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Election fever grips Queens

Enthusiasm bubbled over in many Queens neighborhoods as voters young and old poured into the polls to take part in the most groundbreaking presidential elections in recent memory.

“I would have voted for Mickey Mouse instead of the Republican ticket,” said Brian Dentz, 40, a cameraman from Jackson Heights who voted at PS 69. “But I am also excited about Obama.”

Helen Arano, 33, of Sunnyside, waited for friends to vote at PS 150 wearing an oversized felt Uncle Sam hat complete with a small, ceramic “Obama−Biden” pin — until a police officer politely informed her that the pin was making a political statement inside a polling place.

“I’m a patriotic person,” she said as she removed the pin and redonned the hat. “I’m spreading the spirit of being in America. Maybe this year we’ll have change.”

Amid heavy turnout, first−time voters, newly minted citizens and longtime Queens residents flocked to diverse sites ranging from the Queens Botanical Gardens to senior centers, schools, public housing, apartment buildings and the Taiwan Center to cast their ballots.

Hundreds of voters in southeast Queens, galvanized by the opportunity to vote for a black man for president, lined up inside and outside polling places.

In Howard Beach, voters grappled with issues of race.

A 20−year−old voter who cast his first ballot in a presidential election said he voted for Obama, but was reluctant to admit it because of how he would be perceived by some in the neighborhood, which has a reputation for being anti−black.

Jackson Heights had its share of voters skeptical of Obama’s credentials and cultural baggage.

Al Freni, 74, a photojournalist from Jackson Heights, said he voted for Republican nominee John McCain.

“He understands the system, the military,” he said, calling Obama “evasive of the questions.”

“It’s a racial thing,” he said of the strong voter turnout in Jackson Heights. “It’s the first time people of color have had somebody who could get up there and speak.”

But Freni said his aversion to the political scandals that have plagued other prominent black politicians, like the Rev. Jesse Jackson and U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D−Manhattan), kept him from supporting Obama.

“I feel that if Obama is president, some of that is going to drift into it,” he said.

Other voters were inspired by what Obama represented to people of color in the United States.

“Barack is Joshua and Martin Luther King was Moses,” said Connie Swain, 48, a social worker from Forest Hills voting at the Forest Hills Community House. “He brought us to the promised land, but he couldn’t go in. Barack will lead us in.”

Syed Quadri, 62, of Jackson Heights, said he voted for Obama because of the Democrat’s stance on education, health care and tax cuts.

But he was also motivated by the prospect of the minority son of an immigrant father being elected to the highest office in the nation.

“I’m an immigrant, but my daughters are citizens,” he said. “Obama opens the door for them. In the future, maybe they can run for office, too.”

Howard Koplowitz and Ivan Pereira contributed to this story.

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