President Barack Obama will be so close, and yet so far.
City officials expect Obama’s visit here to be brief — likely only long enough to deliver a speech and shake a few hands. But they all wish he would give the city more than just a glimpse out of a car window.
“I’d love to give him a walking tour of the downtown and explain, from Main Street, America, how you take an industrial city in a decline and bring it back,” said Jim Salengo, executive director of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement District.
Others said Obama would be missing a priceless opportunity if he didn’t stop long enough to look at the intricately decorated ceiling of Proctors Theater — which was made even better recently with some repairs above the balcony.
The 16-sided Nott Memorial at Union College shouldn’t be missed either, tourism directors said.
But others would be satisfied with giving the president what he would surely love: a hard-fought basketball game.
Schenectady’s varsity boys team will be playing Notre Dame Bishop Gibbons on Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m., and the school district’s assistant athletic director promised Obama would love the game.
“It’d be a good opportunity for him to see an inner-city basketball team of outstanding young men,” Steven Boynton said. “Our league is one of the most talented, so there isn’t any easy game. It should be a very exciting game.”
The Schenectady team is nearly halfway through the season, currently tied for third in the Big 10 with rival Albany. (That game is Friday, so the president will unfortunately miss it.)
Boynton knows that Obama isn’t likely to stay. But if he does, Boynton offered to dress the president in Schenectady gear and give him a sideline seat.
“We’d even let him be coach for the day. He could show the boys how to shoot the three-pointers we always see him do,” he said.
Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, a basketball enthusiast like Obama, suggested that some hoop should be organized for the occasion.
“I’d like to challenge him to a two-on-two game . . . at the new YMCA in Schenectady,” said Tedisco. He floated Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, or state Supreme Court Judge Barry Kramer as possible teammates.
At Ellis Hospital, which has been reorganized to handle the entire city, officials wish the driving force behind national health care would stop to see health care reform in action.
“We would love to show him the medical home,” spokeswoman Donna Evans said.
The hospital has designed a program that connects the under-insured with primary care doctors, so that they stop going to the emergency room for all their care. An ER visit is many times more expensive than a primary care visit.
Last year, 160 ER patients were connected to doctors who could supervise their long-term care and intervene before illnesses became emergencies.
City officials also want to show Obama the “green” houses project here.
The solar-paneled houses have dozens of unique features, including flooring made from bamboo, which grows far faster than trees. They were specifically marketed to low-income residents, and the city sold each house at half its market price to make them affordable.
Unfortunately, city residents must pay taxes on the market value, pushing their costs beyond some buyers’ means. U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, is trying to get legislation passed to exempt solar cells from tax assessments.
That’s not the only city need that could benefit with some presidential attention.
Mayor Brian U. Stratton wants to take Obama on a tour of the places that desperately need federal aid. The city needs money for more police officers — the force was reduced by 12 in this year’s budget — and to replace miles of ancient sewer and water pipes.
“I’d like to take him through our neighborhoods and show him how we could use federal money,” Stratton said, adding, “but this isn’t the right time to be shaking the tin cup.”
Instead, he and Salengo are more pragmatically hoping that Obama stops long enough to eat here.
“I’d take him to Villa Italia and the State Street Station diner,” Stratton said. “Delicious food, home cooking, family-run. It’d be a great campaign stop. Two years is not too early to start campaigning.”
Salengo wants Obama to try one of the many international restaurants downtown, for which Schenectady has built quite a reputation.
“It used to be all about the great Italian food,” Salengo said. “Now it’s really becoming a destination downtown. You’ve got Thai food, French food, Indian food, Mexican food, Cajun food, all within about five blocks. Who better than the president to experience the international cuisine we have here?”