At least 500 people waited for hours on Wednesday to get free tickets to hear Vice President Joseph Biden speak today at Shenendehowa High School East.
The line snaked around the front of the high school and doubled back again. People weathered the alternating sun and rain, some sitting in chairs, many holding umbrellas and a few reading books or magazines to pass the time.
Some grumbled when they left empty-handed after waiting for 21⁄2 hours and all the tickets were gone, but the crowd was mostly relaxed.
“I’ve never been first in line for anything,” said Susan Streeter of Schenectady, who was fifth or sixth in line — close enough for her.
Streeter arrived about 9:30 a.m., well before the tickets were supposed to be given away at noon. That time was delayed until 12:30 p.m., apparently because officials were trying to get more tickets to meet the high demand.
A Federal Express package arrived at the high school’s East Building shortly before the first arrivals were allowed inside. Presumably the package contained tickets.
Officials from the vice president’s office declined comment at the school about the event, and also said they didn’t know how many tickets they were giving away.
Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson said the new gymnasium’s maximum capacity is 1,800, but with a stage and other elements, about half that number can fit.
Saratoga County Democratic Committee Chairman Larry Bulman said officials first had planned to give out 250 to 300 tickets Wednesday afternoon, but then decided to open the attendance up.
Adults near the front of the line got two tickets each.
Streeter’s niece, Alexis Nieradka, 8, was still dressed in her princess outfit from her Magic Treehouse camp Wednesday morning while she waited. Her mom, Lisa, planned to get tickets for her and Alexis.
“I think it’s an important event, especially in our area,” Lisa Nieradka said.
Brad Smith got there before anyone.
The 17-year-old from Clifton Park brought a lawn chair and a book and showed up at 6 a.m.
When staff at the school didn’t even know what was going on yet, he made a coffee run and came back to the school to wait for the doors to open.
“I think it’s a very cool, unique opportunity,” Smith said. “I don’t think this happens very often.”
Officials were only giving tickets to those 18 and older with photo identification, but quietly made an exception for Smith.
“They said, ‘You’ve been here for 61⁄2 hours; we’ll take care of it,’ ” Smith said after he got his ticket.
Other youngsters signed up for a student lottery to be admitted if there are extra seats. It is not known whether some tickets were held back for the student lottery.
At some point, officials started handing out single tickets.
“At the end of the day, I’m hoping that anyone that wants to get in and listen to our vice president is going to have that opportunity,” Bulman said.
But nearly 100 left empty-handed after waiting until 2:30 p.m.
“This was inefficient,” said Rochelle Treiber of Clifton Park, after the announcement was made that the tickets were gone.
“You have a limited number of tickets. You count the number of people,” she said, noting that people after the cutoff should have been told early on they wouldn’t get tickets.
Today, no bags or weapons are allowed inside the venue, and everyone must pass through a metal detector.
The event starts at 2:30 p.m.
Helicopters buzzed overhead Wednesday morning, apparently taking photos of the area. State troopers and Secret Service officials also were on site.
Biden will talk about the progress of the federal stimulus package and how it affects Saratoga County.
U.S. Rep. Scott Murphy, D-Glens Falls, will speak at the event today, and Gov. David A. Paterson also will appear.
“About a week ago, the vice president said he wants to get out and talk to people about the recovery and the economy,” Murphy said Wednesday by phone from Washington.
Murphy said he will not travel with Biden to Clifton Park, because the vice president has a stop in Ohio earlier in the day.
Bulman said Biden planned the visit as a thank you to the district for electing Murphy, an unknown businessman before his special-election campaign against veteran Assemblyman Jim Tedisco earlier this year.
“We’re very excited to have him in the Capital Region,” Murphy said, noting that with GlobalFoundries and other projects going on, the area is a hot place.
Murphy said Shenendehowa was chosen because it is a large school system, is in a central location for people in his district and because the school district just got federal stimulus money.
At least one man who will attend today’s talk said it is a good indication of government transparency that Biden is coming to the area.
“I think that’s what the vice president is here for,” said Kirk Harbinger of Clifton Park. “He’s here to let people in upstate New York ... know how their money is being spent. They should know how their money is being spent, because it’s a lot of money.”
Harbinger planned to give his extra ticket to his 12-year-old daughter, Cara.
Brad Smith, the 17-year-old who arrived at 6 a.m., said he likes President Barack Obama’s charisma but is reserving judgment on his effectiveness as president in the economic crisis.
“I think even the best, most competent leader would be tried in something like this.”