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Community thrilled by visit

Commissioners, school officials, students, and residents react

People waiting in line outside Scranton High on Monday for tickets to see President Barack Obama.

Jason Riedmiller photo / For Go Lackawanna

Ryan Rinaldi, 18, holds a picture of himself with Barack Obama in 2008. With him is Kaitlyn Raven.

Christopher J. Hughes photo

SCRANTON – Those waiting for tickets Monday afternoon, standing in line beginning Wednesday morning, or crowding street corners in South Scranton were all equally excited to listen to President Barack Obama speak or get up-close and personal with the leader of the free world.

Supporters lined up Monday with the hopes of receiving tickets to hear Obama speak about extending payroll tax cuts and the American Jobs Act.

Among them was Michelle Nash, 47, of Taylor, a volunteer with the president’s successful 2008 campaign.

“I think he’s been blocked in a lot of areas, obviously. I’d like to see a little more cooperation across party lines, but I think that’s becoming a pipe dream, unfortunately. I think he honestly has done quite a bit with the opposition he’s been met with,” Nash explained, adding that she plans to volunteer for his re-election effort.

Another Democrat, A.J. Jump, 27, of Kingston, simply wanted to hear the man speak.

“Any time you can go see a world leader, especially our world leader, you should go hear them and the way they present themselves in front of people. In my lifetime, as far back as I can remember, I was a little too young to remember Reagan, and people spoke so highly of him,” Jump said.

“He is probably the most well-spoken president in my time. He’s very inspirational. He’s a very good speaker.”

Gulnara Sadowski, 12, of Scranton, stood in line with her mother, recalling her first interaction with Obama. After reading one of his books, she wrote him letter to tell him how much she enjoyed his work, and he wrote back saying he had “high hopes” for her generation. Now she was hoping to meet him in person.

“I want to hear what he has to say because everyone’s saying how he’s going to raise taxes and everything, but he might have something different to say,” Sadowski said, adding that she wouldn’t agree with a tax increase.

Retired United States Marine Corps Col. Charles Gunnin, 60, of Scranton, a Vietnam War veteran, was very confident in his own support as a “born and bred” Democrat, believing that the 44th president has done an “excellent job” in office considering his opposition.

“Republicans work for (conservative leader) Grover Norquist. They report to him. They don’t work for anybody else. They just stand up here and tell you all the lies in the world. They’re nothing but a bunch of bald-faced liars. They care about one thing and one thing only – that’s Grover Norquist,” Gunnin emphasized.

“It’s supposed to be a government by the people and for the people, but the Republicans have made it a government by the money, for the money, and I am sick and tired of listening to their bald-faced lies. Period.”

Elected officials outside Scranton High on Wednesday hoped Obama’s message would bring a concrete plan for job creation.

Lackawanna County Commissioner Bruce Smallacombe expressed concerns over unemployment, including the recently announced closure of Marian Community Hospital and the possible closure of a mail processing plant in Scranton.

“We have 9.7 percent unemployment right now, and we need a plan. I want to find out if he has a plan, if it’s a good plan, and if it’s doable or just a political stop with a speech,” Smallacombe said.

Fellow Commissioner Corey O’Brien, an early supporter of Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign, said there needs to be an end to the “gridlock in Washington.”

“When (U.S. Sen.) Mitch McConnell (R-Kent.) starts off the president’s term by saying, ‘We’re going to do everything we can to defeat the president and we’re not going to work with him,’ that’s counter-productive. That hurts Americans, and it hurt Lackawanna County.

“I’m hopeful that the president is going to usher in here today a new sense, a new obligation, a new responsibility for Congress to work with him and not against him all of the time.”

Approved extensions in the payroll tax cuts would help offset tax hikes approved by the county and proposed by some municipalities, O’Brien added.

Ryan Rinaldi, 18, a senior at North Pocono High School, said it was an “awesome opportunity… to come see the sitting president in our hometown.”

Rinaldi asked why students should have to move away from areas like Scranton to find a high-paying job after graduation and hoped Obama would offer plans to ensure such job creation.

The young man who said he loves politics had his photo taken with Obama during a March 2008 campaign event in Scranton but was just as excited to see him speak as the current commander in chief. He has kept a political sign autographed by Obama during the event since that day.

North Pocono sophomores Corey Fischer and Blake Bauman both said they were looking forward to hearing the president but for different reasons.

Fischer said that many would say Obama hasn’t done enough to be re-elected.

“But you can’t do a lot when you have a Congress that doesn’t work with you,” he added.

Bauman said Obama accomplished what he wanted before the mid-term election in 2010 and is pushing legislation that he doesn’t believe would pass so he can run against a “do-nothing Congress.”

“I personally don’t want him to get re-elected. I don’t like him very much,” Bauman said.

And Scranton Superintendent William King said he had “goose bumps” over the opportunity to host Obama at Scranton High.

“It’s a huge honor. As far as we can remember back, I don’t think we’ve had a sitting president visit one of our schools,” King said.

Nearly 500 Scranton High School students were set to attend Wednesday’s speech, and Glen Lesh, an Iraq War veteran and SHS health and physical education teacher, was selected to lead the audience in the pledge of allegiance.

Scranton High students Elizabeth Keathing, Maura McGowan, Nico Fargione, Patrick O’Malley, and Cara Browning sang the national anthem prior to Obama’s remarks.

King, the director of the Steamtown Marathon, also delivered a small gift bag to the president that included marathon and school district memorabilia.

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