CHICAGO – Zariff, a barber at the Hyde Park Hair Salon and Barber Shop gave Barack Obama a haircut two nights ago.

Julie Rowe

In fact, he’s been cutting the senator’s hair here on Chicago’s South Side for more than 15 years, and in that time the two men have become close friends. Zariff – he says that’s his full name, just Zariff – said he has no qualms about supporting Obama’s bid for the presidency. After all, a relationship like theirs requires a certain level of trust.

“When you see him interact, and the way people interact with him, and the way that’s been consistent over the years I’ve known him, I wouldn’t mind at all him being the president,” he said. “I guess it helps to know a guy.”

Before he was elected into the U.S. Senate in 2004, Obama served the neighborhood of Hyde Park in the Illinois State Senate.

Ishmael Alamin, who has owned the barbershop since 2002, said Obama hasn’t changed since he started coming into the shop.

“It makes me feel like he’s going to stay true to what he believes in,” Alamin said.

Zariff said he thinks it’s this consistency in Obama’s actions that make him such an appealing candidate.

“His persona has been consistent. What you see is what you get from him,” he said. “But I can say that I’ve seen a change in the look, as being presidential. It’s slight, but I know it.”

As a barber, Zariff has conversations about politics daily. People in Hyde Park are most concerned about health care and the future of the economy, and it’s the candidates’ stances on these issues that are informing the votes of the people he talks to, Zariff said.

“They’re more concerned about the inside politics of who the person is, more so than just voting for a guy because he’s black, or white or whatever,” he said.

But when the senator comes in for a haircut, as he did Sunday night, the conversation in the barbershop rarely turns to politics, Zariff said.

“He gets enough of that on the road, so we keep it simple,” he said. They usually talk sports.

About 25 miles northwest of Alamin’s barbershop, in the town of Park Ridge, Ill., Ed Brockman sat in his office on the second floor of the First United Methodist Church. It was this town, and this church, that Hillary Clinton called home about 40 years ago.

Although many in the northwest Chicago suburb are proud of the fact that their community has produced a woman of such high stature, Brockman doesn’t think that this should or will affect their vote tomorrow, he said.

“We think it’s marvelous that she could achieve as much as she has achieved, and how much she’s done in this world, and the fact that she could be considered to be a potential president of the United States,” he said. “Would I vote for her? Probably not. I’m a life-long Republican and not about to change at age 82.”

David Iglow, a former president of the Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks the values Clinton has exhibited in her campaign mirror those of the town she grew up in. He said that’s what voters are responding to.

“This town is historically a Republican town,” Iglow said. “However, I think that people – from what I see — there is some enthusiasm toward Hillary.”

Even Clinton was a Republican when she was growing up in Park Ridge.

Iglow now owns an upscale men’s clothing store in Park Ridge, and sees the town’s claim to fame as a potential boon for local businesses. In 1993, when Clinton became First Lady, Iglow tried to start a festival in Park Ridge called ‘Hillary Days,’ which was ultimately unsuccessful.

Back in Hyde Park, Zariff said that the first time he heard Obama speak in public was when the senator delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention — the speech many credit with turning Obama into a national figure. As Zariff watched, he was struck by how similar Obama was on stage and in person. Zariff had, after all, cut Obama’s hair the night before.

“His hair was much longer, so he said he was doing that speech, and he said, ‘you know, whatever you feel, just make it look good.’ So I felt that it should be a little bit shorter and a little bit tighter, a little bit more distinguished,” Zariff said. “That was the first time that I saw my work on television.”

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