

Many African-Americans have been critical of Obama's pandering to other constituencies. Some have said he has ignored his roots and failed to publicly identify with the African-American community.

"He doesn't' have to speak to me as a black, but as an American," said LeBron.

But, he said, "It's commendable that he looks at the whole country –- people of color, people not of color-- are more unified. There is a different spirit and the country is more inclusive."

Spencer Gibbs, a 64-year-old African American lawyer, said he would be "elated" with four more years of Obama. "He did enormously well in the first year -- with health care, getting troops out and killing despots in the Middle East."

Victoria Stevens spent the day making more than 300 calls to voters in Ohio on behalf of Obama. The 72-year-old adult math teacher went to school in the state and was convinced her candidate would prevail.

"I was much more confident when the unemployment rate fell," she said of the dip below 8 percent this month. She worried about the impact on African Americans if Romney were elected.

Her friend, 58-year-old ConEd utility worker Marlene Robinson, has been immersed in getting power back to New Yorkers slammed by last week's superstorm, agreed.

"It would be like experiencing another Sandy," said the Fort Lee resident, also an African-American.

Inez E. Dickens, the only black woman on New York City Council who represents Harlem, said Obama had "a difficult year."

"He inherited a big deficit, waiting on the precipice -- he was not to blame," said Dickens.

"There have been highs and lows," she said. "For years, every president has tried to get healthcare and he finally got it passed. He killed Bin Laden. Teaching children to kill, that's something no country can tolerate."

When asked around 7 p.m. before any returns had come in, Dickens predicted an Obama victory. ABCNews.com asked her what if Romney were the winner, but she confidently answered, "There is no what if."

Dickens applauded Obama for creating the Affordable Health Care Act, supporting the failing auto industry and jump-starting the ailing economy.

Now, she said, "He needs to finish out what he started."

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