'Look how far we've come'

Election night celebrants see redemption, 'young energy' in outcome, big turnout

Election 2008

November 09, 2008|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,larry.carson@baltsun.com

For Susan Kleinberg, watching County Executive Ken Ulman speak to a jubilant election night crowd of about 350 Democrats celebrating Barack Obama's historic triumph felt something like redemption.

The way the 67-year-old Columbia resident sees it, Obama and Ulman embody a return to a progressive path she envisioned in her youth but felt was later lost as conservatives gained sway.

"I see it in Obama and in Ken - the kids coming up," Kleinberg, an Obama volunteer, said as she hobbled about Kahler Hall in Harper's Choice with one foot in a plastic cast.

The semiretired health policy adviser said she felt there was a "moment of opportunity" in the late 1960s and early 1970s when it seemed things were going in what she felt was the right way. But the moment passed.

"Our generation blew it, but it's so nice to see the young energy," she said.

Some of that new energy was on display at crowded polling places across the county, where turnout was about 75 percent, not counting the 13,000 absentee ballots sent out.

Sherman Howell, vice president of the African American Coalition of Howard County, said his members were encouraged by seeing blacks who normally don't vote showing up to cast ballots.

At the Democrats' event, Ulman celebrated the moment and tried to infuse the crowd with resolve for the future.

As he spoke, his daughter, Maddie, 7, sat on the floor soaking in the atmosphere as she used red and blue crayons to color the states on a blank paper map of the United States as the results were announced on TV. Her sister Lily, 2, slept in a stroller amid the hubbub.

Ulman marveled at the dozens of hands that were raised when he asked how many had volunteered to go to Pennsylvania and Virginia for Obama and how many worked the phones.

"Unbelievable," he said, gazing at the sea of hands.

Ulman pointed out Granville "Sonny" Wehland, 74, a former county highways official who was a political operative for the late state Sen. James Clark Jr. The county executive recounted how in the late 1960s, Wehland had helped Clark build support for Maryland's public accommodations law. That measure finally allowed African-Americans access to restaurants and other privately owned places open to the public. Wehland, a county native whose Democratic roots go back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, said later that he and Clark endured verbal abuse and threats because of their efforts.

The 34-year-old county executive wondered at the changes in Howard County since then.

"It wasn't that long ago, and look how far we've come," he said.

Obama's comfortable 60 percent victory in Howard's unofficial count shows that county residents practice what they preach about diversity and inclusion, Ulman said.

"We can honestly say as a county we've put our money where our mouth is," he said.

Ulman urged continued support to retain Democrats in state and county government in the 2010 elections, saying, "Let this be the beginning and not the end."

Meanwhile, focusing on the future is exactly what local Republicans plan to do, too. Several pondered the future at a gathering of about 150 McCain backers a few miles farther south in a rented storefront in the new Montpelier shopping center off Johns Hopkins Road.

Sober GOP faithful heard no speeches at the gathering, but they watched Fox News report Obama's progress in key states as he won Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia, virtually sealing the victory.

"The local election starts tonight," said Melissa Covolesky, who ran for House of Delegates but came up short in the Republican primary two years ago.

"We can't go any lower," said Louis M. Pope, a former county Republican Party chairman who is now a national GOP committeeman. After losing nationally in 2006 and this year, the Republicans are due for a rebound, he said.

Republicans were unhappy because of McCain's loss, but they feel they have also attracted young, energetic new volunteers who manned phone banks, waved signs and who can help the party regroup.

"Obviously, people were upset, disappointed. I was disappointed," Joan Becker, Howard's Republican Party leader, said the next morning.

But she, like Pope, said they believe that Obama and the newly elected U.S. Congress are so liberal that they will raise taxes, exacerbate the economic situation and bring on their own political demise.

"You have to look at history," Becker said. "Everything goes in cycles."

Becker said Obama is a "pretty socialistic, far-left leader" who is out of touch with the broad middle class in the United States.

That is what Marty Hayes thought, too, after he voted Tuesday at Folly Quarter Middle school.

"The history behind Obama doesn't give you a very comfortable feeling about him," said Hayes, 58, who owns a small electronics business in Elkridge. "He has no loyalty to the U.S. He's a wolf in sheep's clothing."

Tom Lutz, 65, a retired steelworker who voted at West Friendship Elementary, expressed similar concerns.

"I do not trust or believe in Obama," he said. "I don't believe what he's saying."

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