Still hoping for change | Politics | Chicago Reader

News & Politics » Politics

Still hoping for change

Four years later, five Chicagoans reflect on the president they helped elect

by , , , and

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe


Four years ago, Barack Obama edged John McCain in Chicago, 1.1 million to 150,000.

True, the Democratic presidential candidate always wins here—or has for 13 straight elections. The last time the city went for the GOP nominee was 1956, when Dwight Eisenhower narrowly beat Adlai Stevenson in Chicago while stomping him nationwide.

But the Democratic candidate winning by more than seven to one? The 2008 landslide was due in part to the support the city's black wards gave the first African-American presidential nominee—upwards of 95 percent. In the 17th, on the south side, the final score was: Obama—23,716; McCain—96. (That's 247 to 1.)

Obama was also a favorite son, of course, and the city backed him from the lake to Harlem. He kicked butt on the north lakefront, in Hispanic wards, in white ethnic neighborhoods. He won all 50 wards going away.

And remember the ecstasy downtown that night? An estimated 175,000 jammed Grant Park, and they unleashed a deafening roar when their hero took the stage. Strangers embraced on Loop sidewalks, and there was dancing on State Street. Mechelene Head, a 40-year-old Lawndale resident, burst into tears as she told a Sun-Times reporter, "This is the best thing that has ever happened to me." Angel Castillo, a 19-year-old University of Illinois at Chicago student, said, "I am going to be able to talk about this to my kids."

Ah, but that was then. After four years of a slack economy and continued high unemployment, hope's no longer audacious, and Chicagoans are less excited. They'll roll up big numbers again for their favorite son, though not quite as big. If Obama wins reelection over Mitt Romney, it'll be met this time with sighs of relief instead of unrestrained joy—exhalation instead of exaltation.

We talked about the election with five Chicagoans—residents of Lake View, the East Side, Lincoln Square, Armour Square, and Edgewater. Four will vote for Obama; the fifth may vote for the Green Party candidate out of frustration with the president and his party. (We wanted to also interview a Chicagoan who supports Romney, but both of them were busy.)

The Obama supporters will be tapping the touch screen box next to Barack Obama compliantly, not blissfully, 12 days from now. "It's just a civic duty at this point," says Austin Millet, who was a University of Illinois student during the last election, and now is one of many college graduates looking for full-time work. Like the president, they're four years older and wiser, though some of them claim to have known in 2008 that people were getting carried away. "What's the likelihood that he's gonna turn everything around in four years?" Shahshak Ben Levi, a former housing project resident who gets by mainly on food stamps, says he thought then.

How about in eight years? Disappointed or not, most of them would like to see what Obama can do with a little more time. Especially considering the alternative.

Steve Bogira

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Reader Revolutionary $35/month →  
  Rabble Rouser $25/month →  
  Reader Radical $15/month →  
  Reader Rebel  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  →