By 5 a.m., J Street scene turns surreal

Emcee Anthony Rizzuto strolls to the front of J Street, microphone in hand, and opens the student election festivities Wednesday night.

“Welcome to Election Night ’99,” he says in a nasal voice. His pronouncement is answered by scattered cheers and a groan from the crowd.

It’s 11:30. The night is young.

Election night is a tradition, when student candidates, campaign supporters, election officials and reporters stay up until the wildest hours of the morning to hear the results. It’s a strange event.

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By 12:30, the J Street crowd has thinned. But the Red Lion is packed. Executive Vice President Jesse Strauss and Turkish Student Association President Halin Tansug are enjoying drinks at a table nestled next to the bar.

“This is better than being at J Street,” Strauss says. “I’ve learned it’s too nerve-wracking to get there before one.” He has no predictions for the night ahead. But Tansug has plenty to say, heaping praise on the election experience. He’s campaigned for various candidates.

“It’s fun,” he says. “The best part is that I know I’ll keep these friends forever. It’s been so nice.”

Across a rain-coated 21st Street, Columbian Square is littered with empty tables and pizza boxes. Rizzuto announces at 12:50 that the results should be in between 2 and 3 a.m. The few students left in J Street say they’re skeptical. The word is out that the number of write-in votes will prolong the counting. But EVP candidate Caity Leu doesn’t mind.

“I’m hanging out with my friends,” she shrugs. “I’m calm, whatever happens, happens.”

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Derek Grosso enters at 1:10, riding high. His chanting supporters carry the EVP candidate into J Street. Twenty minutes later, another chanting horde arrives, this one made up of supporters of EVP candidate Cat Sadler and presidential candidate Phil Meisner. They’re the controversial candidates. Their run-ins with the JEC got them kicked off the ballot. They staged the write-in campaign that has lengthened the counting of votes.

Students are streaming into J Street at 2 a.m. A lulling rap music slithers around the room. The music is blaring out of a sound system courtesy of Ed Meinert’s crew, lingering in the back left corner. Meinert, a candidate for president, is relaxing, feet up on the table.

“I’m excited, just waiting out the storm. This is what it’s all about,” he says, pointing toward two throngs of chanting campaign supporters. “This is what campus politics and campus interaction is all about.”

Across the room, Grosso is trying to stay calm. “I’d like to sleep, the election has taken a lot out of me,” he says. “With the whole write-in campaign, you never know what’s going to happen.” He’s cut off in mid-sentence, a supporter whisks him up to the front of the room for an interview with Rizzuto.

Before he can get a word out, Sadler-Meisner supporters storm in, chanting like fans at a football game. Freshman Abby Lestition is in the middle of the ruckus, leading the cheers. It’s 2:30 and she’s been awake for two days campaigning. But her bright blue eyes reveal no fatigue.

“Tonight is the night, everything has built up,” she says through a raspy, overworked voice. “I can’t believe we’ve come this far. I want them to win so much.” The energy is still prevalent in her straining voice.

At 2:40, the rain is falling in steady spits, and presidential candidate Alexis Rice has made her way in from the wetness in a slick blue shirt. “It’s been a long two days,” she says, clutching a wade of campaign stickers. “I’d like to get some sleep.”

She was up late Tuesday night calling supporters and out early in the morning talking to voters. The campaign is in its final hours, but they’re the longest hours. “It’s going to be a long night,” she says, walking off as Grosso is carried in again amid chants of his name.

It’s 3 a.m. and no results. Rizzuto says results might not be available until 4. Most people think it’ll be 5. Cabin fever is setting in at 3:25, as Grosso and Liz Foo (both cheerleaders) lead the assembled insomniacs in a rendition of the GW fight song. The rain is turning to snow.

Sadler says she’s tired. “Exhausted, it’s been a whirlwind,” she says. “The energy in here is amazing. I can’t say enough about (our campaign supporters). We could never repay them.”

Sadler’s running mate, Meisner, is wearing a pressed white shirt, khakis, and clutching an oval yellow zucchini. Meisner says it’s a lucky zucchini that Shawn Heller gave him. Lucky vegetables? At 3:40, anything seems normal. Rizzuto declares the results will be ready in 15 minutes.

It’s a surreal scene. Five o’clock arrives and no results. The anxious candidates, jittery supporters and tired writers wait some more. Outside, snow flurries swirl and tumble.

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