Blacks united behind Obama

Tribune staff reporters

It took a convincing message and a sizable dose of sincerity for a candidate to get John Stidwell out in the snow at 5 a.m. to plant campaign signs.

But there he was before daylight on Election Day, outside Circle Urban Ministries on the West Side doing his part to rally support for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama.

"He's the one," said Stidwell, 55, who spent all day Tuesday outside the polling place. "His honesty, the things he has done in the past, the things I'm sure he'll do in the future. He's the right guy."

More than two-thirds of voters agreed with Stidwell, and in some of the city's predominantly black wards Obama netted more than 90 percent of the votes as he trounced his competitors in Tuesday's primary.

Obama dominated Cook County Board President John Stroger's 8th Ward with 90 percent of the vote, despite Stroger's endorsement of Democratic candidate Dan Hynes. Obama also beat Hynes in the predominantly white 47th Ward on the North Side, where Hynes lives, and got about 40 percent of the vote in the 19th Ward on the Southwest Side, where Hynes' father is ward committeeman.

While Obama clearly appealed to all races, support from black voters helped propel him to victory, creating a political fervor many in the black community said they haven't seen since the campaigns of former Mayor Harold Washington and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.

"He has really taken an interest in a lot of the things that are important to the African-American community," said Kimberly Williams, 37, after casting her vote for Obama in the 29th Ward. "Jobs, education, finding ways to keep kids off the streets. These are important things that we need to worry about."

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) said he's impressed with how the black community has taken to Obama, though it's premature to compare the state senator's appeal with the passion Washington stirred up in the early 1980s.

"That's a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Davis said. "But you can create something else, and that's what I think Barack has done. He has built a solid feeling among African-Americans, renewed their hope, re-energized the base, and there is more energy than I've seen since Harold Washington."

Early in the campaign, there were questions whether Obama, a Harvard-educated lawyer who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii and now lives in Hyde Park, had established a credible relationship with Chicago's black community. But voters said much of his appeal stemmed from his willingness to get out in the neighborhoods and speak, attend rallies at churches and meet people face to face.

At a rally last week at Liberty Baptist Church, Obama drew a crowd of 1,500.

"One place you know black folks are going to be on a Sunday morning is church," said Liberty Baptist Pastor D.L. Jackson.

But Obama's crossover appeal, which earned him strong vote counts in predominantly white wards in the city and suburbs, could be noted at most events he attended.

"At every black rally, there was a big turnout of white people as well," state Sen. Rickey Hendon said.

Virgia Tucker, 52, of the Chatham neighborhood, said she voted for Obama because of his Harvard education. She believes he'll set a strong example for young black men and women to follow.

"Everybody can't be a star, a music singer or a Michael Jordan," said Tucker, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and endured a painful walk from her home to the polling place in the 6300 block of South St. Lawrence Avenue. "There are other avenues, and Mr. Obama exemplifies this."

Though churches and organizations brought Obama's message to black voters, many said it was the issues that brought them to the polls.

For Yolanda Logwood, an elections judge on the West Side, her reason was simple: a 27-year-old private in the 4th Infantry named John McCleinic.

"I have a son in Iraq," Logwood said after voting for Obama at Liberty Baptist in the 3rd Ward. "It's time to change what's in the White House and the Senate as far as I'm concerned."

While Obama may have addressed issues important to black voters in his campaign, many punching ballots Tuesday stressed that the color of the candidate's skin was not the determining factor.

"It's what he's about that matters," said Stidwell, a construction worker. "It's not color, skin or race. It's the words he speaks."

Gloria McMullen, 54, an election judge in the 29th Ward, said one of the things she liked most about Obama was his ability to appeal to people of all races.

"For lack of a better word, it's like he's multicolored," McMullen said. "He's everyone's candidate."

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