The scene at UC's Fifth Third Arena yesterday afternoon was quite surreal. When I got there around 1:15 p.m., a line of people waiting to get in to see Sen. Barack Obama stretched from the arena down Cory Street past the baseball field and toward Jefferson. I lost sight of the line as it crested over a hill.
Everyone eventually got in, though, and filled all the seats except the top few rows of one of the upper sections. The retractable bleachers on one end were pulled back, allowing a stage to be placed under what would have been one of the baskets and a lot of floor space for people to stand in front, plus a platform for TV cameras. Given the loss of the one set of bleachers and the gain of about 500 people on the floor, it looked like about 11,000 or so in the building (basketball capacity is 13,000).
After warmups from Ohio Treasurer Richard Cordray and others, Mayor Mark Mallory came on to introduce Obama. Mallory, a super-delegate, announced he was officially supporting Obama — a move that Kevin Osborne predicted in this blog last week. Per Kevin's observations back then, the SEIU union had a large presence at the UC event.
Obama came on to a pounding U2 song and thunderous cheers. I doubt the Bearcats have had a louder crowd this season.
His remarks were similar to what I've heard in recent speeches, particularly the speech he gave last week in Houston on the night he won the Wisconsin primary. He was particularly engaging toward the end when he worked on the theme of "I can't bring change to this country alone. You need to be ready to change, too." He was serious throughout, with only a few funny lines, and the audience seemed to stay focused through his 45 minutes or so.
I'm not an unbiased observer, as I've already endorsed Obama in Tuesday's primary. But no one, no matter who you support for president, can deny Obama's rock star status in these kinds of settings. I have to think everyone who was at the UC event yesterday will remember it for a long time.
After Obama spoke, as he worked his way along shaking hands, I was led backstage with three TV crews to do brief one-on-one interviews. We each had five minutes, and a campaign press official literally kept track with a stopwatch. So I decided to focus my few questions on themes CityBeat readers might care about and I hadn't heard Obama speak about: media consolidation vs. media independence, government funding for the arts and public broadcasting and his ability to help heal the country's racial divide, plus a little more about his plan to give college students a $4,000 tax credit in exchange for 100 hours of community service.
Look for the interview in tomorrow's issue of CityBeat.
— John Fox
(Photos: top black & white by Jon Hughes, bottom color by Joe Lamb)