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   April 17, 2008 Issue                                       

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Caroline Kennedy stumps for Obama in Mt. Airy
by Kristin Pazulski

Caroline Kennedy (Photo by Erin Vertreace)

Although undecided voters attending a speech by Caroline Kennedy at North by Northwest were likely to have left the event with questions still unanswered, her visit to the Mt. Airy restaurant was yet another inspiring message of hope that seems to have defined Barack Obama’s campaign.

A small, intimate crowd gathered at the restaurant Friday afternoon, April  11, for a little-advertised event with Kennedy, the daughter of former president John F. Kennedy, to whom Obama has been compared throughout his campaign.

The event, supposed to be for undecided female voters, drew more Obama supporters than undecided voters. But the audience responded well to Kennedy’s speech, even though she spoke more about Obama’s ability to inspire than the issues that concern most undecided voters.

An undecided voter from Chestnut Hill, Marisol Greenberg, stopped to comment on the event while walking to her parked car after Kennedy was gone.

Before the event, Greenberg had said that she was leaning toward Obama, but did not like his stance on health care. She was hoping Kennedy might address how set Obama is on his health care plans, and so was disappointed there was no Q&A or discussion with Kennedy.

“I’ll probably vote for Obama anyway,“ she said, walking away with her 10-year-old daughter, Lena, who was clutching Kennedy’s A Family of Poetry, which Kennedy signed after the speech.

But Kennedy’s short speech talked about Obama’s way of inspiring the nation as her father did in the 1960s.

“That spirit of individual responsibility, bringing people together and working hard for what we believe in,” is something Obama and JFK shared, she said.

She said people have approached her over the past few months, saying that this campaign is the first time they have gotten involved in politics and made them want to work for Obama.

Alfred Bernheim, who attended Friday’s event, could have been one of them.

Bernheim, of Mt. Airy, is a volunteer on the Obama campaign.

“I haven’t worked on a campaign since I was stuffing envelopes for her father’s campaign,“ he said, referring to JFK’s campaign in the 1960s.

Bernheim was 7 years old at the time, he said, and turned 8 on the day JFK was elected. That year, he said, his mother couldn’t vote because their family had just moved to Chicago from Japan, but they could campaign.

Since then, he hasn’t been interested in the campaigning process, until Obama. He said Obama is the first person he has seen truly inspire and motivate people — qualities that seem to be important to voters right now.

Kennedy said people were always telling her that they were inspired by her father. She said they had involved themselves in their government and communities because he asked them to.

“That’s what the power of inspiration can do,“ she said, “and that’s what Obama can do.“

Joeyl Watts, of Mt. Airy, said she could see how a comparison could be made between JFK and Obama.

“[Kennedy] was a very liberal-minded person and an advocate for the common people, and Obama is of that ilk,“ she said. “This is giving people hope for the future. When we speak of change, this is what we are talking about.“

Peggy MacGregor, of Mt. Airy, said that she is constantly pulled between the candidates.

“One day I’m leaning one way, and another day leaning another way,“ she said, adding that she wants to vote for a candidate who can win.

MacGregor said her vote keeps swinging between candidates because Clinton brings “more baggage,” but voters know more about her; on the other hand while Obama is less known, he is more inspiring.

“I’m happy he’s drawn a lot of new voters,“ she said. “People are excited about government.“

“The problem is my first choice was Edwards,“ she added, referring to John Edwards who dropped out of the race in January.

Michael Cooper-White, of Mt. Airy, was urged to attend the event by his 17-year-old daughter, Macrina, who attends Springside School and will be able to vote in the November election.

He is still undecided, he said, and is trying to learn more about the candidates. He said he thought the criticism of both candidates was overblown, adding that he thinks both candidates can bring a combination of change and experience to the office.

As for Obama’s similarity to JFK, Cooper-White, who lived during Kennedy’s presidency, agreed that there are some similarities, but that the comparison, too, was overblown.

“They are both relatively young … fresh faces on the scene,“ he said. Also, he added that JFK “was from an era when there was no clear front runner,“ a similarity to this election.

Kennedy pointed out the tight competition in this race during her speech, reminding those present that, with its primary on April 22 Pennsylvania has the power to decide this election.

State Sen. LeAnna Washington was audibly excited about her support of Obama during her introduction of Kennedy, during which she had to ask for the microphone sound to be lowered.

“Sorry I’m pumped up,“ she said afterward.

She said the nation is “starving“ for government support of heath care, the economy, education and more, and with the support Obama is able to garner, he could build a government that is supportive of community.

“What you see now in the Obama campaign is a community organization at the helm,“ she said. “Obama will be able to govern in a way we haven’t seen in a long time.“

But that’s not to say his experience is lacking in any way, she emphasized early in the introduction.

“To dare say that he might not be qualified to be the president of the United States, that’s insane,“ she said, addressing one of the biggest criticisms of his candidacy.

But as Zak Abdul-Raheem, of East Mt. Airy Neighbors and a volunteer with Women for Obama, summed it up, it really is Obama’s ability to inspire people to be involved that is his best quality.

“It’s not about the man. It’s about what he’s doing, or rather, what we’re doing,“ she said.

Contact staff writer Kristin Pazulski at 215-248-8819 or Kristin@chestnuthilllocal.com.