OAKLAND — A jubilant crowd filled the streets in downtown Oakland Tuesday night, strangers hugging strangers and screaming and laughing with joy immediately following the announcement Illinois Senator Barack Obama had won the presidential race.
"The nation's been under a dark cloud and now people can feel like it's less of a doomsday," said Lonnie Grimes, 36, an African American voter who celebrated with hundreds of people at a huge block party at 2nd and Broadway. "A lot of races are excited, especially blacks who went through slavery and segregation. Now this is a sign of a way out. It's been a long time coming and all minorities can be excited."
Polling volunteers and voters across the city from Fruitvale to Montclair, reported sky-high spirits and turnout today, in what increasingly appeared to be the election of President Barack Obama.
"I feel elated today. I had to stop myself from crying just as I was walking over here," East Oakland resident Victoria Jacquette said just after casting her ballot for Obama.
At the Marriott hotel in downtown Oakland, at least 500 people of all ages, races and socio-economic backgrounds hugged and cheered and chanted "O-Bama, O-Bama" when the victory for the 44th president of the United States was announced on television.
Vincent Gaines, a 42-year-old African American man from Oakland, was there to witness history.
"(This) is a great moment,'' Gaines said. "But he's going to be under a microscope
Luke Pyles, a 44-year-old white man from Cincinnati who was in Oakland on a layover, said he's voted Republican his whole life. But this year, he said he donated $1,000 to the Obama campaign and voted Democrat for president. ``I'm time for a change and there is something very magical about Barack," he said.
Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums was among the revelers at the Marriott.
"America has elected a brilliant man who is comfortable in his own skin and capable of embracing the whole of humanity," he said.
Mack Kary, a 17-year-old Skyline High senior, volunteered at the Montclair Branch Library polls, getting a free day from school. Although Kary is too young to cast his vote, the historical significance was not lost on him or his peers.
"Even people who can't vote have their opinions on everything," he said, describing the mood of the younger, politically-inclined teens. By his estimation, the most pressing issues for teens and first-time voters were California Propositions 4 (allows waiting period and parental notification before terminated minor's pregnancy) and 8 (bans same-sex marriage), and the historic presidential election between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain.
"I can say I worked the polls during a historic election," he added.
While he can't yet vote, Kary was unequivocal in summing up the sentiment he sees from young voters: no on 4, no on 8, and Obama for president.
"Especially in the Bay Area, the majority of students in high school are going for Obama. Everyone is tired of the Bush Administration."
Marlin Foxworth, 65, is a former superintendent of schools in Milpitas and Hayward and author of a recent book on racial divides. He spoke with cautious optimism about an Obama presidency.
"It's exciting, but it's also unclear what it portends if Obama is elected," he said. "There are things he had to speak about carefully to get elected, and we don't know what he'll end up doing."
That said, Foxworth continued, "this election has symbolic significance. It shows people are of the spirit to vote for an African American because they believe he is the best. Now is the time when we need to jump on the division between races, because we have a chance to end this problem in our lifetime."
Ebado Ismall, 24, of East Oakland said voters chose Obama to escape "the same old politics," adding that "I voted for Obama because of the platform he's made for change. It doesn't matter if you're black, white, green, yellow, old, young — it's an American thing — not a race thing. (People are) tired of the deficit, and they're tired of high gas prices and the war. Bush handed Obama the presidency with a big silver bow on top of it."
Even those who didn't vote for Obama expressed optimism about his likely election. Melanie Hayes, 25, lives in Fruitvale and voted for Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney.
"I didn't feel my personal views and opinions were represented by the major parties," Hayes said. "McKinney is more in touch with the issues that affect low-income communities. I am excited about Obama's candidacy, not because of his policies, but because it's symbolic."
East Oakland resident Melik Shakir, 25, voted for the first time in his life. Shakir is an employee of the East Oakland Youth Development Center.
"We're in a recession, and really need some things to change," he said. "We are out here suffering; even rich people today are suffering. I'm voting for Barack, and it's not just cause he's black, but because he demands change."
It was also Kyuana Bradford's first time to vote.
"I'm 20 years old and Obama has helped me understand politics. I identify with him, and he's a strong presidential candidate," she said.
At a fire house on 66th Avenue in East Oakland, a line of about 20 people continued throughout the morning, which longtime poll worker Gus Dobbins, 77, said was an unusual sight.
"Most times, people trickle in before work, then it settles down," he said. "Not this year. It's steady. It's never been like this."
There were several first-time voters at this polling place, including 27-year-old Brian Collor. "I was in trouble for a lot of years, so I didn't vote," he said. "I got out of trouble and I thought it was time to do something good."
Collor, who has three children, ages 2, 8 and 9, said he felt it was important to vote for his children's future. He cast his vote for Obama.
"There's a lot of way out stuff going on in the country right now," he said. "Hopefully, everything will go right and we'll get it fixed up."
Indeed, sentiment for Barack Obama was strong. "I voted for Barack," said Charlene Marshall. "I think we need a change, and McCain? Well, maybe if he had run against Bush in the past when he was younger. But age makes a difference," she said. "I think he should be traveling the world with Cindy and doing some humanitarian effort, but leave the presidency to someone younger."
Near Lake Merritt, at a polling place in a community center on Park Avenue, lines were also about 20 people deep, and voters were enthusiastic. "There's so much going on in the economy," voter Louise Thompson said. "I'm unemployed and I'm hoping the next president will bring change."
As of noon, no glitches had been reported in the Alameda County voting process, said Deputy Registrar of Voters, Cynthia Cornejo. "We don't want to jinx anything," she said. "But it could be that all those early votes coming in over the weekend helped us out for today."
Enthusiasm was high even out on the streets. Poll worker Devereaux Rax-Hood, 53, outside a polling place at Oakland Public Library's main branch downtown, was standing in the street, jumping up and down, waving the American flag and directing people to the voting booths as though guiding airplanes into their designated gates.
"I used to work at the airport doing just that," she said. "So I have practice.
"This is the only thing I could think of to do to make a difference today," she said. "I can at least get people in to vote."
Despite the high turnout, one woman walking by the 66th Avenue precinct saw the crowd at the fire station and asked what the fuss was all about. She seemed perplexed when told it was for the election. That didn't sit well with Dobbins.
"Martin Luther King marched and demonstrated and lost his life for this, for all of us to be able to vote and to have a black man in the election. And you tell me you don't know what this is about?" he said. "This is historic. We're going to tell our children and our grandchildren about this. It's will heal a lot of wounds," Dobbins said.
Staff writer Kamika Dunlap and Correspondents Dan Verel, Angela Hart and Philip Hoover contributed to this report. Reach Angela Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org.