Red, white, and blue balloons marked the occasion, but Thursday night at Buddha Beer Bar was not a typical campaign event.
State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who is up for re-election next Thursday, came together with local supporters to watch the final night of the Democratic National Convention in the Washington Heights bar. Local politicians and their staffers mingled with the crowd, taking pictures and enjoying drinks.
“Obama in November, Adriano in September,” Espaillat told the cheering crowd just before President Barack Obama’s speech.
The crowd of about 60 talked loudly over the convention’s earlier speeches but came to a hush as they watched Obama, CC ’83, take the stage on eight television screens around the bar. Mention of student loan reforms, job initiatives, and the death of Osama Bin Laden drew applause and cheers from the crowd.
Espaillat said he felt the room was full of energy and was confident of both Obama’s and his own re-election.
“Bill Clinton’s speech last night softened up the Republicans, and with this speech, Obama came and did away with them,” Espaillat said.
“It was fabulous,” Mark Levine, a close Espaillat ally, said of Obama’s speech. “My expectations were very high, almost unrealistically so, and he exceeded them.” Levine, a Democratic district leader, is a candidate for a City Council seat based in Washington Heights.
Espaillat’s loss in his June congressional primary challenge to Rep. Charles Rangel didn’t seem to dampen the spirits of his supporters. But Levine, who founded the Barack Obama Democratic Club, attacked the city’s Board of Elections, which came under fire from Espaillat and others for its drawn-out vote counting process in that election.
“The Board of Elections is not a neutral arbiter of elections,” he said, characterizing its leadership as “Boss Tweed-era patronage.” (Board of Elections officials stood by their practices this summer in the face of criticism from numerous politicians, including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.)
The bar was packed with members of the Barack Obama Democratic Club of Upper Manhattan and the Northern Manhattan Democrats for Change.
Other attendees included political staffers, local business owners, and a group of Columbia graduate students who said that they ended up at the viewing party by “total accident.”
The cheerful, beer-swilling crowd had positive things to say about the speech and their state senator’s prospects.
“This was one of his greatest speeches,” said National Bodega Federation president and Espaillat supporter José B. Fernández. “He needs an extra four years to rebuild what the Republicans destroyed in eight years … and I’m very positive he’ll have that.”
Fernández called Espaillat a “done deal” for re-election.
“The community is very smart and they know what is best for them: Adriano,” he said.
Fathima Torres, a 25-year resident of Harlem, said, “I definitely want to support the club, but more than anything I want to come together with my community, the Latino community.”
She said that the viewing party created momentum for Espaillat, allowing locals to “share where the campaign is going.”
“If this doesn’t give us a bump, nothing will,” Obie Bing, vice president of the Barack Obama Democratic Club, said about Obama’s speech.
About the local race, he said, “Our club has certainly supported Espaillat. I definitely think he’s got a bump from this.”
Juan Rosa, director of community affairs for Washington Heights City Council member Robert Jackson, said that the importance of the speech resonated with the diverse crowd.
“This is a very progressive room. I think everyone felt at home,” he said.