Eugene Weekly : News : 3.27.08

Meeting Obama
County Commissioner hearts presidential candidate
By Pete Sorenson

Friday, March 21, 2008 will always be a special day for me. It’s the day I got to meet Sen. Barack Obama. I had decided earlier this year that he had my support for president this year, but I was a bit nervous about meeting him. Years ago, I had met Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, but it’s always a special moment when you meet someone who might become president.

Early in the day I was at the DariMart buying a copy of The Oregonian. The clerk said that she was excited that Obama was coming to Eugene. One of the customers, a white construction worker buying some coffee, said that he liked Obama, but said the Ku Klux Klan was very active in Oregon and that he wouldn’t be surprised if someone tried to shoot Obama. That’s a chilling reminder of what could have happened.

By the end of the day, my wife, Kim, and I were leaving our house at 28th and Friendly, and we knew the code. The secret service code for the room was C-L-U-T-C-H, which I thought was great because Obama is a very strong and thin man, someone who likes to play basketball. In basketball, a “clutch player” is one who can deliver the points when you really need them.

We drove over to near the UO, found parking at 24th and University and walked up the street for several blocks. There were “Rob Handy For County Commissioner” signs held up on the corners by volunteers. Thousands of people were in line, stretching all around the venerable basketball hall. You could tell this was a political event. We walked to the “press entrance” on University Street at Mac Court.

I said to Kim, “I feel a little like I’m sneaking in to the front of the line.” She reminded me that I was representing the people of Lane County and that they had sent me to this moment. At the security checkpoint, I also got to see Chief Kevin Williams of the UO Department of Public Safety. He smiled broadly, and I said, “I hope everyone is safe tonight.”

After being wanded, we were taken to an interesting room right below Mac Court. I’ll probably always call it the Green Mirror Room. The room had a green carpet and a big O with the word Oregon right below it. The carpet was a very dark UO green, and one of the walls was entirely mirrors, from top to bottom. Here’s my memory of who was in the room when Obama came in:

Jeff Merkley and his wife, Bill Bradbury, Katie Eymann, Susan Castillo, Dave Frohnmayer, Lynn Frohnmayer, Mark Frohnmayer, Gen. Merrill “Tony” McPeak, Kim Leval, Kitty Piercy, David Piercy, Paul Holvey, Terri Holvey, Joy Marshall and her daughter, Phil Barnhart, Arnie Roblan and his wife, Raul Alvillar (western field director for Obama), Jannell Pana (Oregon field director for Obama for president), a secret service agent, three Wyden staffers, Earl Blumenauer and two staffers, Henry Luvert, Rachel Parra and Becky Gladstone.

When he came in, I was first struck by how, tall, thin and relaxed he looked. He said that they were running ahead of schedule and he was happy to be in Eugene. Mayor Piercy was one of the first people to have her photo taken, and I was standing close. He was very gracious, posing with both the mayor and David Piercy. When our turn came, Kim said, “Thank you for running.” He said, “Thanks. How are you doing?” He also said that Kim had great looking red shoes.

I suspect the highlight for me was watching Joy Marshall (from Stand for Children) and her daughter posing with Obama. He leaned down at the little girl and said, “How are you doing, sweetie?” I know that political people are good at putting on a good face, but there was something that struck us as genuine.

After the photos, the senator was on his way. By then we knew that there were lots of people who couldn’t get into Mac Court, and Obama said that he was going to go outside to talk to the crowd outside first.

Later, at Mac Court itself, the rally was great. Gen. McPeak, a former Air Force chief of staff, a graduate of Grants Pass High School and opponent of the Iraq War, gave a good introduction. The senator’s speech was electrifying, and he reminded the audience that there are only three people left who have a chance to be president next January — and two of them voted for the war in Iraq. The crowd loved the speech and Obama.

I hope he makes it. I’ll work for him.

As we were leaving, I saw Chief Williams again. I said, “You must be relieved. All’s clear.” He said he’d feel a lot better in about 90 minutes when everyone’s gone home. I’m glad that it was all clear, and Obama was on to another community and, I hope, on to the Democratic nomination for president.

Pete Sorenson is a Lane County commissioner and a former Oregon state senator, and as might be clear from this column, he is pledged for Barack Obama for president.