240K supporters erupt at Obama election

November 4, 2008 10:20:39 PM PST
Thousands of people cried, screamed and cheered at Chicago's Grant Park as Ill. Sen. Barack Obama was elected the United States' 44th president.Who needs a ticket when you're having fun and watching history? That's what they all say. Two hundred-forty thousand people were estimated to have shown up Tuesday at the rally. Only about 70,000 of those had tickets, which means the rest stood blocks away and watched the proceedings on a Jumbotron.

On Michigan Avenue at Congress Parkway the crowds just kept on coming in through the one entry point into Grant Park, streaming even after Obama's election to the presidency was announced. There were so many people that the mounted unit of the Chicago police on occasion briefly stopped people from entering until the flow through and enter security check points thinned out and then they let them enter again.

"I'm here to see change being made. It's good to see history being made," said Trymoie Magomama.

"Just being here, knowing that we can all celebrate this wonderful moment is what I think draws a lot of us here," said

"This is a largely young crowd cheering with each projection that's enlarged obama's electoral total," said Katie Riley.

"This is an opportunity to vote for someone who relates to me, who is a part of who I think is a part of my life," said Linda Tarver.

"It is definitely history. It's history not just based on the candidates ethical race. It's based on being able to pull up all these states who are traditionally Republican and now voting Democrat. This is definitely historical," said Andrea Maddox.

There was a deafening roar just after 10 p.m. when the networks called the race for Barack Obama. There was a lot of talk about history, and 40 years ago there were a lot of people in Grant Park for an event that made some very ugly history. The whole world was watching when riots broke out in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The whole world is watching now as some quite different history is being made.

Supporters show up hours early Supporters were allowed in earlier than expected. Authorities had said gates would not open until 8:30 p.m., but because of concerns about crowding on the streets, gates were opened early, first to non-ticketed supporters, then to the estimated 70,000 Ill. Sen. Barack Obama backers who had a ticket to the rally.

Preliminary estimates put the number of unticketed attendees at 25,000.

Many of the supporters of the Democratic presidential candidate sported Obama t-shirts and buttons. Some ate lunch by the roadside or chatted on their cell phones as they waited all Tuesday for entrance. Those with tickets to the Obama rally stood on the south side of of Congress Parkway, and those without were on the north side.

Obama backers hoped the event would become a victory celebration. But many rally goers got in line early to ensure they get a good view of the festivities, win or lose.

Stephanie Smith was waiting in line in a folding chair, sharing a box of doughnuts with her husband.

The 27-year-old says she came to Chicago from Nashville to be part of history.

Dan Krieglstein is a community organizer and an Obama backer. He got his ticket to the Obama rally via e-mail Monday night, and he and his brother almost immediately made their way to Grant Park to claim a spot in line.

"Being able to tell our grandkids that we were the first ones in line when Obama accepted the presidency of the United States," said Krieglstein.

"I want to just be here to see everything, I don't want to miss anything," said Rita Patterson-Swanigan, Chicago.

"I woke up at 4:30 this morning and I couldn't sleep. I'm too excited," said Denise Cade, Chicago.

Swaraj Mann and four friends drove in overnight from Toronto.

"Left at about 2:30 in the morning and got here in the morning and got breakfast and just came right here," Mann said.

The common refrain of nearly everyone there was that they wanted to be a part of history. It's like the t-shirt Heather Currie made for herself, "Obama '08. Grant Park. I was there."

"I just can't wait to see how this goes down really. The energy's going to be amazing," said Currie, Chicago.

Those with tickets were sent south to the Obama rally site on Hutchinson Field. Those without tickets were directed north to the Petrillo Band Shell-Butler Field area where they'll watch on multiple big-screen TVs.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley spoke to reporters beforehand in nearby Millennium Park and said the evening would be emotional.

"There's been a lot of loose talk about a million people. There'll be a lot of people. Yes there will be," Daley said. "This is gonna be a great celebration - historic."

Vendor Chris Sharp was doing brisk business selling Obama buttons and rally towels. He says the towels get around a Secret Service ruling barring heavy signs.

He joked that they can also double as "a John McCain crying towel."

Last-minute Preparations

Crews worked around the clock to prepare Grant Park. The tents were up, security was in place and thousands of media representatives were in Grant Park's Hutchinson Field Tuesday morning. Everyone was getting ready for Tuesday night, when, quite literally, the eyes of the world would be fixed upon Chicago, waiting to see if history was made.

"This has been the most exciting campaign of my lifetime," said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. "And for so many people, that's true. When you see the crowds that are showing up to see Barack, to meet Barack, to hear Barack, people in this country want change. They believe in Barack Obama. They are coming out in droves to vote for him. It's a historic election and such an exciting day."

"We do have one more day to work hard to make sure everybody votes. We wouldn't want to miss that opportunity to vote in this historic election, to see our favorite son, Barack Obama, elected president. And the people of Indiana have a unique opportunity to play a decisive role in this election, to really put Barack over the top.," said Dan Hynes, Illinois state comptroller.

Up to 1 million people were predicted come out to take part in Tuesday night's two-pronged celebration. On the one hand - the official rally in Hutchinson Field, where Barack Obama hopes to deliver his acceptance speech. Sixty-five thousand tickets were emailed to supporters.

With or without tickets, there was only one entrance into Grant Park via Congress Parkway. Security was tight in the entire downtown area. Those entering Hutchinson Field went through metal detectors. No alcohol, chairs or banners were allowed.

"This is an unprecedented even. It's not the air and water show. It's just not. You know what I mean? It's not Venetian Night. That's what you have to understand, " said Office of Emergency Management's Ray Orozco.

"I don't have that many fears I want to lay out. We have been working this ever since we knew this event was going to be in place. We worked with all the federal agencies, United States Secret Service, who have been doing this all along the campaign trail," Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis said.

The media and several state politicos were there early, making the case for their candidate of choice.

"I have been with Barack Obama for about 12 years. I served with him in the Illinois legislature, Congress, and now this amazing, amazing campaign for president. I think we're going to have a wonderful night tonight, if everybody gets out to vote," said Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who represents Chicago and Evanston.

Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias is a basketball buddy of Senator Obama.

"We are going to try to get a game in today. It's a fun way for him just to hang out with the guys, play some hoops, relax a little bit," the treasurer said.

"For 232 years, the goals of the Founding Fathers in their writing of the Constitution and the aspirations of people who have been denied a voice in the democracy come together tonight in the election of the 44th president. Barack Obama, an amazing story. It's really a story from the bottom up. It's from the outhouse to the White House. It's from slave ship to championship. To see everyone standing in lines across our city right now, this is about them. It's no longer about Barack Obama versus John McCain, Biden versus Sarah Palin. It's about those people who are standing in very long lines. Barack is telling them right now, 'Don't give up. Believe in yourself. Believe in America again. We could build a great country together,'" Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. told ABC7 Chicago.

As for the rally, Butler Field will not hold a million people. However, officials wouldn't talk about specific numbers. City workers put up a lot of barricades, a lot of other city equipment and certainly put in city time Monday. Officials maintained that the Obama campaign is paying for all of it.

I-Team: Security Details

A blanket of security has been thrown over the city of Chicago, that is unprecedented for Election Day.

The I-Team has learned that at least 73 surrounding suburbs and counties have agreed to send officers to staging centers or deployment into Chicago if needed. A 30-page internal Chicago police memo obtained by the I-Team lays out an intricate plan to keep the peace and respond to trouble.

"I don't have that many fears that I want to lay out. We've been working this ever since event was announced, with OEMC, the Secret Service, all along campaign trail," said Weis.

At a briefing Monday afternoon, Police Superintendent Jody Weis and other city officials gave few details about election night security. But extensive details were in the police order now in the hands of top city commanders.

According to the memo, Secret Service will ring Obama's South Side home, Grant Park and several downtown hotels Tuesday. And the entire Chicago Police Department will be on duty, splitting 12-hour shifts.

At 6 a.m. Tuesday, when the polls opened, so did the joint operations center at the city's emergency management and communication headquarters on the West Side. The JOC will feed out orders and information to a dozen command centers, controlling thousands of Chicago police officers, both police and fire helicopters, a state police airplane and Coast Guard patrols.

Most officers will be in regular uniforms and body armor but are under orders to have riot helmets nearby. The order instructs officers to "familiarize themselves with mass arrest procedures." Some gang, tactical and quick response saturation teams will wear battle dress uniforms. And according to this internal memo, tear gas teams and special weapons units will be ready to go.

"This is an unprecedented event, not the Venetian Night or Air and Water Show," said Orozco.

Therefore, Chicago police have asked the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System for help, and officers from more than 70 suburban departments will send uniform cops to the Allstate Arena in Rosemont and several other deployment sites. Initially, some suburbs balked at helping for free but have now been told they'll be reimbursed.

One specially trained unit of the Illinois National Guard will also be in Grant Park Tuesday. Officially, it is called the "Civil Support Team." The 22-soldier unit inspects for weapons of mass destruction.

Chicago's Buzz

There is a great deal of excitement about the 2008 presidential election, especially in Illinois.

Obama rose to national prominence with his keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, the same year he was elected to the Senate. Four years later, he captured his party's nomination for the White House.

Gerry Roper, president and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, says this is an exciting time for the city and Tuesday's election will have a big impact with upwards of a million people in the Loop.

"I think it's going to have a huge impact on the city, not only from an economic standpoint, it will shine the spotlight on Chicago like we've never seen before and of course will launch us toward 2016," Roper said.

Hotel business is up, with people wanting to be a part of this election.

"We're running about an 80 percent occupancy Tuesday night, and we did see a slight tweak in maybe a 3 percent increase in our occupancy. It could be due to the fact that we are having this celebration and election tomorrow night in Chicago," said John Silvia, Palmer House.

Visitors from out of town were in town to experience this historic event.

"Obama grew up about a mile away from where I grew up, went to the high school around the corner from my house," said Michael Ing, Chicago visitor.

"I'm looking for an Obama pin right now as we were walking down the street," said Karen Tercho, Chicago visitor.

More 1,500 international journalists from across the world were in Chicago to report on the election. More are expected. Some started out in Missouri and have ended up in Chicago and will be at Grant Park. On Monday morning, they learned about our election process from the chairman of the Chicago Board of Elections.

"So much of the election process is determined on a local level. They have so much difficulty understanding why the national government, the federal government, is not more in control," said Langdon Neal, Chicago Election Board.

The eyes of the country will be on Hutchinson Field in Grant Park Tuesday night. While Obama supporters are hoping it will be a celebration, city officials are hoping it will be a safe night.

Chicago police and the Secret Service will handle unprecedented security detail for Grant Park. In fact, much of the downtown area will be under close watch, including the hotels along South Michigan Avenue.

"We are looking into the extra security measures that are happening. We are anticipating similar security as a fourth of July celebration," said John Wells, GM, Hilton Chicago.

Wells says hundreds of people are in town for the rally and the hotel will likely sell out.

"Once the announcement took place a few weeks ago that Senator Obama was going to have his speech across the street, we actually picked up about 200 rooms, 200 reservations the following two days, which is a big spike for us," said Wells.

More than 7,000 members of the media will also be attending Tuesday night.

"I think it was pretty self-evident during the convention the amount of energy, the level of excitement that everyone felt. I think we're going to feel a lot of that here, especially in Obama's home state, hometown," said Terry Glover, Johnson Publishing.

The city is preparing for thousands more who don't have tickets. The CTA and Metra will extend service to accommodate the huge crowds. Parking bans will posted from Lake Michigan on the east, to the Kennedy Expressway on the west, the Chicago River on the north, and Cermak to the south.

Chicago police will be out in force. It will be the first assignment for the department's new mobile strike force.

"You have got my complete backing guaranteed 100 percent. You have got the complete backing of this entire city," said Supt. Weis.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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