By Charles Hallman
Reportedly Barack Obama’s approval rating in Minnesota is at its lowest since he became president over five years ago. But based on the loud, enthusiastic reception he received last week during a stop in St. Paul, his popularity apparently has not yet wane.
“We love you,” said someone from the overflow crowd.
“I love you back. Good to see you,” responded President Obama.
“I thought he was energetic,” said Anita Summerville of Plymouth after Obama’s 20-minute speech inside Union Depot in downtown St. Paul February 26.
“A great turnout — a lot of energy,” observed Minnesota Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsay of the estimated 1,300 persons who heard the president’s $300 billion transportation plan as part of his budget presented to Congress this week. Governor Dayton’s general counsel Micah Hines added that she hasn’t seen such enthusiasm in a long time.
“I got to shake his hand. I won’t wash my hand for a year,” declared Evangelynn S. Dew of North Minneapolis who was among several persons who afterwards told the MSR it was their first time hearing and seeing President Obama in person.
Six-year-old Jonathan Paul Brooks of Woodbury was with his two grandmothers – he said he was “excited” to be there.
Admitted Merhawit Kubrom of Burnsville, “This was the first time I got to hear him live and see him live. I’m so grateful that I got a chance to hug him.”
“It was my very first time getting to see him live,” added Destiny Brooks, Minneapolis. “I was happy to hear what he had to say about everything. It was really worth the while.”
Said Celelia Blakey of St. Paul, “It was fabulous. He shook my hand.”
Obama’s speech last week was part of his 2014 call to action agenda he stated during his State of the Union address in January. The president last week also announced two new “manufacturing innovation institutes” in
Detroit and Chicago. He also launched the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative for Black males and other males of color, which includes assessing federal policies, regulations and programs and its impact on this population, and a new task force. He also announced 25 persons for “key administration posts” including former New Orleans mayor and Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial and Operation HOPE Chairman/CEO John Hope Bryant as members of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans.
His $302 billion transportation infrastructure proposal however requires U.S. Congressional action. “I’m going to send Congress a budget that funds rebuilding our transportation infrastructure in a more responsible way,” pledged Obama. “My transportation budget will support millions of jobs nationwide. Roads and bridges should not be a partisan issue.”
Improving the country’s transportation infrastructure is long overdue, stated the president. “Other countries are not waiting to rebuild their infrastructure. They’re trying to out-build us today so they can out-compete us tomorrow.”
Transportation “presents an opportunity for bipartisan leadership to come together and make America stronger for the next generation,” said Lindsay.
Obama reiterated last week that if Congress doesn’t soon work on transportation and other economic issues, “I’m just going to go ahead and do what I can to create more good jobs.” As a result he has received criticism for publicly stating that he also will use his executive authority this year — some accuse him of sidestepping Congress.
“Sometimes you got to take that first step,” said Lindsay.
If members of Congress “aren’t willing to work with” the president on his agenda, Kubrom says she supports Obama using executive orders. “If he has to do it, he has to do it,” she said out.
“You got to do what you got to do to get the job done,” added Brooks.
Before his speech last week, Obama toured the new Green Line: “It is fantastic,” he told the crowd. “Amtrak is going to be here. The new Metro Green Line will be here. Bus lines will be here. More than 4,000 jobs were created for this project. The line is also going to stop in some poor neighborhoods that oftentimes have difficulty getting to the places where there are jobs.”
“He recognized all the work we have done,” said an excited Veronica Burt afterwards. She and others worked and succeeded to get more Green Line stops installed in the Midway area on University Avenue.
“It was a great opportunity to highlight a project that has been a really big deal for the City of St. Paul, Ramsey County and all of us in Minnesota,” said Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter on the Green Line project and the Union Depot renovation.
“We are excited that the president would recognize [it],” added fellow Commissioner Mary Jo McGuire.
“We can’t wait. We’ve got to move. We’ve got to get things going. Too many families are counting on it,” said Obama amidst applause from the crowd.
“Who could ask for anything better — a Black president in my hometown. It was all worth it,” said Blakey.