Obama Will Need Young Voters to Keep His Job, Even if They Don’t Have One

By FRANKIE EDOZIEN

NEW YORK — If he’s to have any hope of keeping his job, President Barack Obama needs to regain the love of young voters. But with 50 percent of Americans under 30 jobless or underemployed, the once cozy relationship is strained.

So Mr. Obama has kicked off his now re-election campaign by wooing university students with a charm offensive that began with an appearance on a late-night television show popular with young people, “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.”

For those not used to U.S.-style presidential campaigns, the appearance of a head of state on a late-night comedy show might seem a little odd — and Mr. Obama’s Republican critics pounced. But young people are a critical voting bloc and while the group favors Mr. Obama over the certain Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, Mr. Obama needs to win them by a large margin given Republicans’ advantage among older voters, white voters and male voters.

The night that Mr. Romney was celebrating winning Republican primaries in five states and making the case that his campaign is one of hope for a better America, the president was pressing for a freeze on the interest rate charged on government student loans by trading lines with comedian Jimmy Fallon.

The Roots, an R&B band jammed, as the young audience squealed.

For the president, the issue could be a winning one as American college debt is expected to hit $1 trillion, more than credit card debt. This motivated angry students to demonstrate in New York on Wednesday.

Students around the world have flexed their collective muscle when pushed and political leaders have taken note. In 2010, thousands of British university students violently took to the streets when plans to increase tuition where announced. The protests continued last year.

Chilean student protests last year forced reforms then students took to the streets this week to protest the reforms not going far enough. And this week protests by French-Canadian students over proposed tuition hikes turned violent in Montreal. The student movement, which has led a student strike for the last 11 weeks, could trigger a snap election in Quebec.

Presidential candidates going on TV to court young voters isn’t new. But once elected part of being the commander-in-chief requires projecting an aura of strength.

So comedic turns on television, even for serious matters, could be seen as a gamble. (The other gamble was the comedy: Student loans? Funny?)

Though Mr. Obama’s appearance was a hit among its intended audience, selling himself going forward is not likely to be as easy as it was four years ago.

A recent poll by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics found that only 20 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 believe the country is headed in the right direction.

Four years ago, Mr. Obama fired up the enthusiasm in young voters. That enthusiasm is waning with the Harvard poll suggesting that only 43 percent would vote for him now.

As a lawmaker he didn’t show up to vote on the student loan bill he’s now pushing Republican lawmakers in Congress to extend. Still his “jam session” only buttressed his cool factor to segments of America’s youth who already know that he can sing.

At least he isn’t channeling rap stars Jay-Z and Kanye West the way French presidential aspirant, François Hollande, did to ratchet up his hip quotient. Maybe it worked, since Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left leader and a youth favorite did less well than expected in Sunday’s first round of elections.

Next week the Obama campaign will hold its first official re-election rallies with campus stops in Virginia and Ohio. Mr. Obama and his wife will reiterate that they only recently paid off their own student loans.

“I didn’t just get a policy briefing on this. Michelle and I, we’ve been in your shoes,” the president has told students.

Still Mr. Romney isn’t ceding the youth vote.

He asked: “When you look at 50 percent of kids coming out college today can’t find a job or can’t find a job which is consistent with their skills, how in the world can you be supporting a president that has led to that kind of economy?” The businessman however did an about face and now supports the student loan proposal after seeming to not agree.

The president’s pressing the issue appeared to work. Republican leaders announced they would vote for the interest rate freeze on Friday. It remains to be seen if it will be enough to push job seekers to the polls this fall.
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Osama Bin Laden Joins the U.S. Presidential Race


By FRANKIE EDOZIEN

NEW YORK — By Monday morning, the newest skyscraper rising from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks is expected to be the tallest building in New York’s skyline.

The tower at One World Trade Center, at 1776 feet — or 541 meters — and 104 floors, will be 403 feet taller than the twin towers it is replacing. When finished in 2013 or 2014, it will be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. The tallest building in the world will remain Dubai’s Burj Khalifa in the United Arab Emirates, at 2,717 feet.

Next week could be a moment of triumph for Americans who, one year ago, were celebrating in the streets of Lower Manhattan and Washington, D.C. when President Barack Obama announced that Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind 9/11, had been killed.

Back then the Democratic president refused to do a victory dance, saying Americans didn’t “need to spike the football.”

But that was a year ago.

Facing an onslaught of criticism from Republican rivals who try to paint him as a lightweight celebrity, the Obama White House and campaign are engaging in a media blitz meant to remind everyone who has been calling the shots on foreign policy.

Mr. Obama’s aides enlisted former president Bill Clinton to narrate this web ad that suggests that Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, would not have pursued the Qaeda leader as aggressively.

Mr. Clinton’s involvement in this ad reminded many of the fierce primary contest four years ago when Hillary Rodham Clinton, now Mr. Obama’s Secretary of State, questioned his foreign policy credentials in her own national security ad.

As Peter Baker and Michael D. Shear note in the Times, the president has actually been talking about Bin Laden for months — including in his State of the Union address. Only now the intensity has changed.

Mr. Obama will be on national television on Wednesday, the anniversary of Bin Laden’s death, doing part of the interview in The Situation Room. The president’s aides have been interviewed for a Time Magazine special report, and there’s much more.

Republicans have seized upon Mr. Obama’s reluctance to score political points with the death of Bin Laden last year. His 2008 opponent, Senator John McCain of Arizona, called the new Web ad “shameless” and “pathetic.”

“Barack Obama is not only trying to score political points by invoking Osama bin Laden, he is doing a shameless end-zone dance to help himself get re-elected,” Mr. McCain said. Romney campaign spokespeople accused the president of trying to divide the country.

Usually disciplined and on message, Mr. Obama rarely raised the issue, but when pushed he has reminded foes that he has tackled some big challenges.

No doubt the White House’s attempt to capitalize on the anniversary of the Bin Laden death is meant to counter the Republican message that Mr. Obama has been an ineffectual and incompetent president who is out of his depth.

Normally, an April with the presidential candidates already decided, might slip into the political doldrums for a while. Not this year. Before the Republicans define the president in their terms, the Obama camp is trying to make it clear that he did accomplish some big things, despite the enduring economic malaise and the health care overhaul that is far less popular than they had expected.

Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. gave a speech saying that the re-election slogan would be “Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive,” referring to the car-company bailout orchestrated by the administration.

Mr. Obama’s opening salvo of his re-election campaign should not have caught Republicans by surprise. On Thursday night, Mr. Biden told an audience at New York University that Mr. Romney and the Republicans had ideas that were from another era.

His boss, he said, talked softly but carried a big stick. “I promise you, the president has a big stick. I promise you.”

Of course, the danger of trumpeting foreign successes is that between now and the election in November there are any number of foreign challenges that could explode.
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Cloth: Bright, Durable and Well Curated

Frankie Edozien
Brownstone boutique chic: Zoë van de Wiele and Cloth, five years in on Fort Greene Place.

By FRANKIE EDOZIEN

It’s been five years since the designer emporium Cloth debuted in a brownstone on a quiet side street — Fort Greene Place, off Hanson.

Back then, compared to the longstanding boutiques on Fulton Street, Cloth was the upscale newcomer.

But with little fanfare, owner Zoë van de Wiele has built up a clientele and a reputation as the woman to see for stylish duds that won’t break the bank.

“She just nails it for me,” said Gabriela de la Vega, a local jewelry designer with both a high-end collection and a more affordable line of accessories. “You can go in and make a purchase without feeling pain and anguish.” She said Cloth’s offerings work for her since she works at home but often has to meet new clients. “I have a casual lifestyle and her clothes straddle the line between comfortable and casual and still stylish. You still look like you got it going on.”

Another regular customer, Lauren Mason, said she loved the slim but unique pickings. “I prefer to go to her than a department store,” Ms. Mason said. “She really cherry picks through all the designer stuff and picks out the right stuff.”

That small selection includes offerings by American Vintage, a French dress company, New Scotland, Utility Canvass, Cotélac and Stewart Brown. Denim, metallic colored sneakers and jewelry are also on hand.

“Everybody always likes dresses,” said Ms. van de Wiele, 43. “The most expensive dress I have is about $250. Generally I try to keep them under $200 if I can.” Cloth’s clients, Ms. van de Wiele said, are primarily Fort Greene women who juggle work and motherhood.

Sarah Frank, who works in film production, said she keeps returning to Cloth because she hangs on to items she’s gotten there in years past. “I wear belts from three years ago that I love,” she said. “She’s very concerned about what she has. She wouldn’t get anything that she wouldn’t wear.” At the same time, said Ms. Frank, 38, “It’s not stuff you’re going to find on Bleecker Street. You are not going to find somebody else wearing it.”

Before Ms. van de Wiele became a mother and moved to Fort Greene to raise her family, she designed cycling apparel for women, she said. That line, Psoas, was manufactured for a time on Dean Street; it stopped production in 2000, before Cloth was born.

Cloth is located at 138 Fort Greene Place. Longtime residents will remember it as the old location for the restaurant Under the Clock. Years before, it was an Irish pub with a bit of a reputation.

“We found bullets and lots of liquor bottles,” Ms. van de Wiele said. “No money.”

She still has a basement full of sewing machines and hopes to create another line in the future to augment what she carries now. “I might not tell anyone it’s me,” she said. “Just see what happens with it.”

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The World Meets at Carlton and Myrtle

By FRANKIE EDOZIEN

Frankie Edozien
Abdoul Gueye; his wife, Cassandra Gueye, and their daughter, Sonia, outside Abistro.

For the uninitiated, Abistro is easy to miss.

There are no signs outside the African bistro on the corner of Carlton and Myrtle Avenue, just a white storefront and a lining of thick drapes in the winter months that block any sign of what is going on inside.

Still, if you don’t live in Fort Greene and have no clue to the popularity of this restaurant, you might figure out that something is going on there by the crowds on the sidewalks around dinner time on weekends.

“People will come in and say ‘oh, this is the place,’” said Cassandra Gueye, who has owned the 30-seat restaurant with her husband, Abdoul Gueye, since March 2005. “Word-of mouth is our strongest supporter.”
Click Below to Listen

Listen at left to Abdoul Gueye lay out his stealth marketing strategy for Abistro, including the no-sign thing.

The couple took a risk in opening the restaurant. Back then, Myrtle Avenue was still trying to shake off its reputation as Murder Avenue. There had been regular volleys of gunshots on the corner and marijuana sales were thriving. And the storefront space they decided to take over had not been used in years. Rumor has it that it was once a liquor store, but in 2004 it was a place for the squatters to down beer and play dominoes.

“It was a mess. I told Abdoul, I don’t see it,” Ms. Gueye said. Myrtle Avenue was not ready for a high-end restaurant, she told him. But, she told him, “If you see it, then I believe you.”

Mr. Gueye had wanted to open a nice restaurant in Fort Greene for years, and something about this hole-in-the-wall kept tugging at him.

Abdoul Gueye is Senegalese, but was born in Cote D’Ivoire and educated in France. A trained electrician, he’s been cooking since age 14. He left Africa for New York in 1989.

In the late 90s, he and Cassandra, who were not yet married, settled in Fort Greene.

Mr. Gueye said he decided he did not want to be the kind of immigrant that associated only with other immigrants.

“I believed that for me to be able to be successful in this country I had to learn how the system works,” Mr. Gueye, 40, said. “And to learn how the system works, I had to relate myself to young American middle-class people. Fort Greene was perfect for it. It really fit what I was looking for.”

From there, he went to work, cooking for years at some of Manhattan’s finest white-table cloth establishments: La Goulue, Aureole, Aquagrill and others, rising from line-cook to top chef and testing recipes along the way.

By 2004, Mr. Gueye had secured a 10-year lease to the space on Carlton and Myrtle, and with his wife and their daughter, Sonia, began cleaning it out.

It was a family project and by the time the bistro opened, Mr. Gueye was in the kitchen, Ms. Gueye out front welcoming and serving, and Sonia was mingling with the diners.

The dishes that brought Fort Greeners and Clinton Hill hipsters and their friends, family and neighbors back include the Senegalese fried chicken ($15); the Darkaroise roasted trout with jalapeño ($16); the Moroccan salmon with peanut palm sauce ($22), and tofu with soba noodles ($15).

Mr. Gueye described his cuisine as universal. “You travel with my food. You can travel from Africa, to Europe, to America, to Asia. And at the same time you’re comfortable with what you’re eating,” he said.

“Africa is rich, a billion type of cooking styles,” he said. “I wanted to use that and infuse it with what I know. I have experience in French cooking and Asian cooking. I take all these varieties and put on one dish.”

Anika Penn, 31, a graduate student in international relations at John Hopkins who is from Fort Greene, said she has been dragging friends to Abistro since her first meal. Mr. Gueye’s food is well executed and adventurous, she said.

“The Senegalese fried chicken for instance has great flavor, is sweet, crunchy, all in the same bite,” she said. “And that’s so rare.”

The New York Times recently included a bistro in a round-up of African restaurants and declared the hamburger ‘first rate.’ The review also called for Mr. Gueye to bottle his secret sauces.

Selling his sauces isn’t happening yet, but Mr. Gueye, who now has two sous-chefs, said he is scouting for locations in Fort Greene for a large seafood restaurant he hopes to open. To comment click here

From Yolele to Le Grand Dakar to … Julia Child?

By FRANKIE EDOZIEN

Frankie Edozien
Pierre Thiam, owner of Le Grand Dakar in Clinton Hill, has turned his Senegalese heritage into an opportunity to win a Julia Child award.

Like most African immigrants, Pierre Thiam, owner and chef of Clinton Hill’s Le Grand Dakar, arrived in New York to attend college.

That was 20 years ago. And while he has since left the studies behind and made his permanent home in Clinton Hill, he has never let go of his Senegalese roots — so much so that Mr. Thiam, or Gorgui as his family calls him, has taken the skills he learned as a youth and used them to make a significant contribution to American cuisine.

His first cookbook ‘Yolele! Recipes from the heart of Senegal’ was recently nominated for the coveted Julia Child Award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals, making it to the final three out of 400 tomes.

“I didn’t even think about being a finalist, the dream was to be published,” said Mr. Thiam, 44.

Because it is the women in Africa who are in charge of cooking — and it was mothers, aunts, sisters and cousins who passed on their tricks to Mr. Thiam, and who are shown preparing the recipes in the book — Mr. Thiam said there are others who share the credit. “It’s a tribute to all the women in my family,” he said.

After working at SoHo hotspots Jean Claude, Boom and, later, the defunct Two Rooms, where he attracted notice for his infusion of African dishes into the menus, Mr. Thiam set up shop in Brooklyn. His restaurant, Yolele, in Bed-Stuy, was instrumental in making the area a new hub for African cuisine.

Five years ago, he opened Le Grand Dakar in Clinton Hill, a stone throw from the home where he’s been raising three children for the past 14 years. Yolele has since closed. But Le Grand Dakar, with its 1,000-square-foot space and seating for 75, has evolved into a cultural hub. Mr. Thiam’s food is the draw, but on Tuesdays and Thursdays diners are treated to jazz.

Last week Bill Lee, father of Fort Greene’s own Spike Lee, jammed all night. Afrobeat maestro Jojo-Kuo is headed there later this month.

Mr. Thiam has also created a Grand Street block party, on Aug. 14, that has become legendary among Clinton Hill and Fort Greene denizens, embodying the definition of the Fulani word “yolele,” which means roughly “let the good times roll” or “let’s play.”

“The idea was to bring an African village outside,” he said of the decision to have African fashion shows, a stage with drummers and more outside Le Grand Dakar every summer.

Mr. Thiam, though, might have something to celebrate much sooner: On April 4, while Senegal is commemorating 49 years of independence from the French, he will be in Colorado where he has a chance to win the Julia Child award.

Such an award would mean a lot to him, he said: In his early days in New York, he spent his free time at the public library reading all her cookbooks. If he wins, he said, he might just “have a Senegalese dance right there.”

Meanwhile the top chef is planning to publish a series of Yolele! books. “I’m focusing on Mali, Benin, and Nigeria,” he said, “and then I’ll leave some room” for other African chefs “to do other things.”

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Have Some Art With That Wine

By FRANKIE EDOZIEN

Brian Robinson, owner of Gnarly Vines, has turned his wine shop into an art gallery.

There’s never been a shortage of liquor stores in Fort Greene or Clinton Hill. These days there’s a fair number of places to buy fine wines, too.

One shop that opened about 16 months ago, Gnarly Vines, has figured out a way to do more than keep the wine — and people — coming. The owner, Brian Robinson, has also turned the place into a gallery, where he displays local works of art.

So far 10 exhibits have been up in the shop at 350 Myrtle near Adelphi. And tomorrow a new exhibit goes up, this one by the Fort Greene Photography Organization, a group of amateur and professional photographers.

The exhibit is called “She: A Celebration of Women.”

“It’s Women’s History Month and I wanted a theme that reflects that,” said Ocean Morisset, the founder of the Fort Greene Photography Organization.

How Gnarly Vines came to be the site of a gallery is a tale of shrewd marketing and opportunity.

The area already had several wine shops, including the Greene Grape, on a corner of busy Fulton Street, and Thirst, which opened on a discreet corner on DeKalb Avenue, just steps away from Fort Greene Park.

Gnarly Vines took up a cavernous space on Myrtle Avenue, right across from a liquor store. Mr. Robinson, 42, said he was surprised by the response.

“I didn’t think there would be that much foot traffic on Myrtle Avenue,” he said. “I thought the store would be kind of dead and I would have to make a living by calling up people, by building up a client list of contacts that I would be delivering cases of wine to in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and throughout the five boroughs.

“Because I never thought that the foot traffic could actually sustain the business,” he said. “And it does.”

In fact, there always seem to be folks milling in and out of the 20-by-77 square foot shop, giving it an arty SoHo gallery vibe.

The shop also offers complimentary tastings of neighborhood cuisine, donated by local restaurants.

“She” will include works by 12 of the Fort Greene Photography Organization’s 14 members. They feature female spirits, young girls and beautiful women, and will be on display for the next few weeks.

“It’s a great space,” said Mr. Morisset, 40. “I love the brick walls and the environment with all that wine.”
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On South Elliott Place, Points Off for Spelling Errors

By FRANKIE EDOZIEN

On the west side of South Elliott Place, it’s Elliot with one T — wrong!

On the east side, it has two T’s — correct!

Forgive the residents of South Elliott Place if they have been having an identity crisis.

They have wondered for months why all the signs on their street are different. On the east side, the signs are spelled with two Ts. On the west side, one T rules.

“It’s just embarrassing,” one resident said. Another called the city’s Department of Transportation months ago but the signs, which mark the two blocks from Dekalb to Fulton, remained.

Several inquiries from The Local have brought the promise of change. The wrong signs will come down, but it’s unclear when the replacements will be put up.

“The correct spelling is S. Elliott Pl. Four signs will be removed Friday, March 6, and replaced soon thereafter,” DOT spokesman Scott Gastel said in a recent e-mail.

Given that it takes months to make new signs, residents may have to live without signs on one side of the street for some time.

BTW, Elliott Place is named for Henry Elliott, a wealthy 19th century shoe merchant.