The view was brief and obstructed, but for most of the people who braved the cold Friday in downtown Schenectady, the momentary glimpse of President Barack Obama’s motorcade made it all worthwhile.
“How is it not worth it? How is this not exciting?” exclaimed Schenectady native Anthony Jappa, whose vantage point allowed him to see the very top of the passing cars on the I-890 overpass, 100 yards from his spot on Erie Boulevard. “We’re regular people . . . so we knew we weren’t going to be able to see him, but that’s the stuff he does to you. He captivates you.”
Jappa was one of hundreds of people who filled the street and waited against a police barricade to witness the president’s drive into the General Electric plant. The crowd included supporters of the president, people hoping to participate in history and others hoping to advance their causes.
Squeezed into a relatively small space by the police, the anxious crowd had their cameras at the ready as they stared toward the plant, while constantly checking their rear on the off chance the president might use Erie Boulevard.
Jappa, who was part of a self-described “Team Obama,” which included three first-time voters in 2008, said he wanted to show his support. His teammate, Jannie Philpot, said she had changed into construction boots so that she would be prepared to walk all over the place for a sighting.
For much of the crowd the president’s visit was a chance to promote a message of peace. Yet even war opponents identified themselves as supporters of the president, despite disappointments.
Two local representatives from Peace Action, Elaine Klein of Niskayuna and Peg Watrous of Schenectady, brought their message to the gates of the GE facility before being escorted back to the pack of onlookers.
Wearing a “War is Not the Answer” button and displaying signs, Klein said she realized there was a small chance the president would see her and hear her message, but she hoped to spread awareness.
Watrous added her hope that the visit would help revitalize the city and reinvigorate the push for green energy. “I for one grew up here and I remember when this city was triple the size it is currently.”
David Easter of Delmar said the green energy movement should receive money being spent on military operations abroad.
In the view of Kyle Beverly, a student at Schenectady County Community College, the trip wasn’t about politics or positions, but just a chance to celebrate a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. “I think days like today are very important because we are becoming too polarized,” he said. “It’s all red and blue states. This really unifies all of us in support of one man.”
At the airport
A select few were lucky enough to greet Air Force One when it arrived.
When Obama landed at Albany International Airport Friday, Leslie Gracon of East Greenbush was there — just as she was when he landed there two years ago on his visit to Hudson Valley Community College.
Gracon remains an Obama fan, even though she is currently unemployed. She was laid off in September from her job at a bus company. “I feel he is doing a good job under the circumstances and that he has stepped into a mess,” she said.
Gracon said she voted for Obama, but is not with a major political party.
With her was her mother, Carol Reilly of North Greenbush. Reilly also voted for Obama and was also present when he came two years ago. She, too, is an independent.
“I still like him. He came in with a lot to fix. He said he would fix it, and that it would take time to fix,” she said.
Both women watched Obama arrive from the warmth and comfort of the airport terminal’s second-floor viewport. On the tarmac, where the temperature reached 19 degrees, stood another group of admirers. Among them were Emily and Sarah Cook, whose father is a Secret Service agent based in Albany, and their three girlfriends.
The girls attend Niskayuna High School and were playing hooky to see Obama land. “It is a cool opportunity,” Emily Cook said. It also was an opportunity to see their dad at work.
When Obama landed, he surprised the freezing crowd of onlookers by coming up to them to shake hands. “How are you?” he asked the crowd of about two dozen.
“Oh my God,” one person said.
“Mr. President, we love you,” another person said.
Korey Adams, director of the Glenmont Job Corps Academy, was able to shake Obama’s hand and get some pictures of him.
“I was surprised he came over. It was bitterly cold and it was nice and exciting,” Adams said. “It shows the kind of character and worth he has as chief executive officer of our country.”