At Obama’s hometown, residents reminisce about his roots

CHICAGO, Ill. — Signs supporting President Barack Obama lined the storefronts on 53rd Street in Hyde Park, a place that residents have affectionately nicknamed “Obamatown” and “Obamanation.”

Despite his rapid rise in politics as Illinois senator and then president, President Obama has still kept in touch with people in his hometown, local residents said. All of them declared with conviction that Obama was not the type to forget about his roots. His life in Hyde Park, they said, taught him the values of humility, hard work and cooperation — all principles they see as defining characteristics of his first term as president.

Michael Sullivan, 50, said he first noticed Obama when he did work as a community activist at Altgeld Gardens, a public housing project where Obama helped campaign to get rid of asbestos in construction materials.

“I had no idea he was going to elevate to the level he did,” said Sullivan, who traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend Obama’s inauguration in January 2009. “But he had his boots on the ground, and he’s a hands-on type of guy. He’s always helping people and helping the community.”

Ray Bailey, 76, said Obama’s choice to operate his re-election campaign out of Chicago showed that he still keeps his hometown in mind and that he still remains faithful to his origins. Obama needs a second term, Bailey added, in order to undo the “catastrophe” — from economic turmoil to wars abroad — caused by former President George W. Bush ’68.

For Bailey, Republican candidate Mitt Romney only had the potential to stir another catastrophe.

“Hyde Park’s got some of everybody,” Bailey said. “Here we all work together, and I doubt Romney knows anything about that.”

Sullivan and Bailey were both enjoying meals at Valois, a restaurant in Hyde Park and one of Obama’s favorite eateries. Spiro Argiris, owner of Valois, said the president would have breakfast there every morning earlier in his life, and that even after getting married and having kids, he made an effort to come during weekends. Upon entering the restaurant, customers are greeted by a red, white and blue menu offering many of “President Obama’s Favorites,” created in honor of Obama’s frequent patronage at the restaurant.

When asked about Obama’s start in the area, Argiris identified Hyde Park as one of the poorest areas in Chicago.

“He lived all his life with very poor people, and any time you grow up with nothing and you work yourself to get some place, you understand the everyday people,” Argiris said.

Ishmael Coye, the owner of the barbershop that Obama frequented until he was elected to the Oval Office in 2008, recalled Obama as a down-to-earth figure who just liked to talk about sports.

“We’d talk about what teams he liked and the teams he thought were going to make it to playoffs, but never politics,” Coye said. “He’s really connected to the common person.”

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