Regardless whom you may support in the upcoming presidential election – seeing an internationally-known personality up-close created an entertaining event …
Alta Gaylord of the Portland Police Bureau, East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs, and Jacqueline Johnson talk about community issues, while awaiting the arrival of President Bill Clinton.
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Even though lunch isn’t served at the Cherry Blossom Loaves & Fishes Center until noon, by 10:00 am hundreds of hopeful diners were already crowded into the East Portland Community Center’s long hallway on Monday, March 31.
Many of those cued up said they were puzzled by the waiting line. “I usually come here on Mondays for lunch here,” said Mildred Frankel. “I’m surprised by the all the people; I didn’t know that [President] Clinton was coming here today.”
Regulars get priority seating
Hillary Clinton for President campaign workers were at the head of that line, screening media personnel and guests. Center volunteers, stationed at the entrance of the dining room, did their best to make sure their regular clients got a seat for lunch; visitors were put on a waiting list.
“In addition to our regular clients,” explained Bennett Bailey, Cherry Blossom’s manager, “we worked to accommodate a large number of guests. Some of them were invited by Hillary’s campaign staff.”
Typically, Bailey said, they serve 120 clients on an average Monday. “But today, we served 202. We had to turn away quite a few guests for the safety of our clients. They come first.”
Lunch waits for no one
By 10:45 am the dining room was filled, as those seated waited for President Clinton’s scheduled 11:00 am arrival.
“I think it’s great,” commented Alta Gaylord, as she waited for lunch. “It’s time – or maybe a little past time – that a political candidate takes us seriously. People in our age group vote. Therefore, why not come and talk to the older people?”
When the kitchen was notified that Clinton would be delayed, the center’s volunteers and workers began lunch service just before noon.
Former Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts attempts to rally the crowd before former President Bill Clinton arrives.
Barbara Roberts’ warm-up
After the roasted turkey main course was served, and when most diners had finished their meal, there was stir of activity as former Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts walked to the podium on the east end of the room.
Roberts gave the warm-up speech and filled time as President Clinton traveled from a meeting with Democratic Party “super-delegates”.
“I’ve campaigned all over the state,” Roberts began, extolling the virtues of her chosen presidential candidate hopeful. “I know what it is like to be on a campaign. Hillary Clinton has demonstrated in her political campaigns it takes determination; it takes perseverance.”
Roberts wound down her speech when two Secret Service agents entered the room – followed by former President Bill Clinton.
Flashing his trademark smile, former President Bill Clinton arrives at his only East Portland campaign stop.
Bill pitches for Hillary
Wasting no time, Clinton dove into his stump speech: “I’m here campaigning on behalf of my wife, Senator Hillary Clinton. I am hoping you’ll vote for her. I hope you’ll vote for her for several reasons.”
Clinton wastes no time asking attendees to vote for Hillary Clinton.
Clinton said that his wife has a record of supporting health care and senior citizen issues. Drawing applause was his statement, “Supporting the senior centers, supporting the integrity of Social Security, supporting the idea that we should constantly work to improve the quality of life and health care of our citizens who cannot.”
During his presentation, Clinton weaves in his wife’s campaign slogans.
From our vantage point in the back of the room, we watched the diners’ responses to the President’s comments. The majority of those present appeared simply to be politely interested; a few appeared to be enthusiastic Hillary Clinton supporters.
The former President used each of Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogans, artfully woven into his remarks, during his 14-minute stump speech.
The Cherry Blossom Center served 202 meals on this occasion – a capacity crowd – up from their typical seating of noontime 120 diners.
Clinton meets and greets
Instead of being whisked away at the end of his talk, Clinton lingered to shake hands, sign autographs, and talk with citizens for twenty minutes following his formal presentation.
Members of the press were sternly advised to say inside their fenced-off “corral” at the far end of the room. However, within minutes, President Clinton was facing half-dozen TV cameras, answering questions posed by local television reporters, as the crowd pressed in.
After his talk, Bill Clinton meets and greets attendees, before being mobbed by TV reporters and cameras.
During and after Clinton’s talk, campaign workers refused to allow diners to exit the room, citing security issues.
“I feel like were used as ‘extras’ on a movie set to help promote Hillary’s campaign,” groused Jack, who declined to give his last name. “We had two choices: Participate, or skip lunch today. Now, they won’t let us out of the room to use the bathroom until Clinton leaves.”
However, many of those who came to dine said the inconvenience caused by Clinton’s visit was balanced by the thrill of seeing an international figure come to speak – even if only to make a campaign talk. The best part, they said: Meeting Bill Clinton in person.
Good publicity for Cherry Blossom
From his standpoint, Bailey said the event went well for the staff and volunteers at the Cherry Blossom Loaves and Fishes Center. “In addition to the dining room, we also prepared 250 lunches for Meals on Wheels clients.”
He added, “I hope the publicity will attract volunteers who will help deliver meals. We’ve had a 20% growth in Meals on Wheels clients this year. We are in big need of drivers.”
If you have a couple hours a day, a couple of days a week, consider being a volunteer driver. Call (503) 256-2381 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved!
Behind the scenes
Having been in the “media pen” for over two hours, some members of the press grow restless (including us!).
When we arrived, we were asked to sign in and given a colorful press credential that we were asked to keep visible at all times.
Members of the press were relegated to a 9-foot-deep section along the far end of the room. We were separated from the diners by a large heavy steel barrier fence, but members of the press corps were polite and amiable, ducking and dodging to allow one another to take photos and record information in the small, crowded space.
Because he arrived after noon, several TV stations simultaneously take their “live shot”, breaking into their noon news program when Clinton arrives.
About a half-hour before President Clinton arrived, the media supervisor for the “Hillary Clinton for President Campaign” laid down strict rules: “You must stay behind the fence at all times. You may not leave at any time during the President’s visit for any reason. You must stay behind the fence after his talk, when he’ll be shaking hands with people in the front of the room.”
Amazingly, the campaign supervisor also requested that we send what we are going to write about this event to “the campaign office”. This is almost never done, or requested, in news gathering.
From the length of more than half a football field away, reporters and photographers record the occasion of a presidential visit.
It was wryly comical to watch as several people attempted to leave the dining room – either use the restroom or to go home – only to be briskly rebuffed at the exit doors by campaign workers. Not to be denied, a group of seniors walked briskly across the room to doors leading to the Community Center’s patio and made a successful escape. We followed them!
© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service