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POLITICAL PARTYING
IT BECAME THE NIGHT OG NIGHTS, WHEN THE BUZZ AND HOOPLA EVERYWHERE WAS ABOUT POLLS, BALLOTS AND THE NATION'S FUTURE

The long presidential campaign reached its climax Tuesday, and it was quite a scene.

At times, the final showdown between President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry created an atmosphere more suited for watching a World Series game than a political election. The intensity was the result of an election year buildup that included months of hype, political ads and campaigning.

Just like Super Bowl Sunday, Election Night Tuesday was filled with drama and suspense. People gathered in front of television sets at home, in bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and college dorms to watch the results unfold.

Everywhere you went, people were talking about or watching the election.

Here are some scenes from the night:

Liz Abbott stood near the corner stage of Nietzsche's playing an acoustic guitar version of "A Day in the Life" as Wolf Blitzer read the vote totals from a television screen behind the bar.

"I read the news today, oh boy," Abbott sang, as rain thumped against a window overlooking Allen Street and the scent of wine, beer and pizza filled the air.

"Right now, Bush is leading 52 percent to 48 percent," Blitzer said on CNN, as a neon beer sign cast a red glow over nearly a dozen people who sat at the bar and watched the screen in rapt attention.

This was election night, a time for history, and in Nietzsche's, a hotbed of Kerry supporters, a time for bonding through the tension.

"A lot of people came here tonight because it's too much to sit home alone and watch this thing," said Dana Scott, a bartender. "We've had people coming in all day, saying, "I just had to go someplace and be with other people to see what happens.' "

Roberto Todaro was one of them.

"My brother's a Republican. All I heard all day at home was Bush, Bush, Bush," Todaro. "I couldn't take it, I had to get away from him."

The suspenseful evening was wearing on Joan Rzadkiewicz, standing at the bar, trying to talk politics, watch the television set and listen to Abbott singing.

"I can barely stand this, I'm so nervous," Rzadkiewicz said. "I got up early today to vote, and I'm not going to bed until this thing is over. This is a historic night. I've never seen so many people so interested and so involved in an election."

Joe Rubino, owner of Nietzsche's, surveyed the scene. This wasn't a night to just count the house; he was just as interested in the electoral college count.

"Before I had butterflies, now I'm just nervous," said Rubino, who supports Kerry. "This night is so much bigger than the Super Bowl. Don't get me wrong, I'm a Bills fan, but so much more is at stake for all of us in this election. I have a lot of anxiety."

Abbott played a major role in the electric atmosphere at Nietzsche's. She stood on the wooden stage, wearing red plaid pants, a black blouse and gray beret. She sang with passion and from the heart, especially on a number she wrote called "America."

The song seemed a metaphor for the night: "America, your dream won't come undone." Later, Abbott stood by the side of the stage and tried to put her performance and the presidential election in perspective.

"I'm here to play, but I feed off the people and what's going on," Abbott said. "I know people are watching the television and talking, but they're also listening to the music. I feel empowered just to be a part of it."

It's league night in Voelker's on Elmwood Avenue, and the bowlers are restless as they head from barroom to alley. Up for grabs? Single-game high, for one. The presidency for another - and judging from the early returns, it looks to be a long night in front of the television.

"I have mixed feelings," said Joseph Morrow, 23. "I'm an Army veteran, and Bush sent us into Iraq for no reason, but Kerry won't be able to get us out."

Take one look at Morrow, and it becomes apparent he is a young man of many causes. Snaking up his right forearm - the letters "O-H-A-N-A" - a word Morrow said means "family" in Hawaiian. On his shirt, the phrase "free yayo," a sign of recent times referring to the incarceration of a popular rap artist.

"Family means everything to me," said the bowler, who just finished a game of darts. "I spent three years in Germany, and I know how much I missed them."

With that, he grabs his bowling bag and heads off for the alley - away from a television screen he had been watching. The pounding beat of Metallica had prevented him from hearing what the CNN announcers said.

And he wasn't alone.

"I wish it wasn't so loud," retired homemaker Sylvia Maguire said, from her seat across the bar. "We really haven't seen a summary yet, but when I go home, I'll watch and listen to it."

Maguire, 69, admits this election is very different from the others she has witnessed. She hopes it turns out better than the 149 game she rolled for the Tuesday Night Twisters.

"I never hated a president in my life, but I hate Bush," Maguire said. "I just don't like him, and I didn't like his father either."

Patti Zorchak is silent as she puts an unlighted cigarette to her lips. The velour sweat suit she wears toasts the season with the colors orange and black. Zorchak turns and tells of a daughter who lives in Columbus, Ohio.

"My daughter called me today and said her friend waited in line for three hours to vote. That they were voting on law to ban smoking. Why didn't we get that chance?"

Stacey Budzinski was busy setting up pop bottles and bags of chips, pretzels and popcorn on a couple of tables inside the Palisano Pavilion at Canisius College.

The political science major and Bush supporter was going full tilt for the biggest night of the year in politics.

"There's nothing like this, and the way the election is going, it's insane," Budzinski said, as she ripped open a bag a corn twists. She then grabbed some red and blue balloons to tape to a table. When asked to describe the tense atmosphere in the room, Budzinski used one word: "Thick."

At one end of the spacious student activity area was a giant video screen showing CNN as well as clips of Jon Stewart and skits from "Saturday Night Live."

Students started coming in around 9 p.m., and by 10 there were nearly 50 people in the room. Away from the screen, at the opposite end of the room, a couple of pool tables and a ping-pong table were being put to steady use.

Budzinski was running the election night party for the political science majors in Pi Sigma Alpha. "This campus is very politically active, you see signs everywhere, and the dorms are divided between Kerry and Bush. Tonight we want to bring everybody together."

Once the pizza arrived, the election gig hit full stride.

"You give out free food at a college, and the kids will always turn out," said Budzinski, 20, who lives in Lockport. "I feel tense, but I'm optimistic that everything will be all right."

John Dyrcz, 20, who lives in Ohio, shared that feeling.

"Everybody on the campus has been buzzing about the election, and tonight is the climax," said Dyrcz, a Bush supporter. "Right now, you look around, and half the people are for Bush and half are for Kerry."

So how did a Bush voter view election night.

"For a Republican, this night gives us a chance to finish what we started," Dyrcz said.

Emily Denicola favors Kerry, and saw election night through different eyes.

"This is the beginning of a turning point for America," she said.

The room was filled with a kind of youthful exuberance and spirit. Balloons would occasionally fly in the air, kids would run across the room, and many huddled at round tables just soaking up the atmosphere.

"This election has divided so many people," Budzinski said. "We wanted to cool things off, have some fun and just be together to watch it happen. I just hope it ends tonight."

Deep into the night on Elmwood Avenue at the corner of St. James Place, the potluck election-night watch was just getting warm - and there was no mistaking the favorite.

"Kerry won New York State!" announced Pat Shelly, 49. "It's not too early to celebrate."

About 15 people crowded this urban living room, and they appeared to have no problem reaching a consensus: Not since the sixties has a presidential election been as exciting.

"I did this kind of thing in the '60s for Kennedy," reminisced Rae Rosen, 78. "I was excited then, and I'm getting excited about this now."

Rosen, like the others who gathered on this night to watch election results, was clearly focused on the screen that dominated one corner of the room. And while she had no problem remembering the '60s, there were others in the room who had not even been born.

"I'm from a swing state," said Erin Sharkey, 24. "This election is important, and I'm really scared," said the Minnesota native.

Around the room there was agreement that the night would be a long one - and concern that the media may play a bigger role than it should.

"It's scary when you have such momentum built by the media," said Lindsay Sampson. "The media can decide the election."

Earlier in the day, Sampson called her father and practiced a role reversal of sorts.

"There was so much political tension in my family that instead of getting into a political discussion with him, I just encouraged him to vote," she said.

In front of Sampson stood 5-year old Bhakti Williams-Brown munching trail mix. Despite being the youngest in the room, he, too, voted.

"Kerry," the youngster responded when asked for whom he voted. And while his answer sparked a chuckle, his reason created a roar.

"Bush had his turn. Now it's Kerry's," Bhakti said.

e-mail: jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com and aviolanti@buffnews.com

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