It was a visit two years in the making. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama hadn’t been to North Philadelphia since an October 2006 visit to McGonigle Hall, but it was worth the wait for many.
In preparation for Saturday’s rally at Progress Plaza, some supporters camped out overnight to reserve spots close to the front of the rally’s stage. Those who didn’t spend the night in the streets were forced to wait on a line that stretched to Girard Avenue. The event drew thousands of neighborhood residents and students.
Obama took the stage before 9 a.m. and received thunderous cheers. In his speech, he tried to quell the crowd’s fear of the current economic crisis.
“I know these are difficult times. I know folks are worried,” Obama said. “But I also know now is not the time for fear, now is not the time for panic. Now is the time for resolve and steady leadership. Because I know we can steer ourselves out of this crisis.”
He told the crowd he would help bring more jobs to the city and the state.
“No one works harder than the folks in Philly, the folks here in Pennsylvania,” he said. “Just ask my friend Joe Biden. He’ll tell you.”
Obama recognized his opponent Sen. John McCain’s service to the country and thanked him but said McCain doesn’t get what Americans need.
“When it comes to the economy and what families in Pennsylvania are going through, Senator McCain still doesn’t get it.”
With his proposed healthcare reforms, Obama said coverage would be given to those without.
“Under my plan, if you’ve got health coverage, the only thing that’s going to change is we’re going to lower your premiums,” Obama said. “If you don’t have health insurance, we’ll give you the same kind of health insurance that I have as a member of Congress.”
The senator also discussed ending the war in Iraq and using the money that is being spent to create more jobs for Americans.
Aaron Spangler, a sophomore political science major, waited in line for two hours to see Obama.
“What didn’t bring me here,” Spangler said. “It’s the opportunity to see the most important political figure so far in this century.”
Obama supporter Elois Howard said Obama’s campaign brought tears to her eyes.
“I just never thought I would actually be alive for this, and my mother is in her 70s, and it’s just amazing,” Howard said. “I pinch myself all the time because I can’t believe its happening.”
Howard said if Obama isn’t elected in November this will never happen again.
Mayor Michael Nutter and Gov. Ed Rendell introduced Obama at the first of his four appearances Saturday. Nutter brushed aside doubts the turnout would be low for the early morning rally.
“We’ve got the candidate, we’ve got a mission,” Nutter said. “We’re about to take this country back and push it in the right direction.”
Rendell reminded voters that it isn’t enough to just be registered, turnout at the polls on Nov. 4 is essential.
“In the primary, only 53 percent of registered voters in Philadelphia turned out,” Rendell said. “Ladies and gentlemen, 24 days from today will not cut it. If we want to make sure Barack Obama is the 44th president of the United States, we need to turn out at least 75 percent.”
He encouraged supporters to help get as many people possible voting on Election Day. Rendell said Obama has done what he can, and it is up to the public now.
“Senator Obama has done everything he could to bring us to this point,” Rendell said. “For two years, he has campaigned across the length of this country.”
LeAnne Matlach can be reached at email@example.com.