Cover Story - November 12, 2008

Many locals excited about historic presidential election

by Andrea Gemmet

The words "President-elect Barack Obama" must be sounding pretty good to a majority of local voters. The Midpeninsula, like the rest of San Mateo County, voted overwhelmingly to send Mr. Obama to the White House.

Schoolchildren cast ballots in mock elections, locals dug deep into their pocket books to contribute to campaigns, and it seemed like there were more signs for presidential candidates than for local candidates in Menlo Park.

In San Mateo County, 74 percent of voters cast their ballots for Mr. Obama, with 25 percent voting for John McCain. In Menlo Park, the vote was 8,754 votes for Mr. Obama to 2,493 for Mr. McCain; in Atherton, 1,948 votes to 1,412; in Portola Valley, 1,592 to 649; and in Woodside, 1,611 to 887.

All the drama on the national political stage made it a little difficult to focus on local elections — even for some of the candidates.

Atherton City Council candidate David Henig called it "a great night," despite the fact that he lost his own election. He spent election night with his family at Santa Clara County Democratic headquarters, and was able to see the election called for Mr. Obama before he had to return home to put his kids to bed.

"It was very exciting," he said.

Kelly Fergusson and Andy Cohen, candidates for two City Council seats in Menlo Park, gathered with supporters at The Oasis restaurant as the election results poured in. They shuttled between the main room, where a television broadcast national results, and an enclosed booth, where they tracked early results in the City Council race on a laptop.

Ms. Fergusson leapt to her feet and shouted along with the pro-Obama crowd when MSNBC called the race for Mr. Obama shortly after 8 p.m., when California polls closed. Mr. Cohen slipped outside to call his brother, who lives in Ohio.

Both candidates learned later in the evening that they had been re-elected.

Ms. Fergusson called the day — and the fact that she won a council seat in the same election that swept Mr. Obama into office — a "once in a lifetime" experience.

But sharing a ballot with Mr. Obama also had its drawbacks, she said.

"It was a real challenge to campaign in a presidential (election) year. The attention is really focused at the top of the ticket."

Atherton Councilman Charles Marsala, a member of the county Republican Central Committee, was even able to generate some enthusiasm for the victorious Democratic candidate.

"Being from the South and talking to some people there, I'm very impressed with the enthusiasm that his campaign brought to a lot of the people there. He really inspired a lot of people," said Mr. Marsala, a Louisiana native.

Mr. Marsala, who works on a number of green causes, said he felt an Obama presidency could be positive for the nation's environmental concerns.

A poignant moment

The election of an African American to the nation's highest office was particularly poignant for Menlo Park resident Henry Organ.

"As an alumnus of the Civil Rights Movement, I have always felt going to the voting booth (as opposed to mailing in a ballot) to be a spiritual pilgrimage," he wrote to The Almanac. "I was so overwhelmed on this occasion."

He credited Mr. Obama's influence for motivating the young poll workers of diverse ethnicities that he saw at his polling place, he said.

Over lunch on Thursday, Nov. 6, at Menlo Park's Senior Center in the Belle Haven neighborhood, James McAdoo expressed guarded optimism about the prospect of an Obama presidency.

"Of course it makes me feel good," said Mr. McAdoo, who said he served for 18 years on the Las Pulgas Committee, which advises the city on commercial development as well as activities and programs in Belle Haven. "Maybe this country has a chance to heal itself."

Mr. McAdoo, 83, said that Mr. Obama's election represents a step in the right direction for race relations in America. But he also said that he was careful not to expect too much.

"We have come a long way, but we have come a long way under a cloud," Mr. McAdoo said. "Segregation used to be blatant. That's not true anymore, but it still exists."

Mr. McAdoo did, however, see the potential for the kind of change that Mr. Obama has championed.

"This could be a turning point, if America is listening," he said.

Several Hispanic seniors sitting around another table at the center were less guarded.

"We're going to take this country back," Maria Ramirez said, adding that her entire family voted for Mr. Obama. Ms. Ramirez said she hopes Mr. Obama will narrow the divide between rich and poor.

"It's too late for me, but this election gives me great hope for my children," Margarita Vargas said.

Jose Alcarras said that six of his sons lost their houses in the mortgage crisis, and that he hopes Mr. Obama will stop the foreclosures and put Americans back in their homes.

Children weigh in

David Laurance, the principal of Beechwood private school in Menlo Park's Belle Haven neighborhood, said the election had his students' parents more enthusiastic and engaged than he's seen in his 15 years with the school. The school has been encouraging parents to discuss the election with their kids, he said.

Many schools held mock elections for students. Beechwood opted for the simple strategy of using photos of Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama, so even the kindergarteners could participate, said Mr. Laurance. For eighth graders at Hillview Middle School in Menlo Park, election day was more sophisticated. Different classes represented swing states, and the outcome of their mock elections earned Electoral College votes for their candidates, said Principal Mike Moore.

Portola Valley views

Two Portola Valley residents had some kind words for Mr. Obama, but voted for Republican candidate Mr. McCain despite some misgivings.

Bernie Bayuk questioned Mr. McCain's judgment in picking Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for his vice president, given the list of crises facing the country, but called her "a delightful lady."

While he was impressed by Mr. Obama — "a man that you seldom see who can articulate convincingly and believably" — Mr. Bayuk voted for Mr. McCain, in large part in response to Mr. Obama's comment to "Joe the Plumber" about spreading the wealth.

"I'm afraid of the concept of someone, even a great man, deciding who has too much and who has too little and then deciding to take from that person who, in his opinion, has too much and give it to a person who, in his opinion, has too little," he said.

Bill Lane, ambassador to Australia during Ronald Reagan's first term and a self-described moderate Republican who has worked for and supported Democrats, said he voted for Mr. McCain in light of his years of experience and his potential to revitalize the U.S. image abroad and end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"To his credit, I think he'll work awfully hard," Mr. Lane said of Mr. Obama. "I think he'll lean over backwards to try to be accommodating to the Republicans. He took several Republican states, but those states may have turned over for this election (only). I think he's going to be mindful of that politically. He doesn't have a huge margin in Congress."

Portola Valley resident Ed Wells said he never looked back after deciding on Mr. Obama. "From the beginning, it was really evident that he could pick good people to organize his campaign (and) that he would change the perception of the United States internationally," he said. "I think that he's young and vigorous and has got a lot of smarts."

Ruth Wilcox, also of Portola Valley, voted for Mr. Obama. His rhetorical skills will be key to advancing his domestic and international agendas, she said.

Asked if there is a role for Republicans in Mr. Obama's plans, she replied: "I think there has to be. I think that was the reason that so many Republicans voted for Obama. Sen. McCain says 'Country first,' but his party has been acting as 'Party first'. ... We need the Republicans working with the Democrats to get things going."

Almanac staff writers Sean Howell and Dave Boyce contributed to the report.


Posted by Not Excited, a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Nov 14, 2008 at 9:23 am

... and many locals are NOT excited about this "historic presidential election". In fact, nearly half the country is not excited. Yes, it's "historic" in that is was the largest expression of mass-naivety this country has ever seen. It also is "historic" in that never has a man of so few accomplishments and such left-wing principles and affiliations ever been elected to the highest office in the land.
Wake up, people. Get over being ga-ga about your new "hope" for "change" and look around. The stock market is tanking in response to the election, and world leaders, both friend and foe, are salivating over this little lap-dog who's foreign policy is based on "can't we just all be friends".

Posted by Not Excited Either, a resident of another community
on Nov 14, 2008 at 1:06 pm

Yes, and the Almanac, just like MSNBC, is absolutely giddy.
Gag me.

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