Former President Bill Clinton speaks to a crowd Monday at Wilkes University about re-electing U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Nanticoke, who is being challenged by Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta.Aimee Dilger/The Times Leader
Former President Bill Clinton and U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski react to the crowd of 1,000 at Wilkes University on Monday night. Clinton came to Wilkes-Barre to help Kanjorski win a 13th term.Aimee Dilger/The Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE – Former President Bill Clinton gave the crowd of more than 1,000 at Wilkes University Monday 10 reasons to re-elect Paul Kanjorski, four reasons to elect Barack Obama and one reason why he chose to come to the city on the eve of the general election.
“I asked to come here tonight,” Clinton told the crowd assembled at the Fenner Quadrangle, outside the Farley Library. “I’d be here for Paul Kanjorski under any circumstances. But I find it amazing that this is a close race.”
Kanjorski, a 12-term Democratic incumbent, is facing a strong challenge from Republican Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta in the 11th Congressional District. The Washington, D.C. publication Roll Call released results of its poll Monday that show Kanjorski could be the most vulnerable House Democrat in the country.
“When the new president – Barack Obama – becomes our next president, he will not be able to see how every bill before Congress will affect America and people like you,” Clinton said. “Nobody knows more about economics and how it affects people in their real lives than Paul Kanjorski. You have to return him to Washington.”
Kanjorski took the stage at 7:13 p.m. with Clinton at his side and the statue of John Wilkes hovering over the crowd. Kanjorski thanked the man he called his friend.
“The president could have been anywhere in the U.S. tonight,” Kanjorski said. “I don’t think he knows how close he is to the river and the levee system that he approved the funding for.”
Clinton said the $250 million levee system is just one of the many accomplishments of Kanjorski’s 24 years in Congress. He pointed to the work Kanjorski has done for student loans, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport, Earth Conservancy and the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the New Market Initiative Program that will bring $2.4 million in cash to Wilkes-Barre’s Coal Street Park. It was Kanjorski and Clinton that helped mold the program during his presidency.
“And when the government was looking at cutbacks and consolidation of its military depots and hospitals, if it weren’t for Paul Kanjorski this area would have lost the Tobyhanna Army Depot and the Veterans Administration Medical Center,” the former president said.
Clinton said Kanjorski will be a part of the Democratic majority in Congress and with Obama as president, Northeastern Pennsylvania will prosper. He said Congress and Obama will end the war in Iraq honorably, bring our troops home and take care of them.
Kanjorski agreed and said he wants to be a part of the new Democratic team that will restore America’s standing in the world.
Clinton said Kanjorski has a solid record on illegal immigration, saying that our borders must be secure and employers who hire illegal aliens must be punished.
“But don’t be confused,” Clinton said. “We still have to create new, high-paying jobs to bring back the economy. I hope you can tell I have incredibly strong feelings about this. I worked my heart out to make this country better for people like you,” he said.
“This was great; he really invigorated the crowd,” said Jane Colwell, 48, of West Pittston.
Colwell said she met Kanjorski in Washington when her sister, Nancy Montville of Exeter, took a special-education class to the nation’s capital.
“He met with the children and toured with them,” Montville said. “He was very good with them and answered all their questions.”
Lindsey Spak, 23, is a senior psychology major at Wilkes, said she came out to see Clinton and support Kanjorski.
“If Bill Clinton supports him, then I support him,” Spak said.
A lot of people wore heavy coats and hats with ear flaps. Other donned hooded sweatshirts and gloves as temperatures dipped into the low 40s.
Mayor Tom Leighton, state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, and Luzerne County Commissioner Chairwoman Maryanne Petrilla welcomed Clinton and offered words of support for Kanjorski. Lackawanna County Commissioners Mike Washo and Corey O’Brien and state Rep. Jim Wansacz, D-Scott Twp., also offered comments.
Clinton thanked the area for supporting his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who he said was in Minnesota making her 75th campaign appearance on behalf of Obama and running mate Sen. Joe Biden.
Clinton, who was making his 40th campaign stop, admitted that he worked hard for his wife to get her the Democratic nomination.
“I feel she was the best candidate for the job,” he said. “But she wants a better America and that’s why we are out here for Barack Obama.”
Clinton said Obama will be the best chief executive officer to lead the country out of the financial crisis, end the war in Iraq and promote universal health care and help for college students.
He said Obama waged an impressive campaign, managing to win the nomination despite Hillary winning more primaries.
“He energized young people and used the power of the Internet to raise an incredible amount of money,” Clinton said.
“He even had me calling senior citizens in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Now that’s empowerment,” he said.
Amanda and William Mitchell of Pittston were leaving the event when they stopped to reflect on the historic nature of today’s election.
“We’ve waited 60 years for this,” William said. “It means a lot to us that a former president would come here the night before the election.”
YOUR BALLOT: Other than the high-profile races for president U.S. House, there are a number of other names on the ballot. Page 3A
FEDERAL PROBE: The government is investigating whether any laws were broken in the disclosure that Barack Obama’s aunt was living in the country illegally. Page 6A
VOTE EARLY …: The drumbeat to vote early is paying dividends for Barack Obama, especially in key battleground states. Page 6A