The 44th president of the United States came to town Thursday to raise a pile of campaign money, with a side of John’s Water Ice.
Lemon, if you must know.
The would-be 45th president of the United States came to town to raise money, too, but instead of stopping at John’s, Mitt Romney made a detour to a shuttered Allentown steel plant to tweak the man he aims to beat in 2012.
For one sunny Thursday, the 215 area was the stage for a dress rehearsal of what just might be the next presidential campaign.
President Obama landed at Philadelphia International Airport at precisely 4:10 p.m. and bounded down the stairs from Air Force One to be greeted on the tarmac by three local Democratic bigwigs – Mayor Nutter and Reps. Bob Brady and Chaka Fattah. Sen. Bob Casey, who was aboard the plane, got in on the handshaking and hugging.
Obama headed first to the Hyatt at the Bellevue on South Broad, where he would tell about 800 campaign donors: “This campaign is at its early stages. I’ve got a day job. I’ve got other things to do.”
But even as Obama was greeting spectators at the airport and working the rope line, former Massachusetts Gov. Romney was stepping toward a microphone in Allentown to try to steal the show.
“The president says, ‘Give me more time,’ ” said a shirt-sleeved Romney at the former Allentown Metal Works, where Obama had hailed signs of an improving economy in 2009. “But we now have 20 million Americans out of work or dramatically underemployed.”
Who won the day of verbal jousting and money-raising? Hard to say.
Before the Hyatt, the presidential motorcade swerved for an unscheduled stop at John’s Water Ice, Seventh and Christian Streets in South Philadelphia, a family-owned business since 1945. There, Obama – he was in shirtsleeves, too – ordered a large cup of lemon ice.
With Nutter and the congressmen at his side, he shoveled down a few spoonfuls, pronounced the frozen treat “outstanding,” and then hustled to the corner to greet a stunned, barefoot, heavily tattooed Anne Lynagh, a neighborhood resident who was on the street in cutoffs and holding her small son, Declan.
Lynagh thanked Obama for his service to the country. He nodded his appreciation, tickled little Declan – and then dodged back to the motorcade to head for Center City and a round of joint fund-raising events for his reelection campaign and his party.
In a packed, U.S.-flag-draped ballroom at the Hyatt, Democratic faithful showed their brotherly love by contributing $250 to $2,500 each to hear him. The event, billed as “the reelection campaign inaugural reception,” was sold out.
But it wasn’t all love outside. On the street, about 100 shouting pickets gave Obama a blast of Philly attitude.
“Drill more; less government,” read one banner. “Phillies fans root for immigrants,” read another. AIDS activists called for more funding to fight the disease.
“It’s good to be back in the great state of Pennsylvania. Congratulations, Phillies fans. That is quite a rotation,” said Obama to laughter and applause as he took the podium.
He reminded the audience that he ran for president to accomplish difficult things.
“The road is difficult; the climb is steep,” he said. “We didn’t realize the magnitude of the recession we were facing and the fact that we had already lost four million jobs by the time I was sworn in.”
He said of the Iraq war, “We are on track to bring the troops home by the end of this year.”
Romney was on his own fund-raising and speech-making swing here. He breakfasted with GOP donors at the Cira Centre and lunched with more donors at the Union League before his Allentown stop.
There, Romney blasted Obama for campaigning and fund-raising in Philadelphia when, he said, the president should be in Washington solving the nation’s economic troubles.
“See these weeds?” Romney asked, gesturing to the boarded-up windows of the once-thriving factory he called a “symbol of the failures of Obama’s economic policies.”
In late 2009, Obama had gone to the 100-year-old metal works, which then employed about 160, and hailed its continued operation as a symbol of his stimulus package’s success.
John Hydro, the last remaining worker at the plant, said he thought the closing had little to do with Obama’s policies. “We were having trouble for a while,” he said. “We needed $200 million in contracts every year, but we couldn’t compete with the Chinese.”
Still, residents nearby expressed frustration with Obama. He “didn’t start the problems,” said Stacey McDonald, a clerk at a gas station, “but he’s not doing much to fix it.”
On Thursday evening, Obama attended a second fund-raiser, at the West Mount Airy home of David L. Cohen, the Comcast executive.
Obama’s campaign reportedly is hoping to raise $1 billion. His reelection committee has called on small “grassroots donors” to give a minimum of $5 each to be entered in a raffle to have dinner with the President, Vice President Biden, and three other supporters.
At Cohen’s imposing stone home, some 120 guests, including local Democratic fundraising heavies Ken Jarin and Alan Kessler, dined under a white tent, were photographed with Obama and got to pose questions to him outside reporters’ earshot.
Catered by restaurateur Stephen Starr, the meal included sirloin aged 30 days, pommes frites, and asparagus served family-style at linen-draped tables for 10 atop a gold-carpeted riser.
Tickets ranged from $10,000 to $35,800, with proceeds going partly to the campaign and mostly to the Democratic National Committee.
Introducing Obama, Cohen praised his “courage to take tough decisions” and to not be headline-driven. “I’ve been in government,” said the former chief of staff to then-Mayor Ed Rendell. “I know the temptation to manage for the next days’ news.”
Using a hand-held microphone, Obama acknowledged that the economy is experiencing “as tough a time as since the great Depression.”
Regarding how to shrink the crushing federal deficit, he said, “you could figure out on the back of envelope how to get this done” but “this is not just a numbers debate. This is a values debate.”
Saying he needed another term to achieve his goals, Obama ticked off some of the work left to be done.
“We have to have an energy policy in this country. We still don’t have one, which is why so many people around the country are so vulnerable. – That’s not a two year project. That’s multi-year project. We still have not dealt with immigration in a serious way. The fact of the matter is, historically we are a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. I have consistently said there is a way of reconciling – so that young people understand they are welcome as part of the American family.” He called for massive infrastructure improvements.
“We used to have the best roads and the best bridges and the best airports and we don’t anymore,” he said.
Then came the motorcade’s dash back to the airport. Air Force One’s wheels were up by 9:09 p.m.
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