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November 9, 2012

No split hairs over Obama re-election for Hyde Park barber shop

President Obama knows a good haircut when he sees it.

For 25 years, he has frequented the same barbershop on East 53rd Street and South Blackstone Avenue, where his regular chair is now encased in glass. He knew the barbers and their families and sometimes stopped in just to watch sports with them.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, he was in the shop every week; eventually, the place had to be cleared out and the doors locked during his appointments. Even as President, Obama has insisted on the same cut.  Every ten days for the past four years, Zariff Smith has flown out to D.C. to give the President a trim. The rest of the time, Smith is just another barber at Hyde Park Hair Salon.

Tuesday night, Smith was at McCormick Place fixing up Obama before he spoke to the nation. But at the “Official Barbershop of the Presidency,” staff, community members, local media, and a few out-of-town visitors gathered to wait for the results.

The shop held a viewing party in 2008, but attendees thought the atmosphere was different this time.

“2008 was historic. Now it’s a lot of nervous energy,” said Monique Coye, who owns the barbershop with her husband.

This nervousness was reflected in many of the statements heard throughout the night. When asked how they would feel if Obama was reelected, many of the attendees said the same thing: they would be relieved.

The apprehension was apparent in A.C. Chandler, one of the the barbers at the shop. He said that if Obama was reelected he would feel “like my prayers have been answered.”

Chandler, like many at the event, met Obama before he was commander-in-chief. The two developed a rapport during Obama’s frequent visits, and Chandler clearly remembers the genuine interest the President showed in the lives of the barbers and other patrons.

“He likes being around ordinary people,” he said. “He’s for the people.”

Seeing Obama connect with patrons convinced Chandler that Obama was the right man for the presidency, and that a second term would have a positive impact across the globe.

“It’s going to benefit the Republicans too, even if they don’t realize it,” he said.

Coye called the country’s disappointment with Obama’s first term “inevitable” based on the unrealistically high expectations set for him.  Her father, Gerard Edge, agreed.

“How could you expect that devastation to be fixed in four years?” he said.

While many were confident that Obama would ultimately prevail, Coye’s grandfather William Smith was skeptical. He relayed stories from around the neighborhood about registered voters showing up at their polling station to find their names not on the list or pressing “Obama” on an electronic voting machine and being told they voted for Romney.

Complementing the anxiety surrounding Obama’s electoral prospects was disdain toward a potential Romney triumph.

“They don’t even like him in his own state,” said Harold Merrell, a frequent patron of the shop, referring to Romney’s loss in Massachusetts, the state where he was governor for four years. “The guy’s a snake.”

When CNN called California for Obama and his electoral count finally rose above Romney’s, the crowd erupted. They chanted “O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!” when he reached 249 votes and “Four more years!” a minute later when the former state senator reached 256. Their cheers reached fever pitch when the network projected that the President would be re-elected.

The relief so many had expected came through at the end. “[I have] a feeling of, it’s going to be okay now,” said Christopher Holliday, a Georgia resident in Chicago for a business trip.

“It’s not going to be an easy four years, but I think it’ll be a good, solid four years,” he said.

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