Split decisions in Harlem

Times Staff Writer

In the dusky-blue dawn, dedicated voters lined up outside a Harlem elementary school well before 6 a.m. Tuesday, patiently waiting for the doors -- and the polling place inside -- to open.

A few more arrived at the Henry Highland Garnet School on 135th Street, but by 7:30 a.m., the trickle turned into a stream.

Sheila Abdus-Salaam, 55, a New York judge, voted for Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois shortly after 7 a.m.

"He's everything our parents told us we could be," she said.

Patrick Corbin, 43, a choreographer, cast his vote for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York shortly afterward. "It's time for a woman," he said.

Here in the smallest and one of the most contested New York congressional districts, "We're split down the middle," Corbin said.

Consider the home of longtime Democratic power broker Rep. Charles B. Rangel: He endorsed Clinton. His wife, Alma, endorsed Obama.

Throughout Harlem, families were split, husbands and wives found no common ground, and leaders diverged from their flocks.

Like Rangel, most of Harlem's leadership backed Clinton, who led in the polls for months. But after Obama won over white and black voters in Iowa and South Carolina, the Illinois senator surged in New York polls.

At the Second Canaan Baptist Church, a block from East Harlem, paralegal Lescene Gibbons, 36, voted for Obama because she "liked what he had to say." As for preachers and political kingpins endorsing Clinton? "I don't listen," she said.

Some found resolution.

Diane Kelley, 60, a registered nurse, said the top contenders should share the ticket -- with Obama as president. "I like Hillary Clinton, but like the kids in the ghetto would say, 'She's old school.' "

Others were still conflicted as they went into the voting booth.

"I like Hillary," said Karl Younger, 80, moments away from declaring his choice. "But Obama is also good."

Rajiv Shah, 25, and Angelica Wilson, 25, arrived together. But they voted apart.

The couple sparred for weeks, e-mailing news articles, healthcare plans and policy proposals back and forth. Shah, a biological researcher, supported Obama; Wilson, a social worker, backed Clinton.

The split stayed only in the voting booth, however, said Shah, who smiled as they walked out into the morning. "We held together."


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