Volume 17 • Issue 14 | August 27 - September 02, 2004

Kerry visits Downtown before convention

By Josh Rogers

Downtown Express photo by Ramin Talaie

Sen. John Kerry greeted supporters in Greenwich Village Aug. 24.

Sen. John Kerry came Downtown Tuesday to deliver a speech at the place where five successful presidential candidates have spoken, and at the same time to shift the debate away from a Republican-financed campaign challenging his Vietnam War record.

“My duty is to tell the truth instead of hiding behind front groups saying anything and doing anything to avoid the real issues that matter like jobs, health care and the war in Iraq,” Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, said to an enthusiastic crowd at Cooper Union’s Great Hall. In 1860, one year after the tuition-free college opened in the Village, Abraham Lincoln gave the hall’s most famous speech declaring that “might makes right” as he denounced slavery. The speech is credited by many as being pivotal to Lincoln’s presidential win later that year.

Kerry supporters came from all over the city to cheer him on Aug. 24. Kerry then visited the Staue of Liberty.

Brittany Wollman, a senior at Battery Park City’s Stuyvesant High School, and her sister Marlee, 11, left their home in Queens at 6 a.m. so they could be assured a seat in the hall for the speech, which was scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. but started 45 minutes late. Marlee, autograph book in hand, followed Kerry as he worked the hall’s rope line afterwards, but she couldn’t get the Massachusetts senator’s attention.

The sisters did get to shake Kerry’s hand outside Cooper Union. “I’m honored to meet someone who might be president,” the younger sister told a reporter. She appeared too nervous to explain why she was supporting Kerry and opposing President George W. Bush, even after Brittany encouraged her to tell the “G-rated version.”

Brittany on the other hand said “the next time I go to Europe I don’t want to hear about the village idiot we have for president….

“I didn’t think I heard anything new, but it was a good rally to get us going,” Brittany said of Kerry’s speech. “I thought it was really good that he came to New York even though he is going to win New York by a lot.”

Neither Kerry nor Bush have been running commercials in the Democratic-leaning state. A Kerry staffer said typically, the senator comes to the city only for fundraisers, but he wanted to visit this time to meet with supporters and avoid any fundraisers.

Ruth Smith, a senior citizen who lives in the Village, said she got to the school too late to get into the hall and she was disappointed she couldn’t hear the speech because the exterior speakers weren’t working. She was thrilled to see the candidate outside though and said she knows he is an intelligent and good man from her years living in Massachusetts. She said she dislikes Bush because “he has no respect for the Constitution.”

Kerry said several times that the president represented the “narrow interests of the few.” He said Bush has “weakened our middle class, weakened our economy, neglected the crisis of health care, turning away from the American dream of growth and opportunity for all,” pointing to the decline in the number of jobs and the rising federal deficit, among other things.

He borrowed from the biggest applause line of Barack Obama’s keynote speech at the Democratic convention last month, although he did not credit Obama, a candidate for the U.S. senate in Illinois. Kerry said the election is a choice between a White House “that sees us only as a red states and blue states and a leadership that honors the rich diversity of all of our people and sees us as one America – red, white and blue.”

Kerry accused Bush and his allies of engaging in “fear and smear” tactics, in another apparent reference to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth commercials that assert Kerry lied in order to earn his combat medals. No members of the group served on Kerry’s Swift boat and they were initially financed by large Bush and Republican donors. The president and his aides have denied any coordination with the group.

U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes much of Lower Manhattan, said after Kerry’s speech that he hoped the Swift boat coverage ends, but that it will depend on how gullible the media continues to be. He said the attack campaign is based on lies and that if the group really had proof calling any of Kerry’s medals into question, they would have submitted it to the Navy. Spokespersons for Swift Boat Veterans did not respond to an e-mail request for comment by press time.

Nadler said there was “nothing really new” in Kerry’s speech, but he hoped it would help frame the debate before the Republican convention in New York.

Nadler voted against giving the president the authority to go to war with Iraq and endorsed Howard Dean in the Democratic presidential primary. He said he had no unease in endorsing Kerry, who voted for war authority, because he thought Kerry had a subtle position and was not in favor of going to war without a broader international coalition.

“If [Kerry] made a mistake, it was in trusting the president,” Nadler said.

Since Lincoln’s speech, Grant, Cleveland, Taft and Teddy Roosevelt spoke as candidates in the Great Hall.

Before the speech, Nadler quipped that “when I was here for Lincoln’s address, the security was not nearly as much and I didn’t see any television cameras.”

George Campbell, Jr., Cooper’s president, said Kerry campaign officials told him a week ago they were considering the Great Hall and several other places for the speech. Campbell said he has been speaking with both parties and he hoped President Bush visited the school too.

“That’s what the Great Hall is all about,” he said, “having all sides presented and debates about the great issues.”


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