"This feels like New Year’s Eve," says a blonde woman to her friend, glopping a mass of macaroni 'n' cheese onto a plate. She is waiting in the country-fried buffet line at Comedy Central's Indecision 2008 fete, a self-congratulatory paean to mock news held in Chelsea's mammoth The Park restaurant. The usually minimal dining room has been transformed into a political Coney Island: red and blue slot machines, instant photo booths, greasy mini-sliders and neon cocktails.
"You mean that it's a momentous night?" asks the friend, eyes glued to CNN on one of the 50 screens visible from the buffet.
"Not really," says the blonde. "I meant more that you really want to find someone to kiss before they call the election. It would be a shame if Obama wins I have nobody to make out with."
The whispers that Barack had this thing in the bag made people more socially adventurous tonight—at least in New York.
Obama's victory tonight was truly a historic one, and no amount of polling or early ballots could prepare us for the moment of sheer exuberance when the networks made the final call and McCain spoke the final words of his concession. Still, the whispers that Barack had this thing in the bag made people more socially adventurous tonight—at least in New York. The question became not whether O would clinch it, but where exactly you would be when he did—because if you're going to be telling the story to your grandchildren anyways, it would be nice if the details involved celebrities or champagne (or at least someone to make out with).
In New York, there were too many parties to keep track of: the Comedy Central bash, which started slow (waitresses loping around with untouched trays of "Red State" Shirley Temples and "Blue State" Curacao highballs), and then accelerated into a full on starcrush later on (along with the casts of Colbert Report and The Daily Show, guests included Gina Gershon, Padma Lakshmi, Ethan Hawke, Jane Krakowski, Sean William Scott and 30 Rock's Jack McBrayer).
Further uptown, Beast crushes David Gergen and David Gregory pundited away at CNN's headquarters, while bloggers and pseudo-celebrities clacked away at their computers at the nearby CNN Grill. A friend liveblogging from the event sent me several updates when the news broke, though they were mostly effusive "OHMYGODOBAMA!" or not quite PC: "I think every black person in this room is crying right now."
The real action (in wattage terms) was at Harvey Weinstein's bipartisan midtown gathering, thrown also by Georgette Mosbacher, former wife of Robert Mosbacher, Bush's secretary of commerce. Mosbacher was walking around the party looking stunned after the Obama pronouncement, her hand pressed on her hulking pink pearl necklace. "I've got my Miss America smile on," she said. "You know how that is."
Though there were a few McCain sympathizers at the fete—Reagan strategist Ed Rollins, ex-governor George Pataki—the majority of the guest list seemed pro-Barack. Actor Josh Lucas told The Daily Beast: "I wore a fucking different Obama T-shirt every day for the last 45 days. I had to take it off today because I had to go vote and you're not allowed in the polling places with Obama regalia. I hope after tomorrow the rest of the world sees we're not all idiot morons."
Another actress there rooting for Barack was Jessica Alba, dressed way down in a black sweater and jeans so as to look almost unrecognizable. She stayed close to the side of Harvey’s wife, Georgina Chapman, who runs the fashion label Marchesa and was wearing a striking gold brocade minidress. When not being squired around the room, Jessica found a few moments to talk shop: "I think we all have to start to see the change we are waiting for," she says. "We need more people that think like him…that are, I don't know, thoughtful?" When asked about Obama's first task in office, Alba suggested, "Helping Americans understand that you are part of the world and can't isolate yourself so much."
Other celebs-turned-political strategists for the night included Gina Gershon (she got around), James Franco, and Gossip Girl's young Taylor Momsen, who at 15 was exempt from the voting process but still out after midnight, celebrating the win in a Marchesa gown. "I can't wait to vote, but I'm not old enough," she told The Beast. "For now I am focusing on other projects; my character is a fashion designer in the show and I will be making my own designs soon and working on a record. It's a lot." She then spent several moments discussing her new shaggy hairstyle, an homage to Joan Jett.
Michael Imperioli said he's "very hopeful for a president that's not so tied into the oil companies and the military industrial complex," while Salman Rushdie looked towards better times: "I came to live in America in 1999, and in a way I feel I got cheated," he said. "Immediately afterwards I got 9/11 and eight years of Bush. I thought, can I please have America back, and we are about to get it back now. It feels great to have a sensible, intelligent, stylish man in the office."
Two hosts of the party, GQ's Jim Nelson and Glamour's Cindi Leive, both admitted to feeling relieved that the party was one of celebration and not an upset. "It's a crap shoot throwing a party on election night," said Nelson. "But this is the final vindication. When I was a kid I remember waking up in Washington, D.C. and hating Ronald Reagan. My mom got the Washington Star. I remember the headline, in giant 72 pt font: REAGAN ERA BEGINS. It was just a dark day, and of course they were right. I feel like I've been living in the Reagan era for 28 years."
Once the clustermash of the Weinstein party dwindled, it was off to the grand ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel for the official New York Democratic Party event. The lights were on full blast in the room, making it possible to see the weepy faces of crowd members as Governor David Paterson took the stage to address Obama's win.
The speech was poignant and heartfelt, especially about the race factor: "The United States of America with its astounding constitution offers Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3, the Article of the Constitution which allowed slavery, which counted Africans as 3.5 of a man. And now, 221 years later, America fulfills its true destiny as an African-American is sworn in. But it’s not just a great day for African-Americans; it's a great day whether you are Asian, Black, Hispanic or white; whether you are disabled, whether you are elderly, whether you are gay or lesbian. Because today we learn if you work hard enough and you try hard enough you can win in America."
He also praised the youth vote: "In 1972, we lowered the voting age to 18, but we never saw the tremendous turnout of young people that we saw today. And they have sent a message to all of us, because they voted, even in these difficult economic times, the young people of America voted for hope. They did not vote out of fear, they voted out of hope. They did not vote against Senator McCain, they voted FOR Senator Obama. They weren't scared, they weren't manipulated, they were not misunderstood, they were saying, this is the America that we are going to have."
At the end of his speech—he revealed the "breaking news" that New York's state senate will have a Democratic majority—the ballroom broke into boos. Not for the Paterson, but for a different governor; Sarah Palin's tears gleamed on the jumbo screens around the room as McCain gave his concession speech. Patterson made the boiler plate "Palin comparison" pun and got a few generous laughs from the jubilant crowd. Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York," started piping through the loud speakers and suddenly, the whole crowd was singing and swaying together to the ballad, a moment broken seconds later when the DJ transitioned into "We Will Rock You."
At my final stop, the young Obamans after party at the nightclub Mansion in industrial Chelsea, crowds of hipster twentysomethings huddled together to watch Obama's victory speech. After every "Yes We Can," the room echoed with the same three words. Several people testified or yelled "hallelujah." The girls on either side of me were bawling inconsolably. Three feet away, two couples began to kiss, and a few more pairs joined in. The whole room began to feel boozy and emotional, like New Year's or the senior prom. I made a secret wish that the blonde had found what, or who, she was looking for tonight.
Additional reporting by Debbie Fink.