Nearly 100 people packed into Zesty’s restaurant on Manayunk’s Main Street Wednesday night to watch the first presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
The watch party, hosted by Fourth District Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., was open to the public, welcoming both Democrats and Republicans for a debate and discussion with fellow neighbors and leaders in the 4th District.
The crowd, consisting mostly of African Americans between the ages of 30 and 60, took over all available tables and spilled into the available standing room. The majority of people in the room were there in support of President Obama.
The crowd was enthusiastic about the debate as the two candidates went head-to-head on domestic issues, cheering and making their opinions heard. In moments when the candidates provided sarcastic or criticizing remarks, reactions erupted in the form of clapping and cheers.
Reactions from the crowd
The crowd cheered when President Barack Obama criticized Gov. Mitt Romney’s tax plan and definition of a small business.
“Under Gov. Romney’s definition, there are a whole bunch of millionaires and billionaires who are small businesses,” Obama said. “Donald Trump is a small business. I know Donald Trump doesn’t like to think of himself as small.”
The crowd laughed when moderator Jim Lehrer, of PBS NewsHour, told both candidates that they were already over the first 15-minute segment.
Another moment that received a strong reaction was when Romney interrupted Lehrer after Obama spoke of the deficit and job growth, comparing his approach to Romney’s.
“The president began this segment,” Romney said, “so I think I get the last word.”
As the debate went on, however, participation from the crowd became less frequent and the debate became background noise as conversations within the crowd focused on what the candidates had already talked about.
Despite the debate lasting a full 90 minutes, some viewers felt there were topics that had not been covered. Criminal defense attorney Nicole Cross said she believed the topic of entitlement was omitted.
“The American people have a contract with each other,” Cross said. “To take care of each other, to invest for the future of this country in the face of international competition. In the face of economic crisis around the world.”
A civil first round
Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., who sponsored the event, commented on the civility of the debate. “I think this is round one,” Jones said. “There will be three more rounds at least, so I’m looking for it to getting a little more rough and tumble.”
Jones, however, said he thought this debate was very substantive.
“I think it was a clear distinction between the Romney vision for the United States of America and the Obama vision.”
Amanda Wilkinson, manager of Zesty’s, said the event was a great way for the restaurant to support and get involved in the community.
“Anything the community wants to be involved with we want to be involved with too,” Wilkinson said. “If people want to come here and show respect for our country we would never have a problem with that and we would really support it. And I think it really gives us a chance to network with other figures in the community.”
Francis Hilario and Hope Janelle Berninghausen are Temple University students. They produced this piece for Philadelphia Neighborhoods in collaboration with WHYY/NewsWorks.