By David Skolnick
U.S. Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, did something those in the Mahoning Valley haven’t experienced in a while.
He actually spent time here.
In 2004, President Bush visited the Valley two times.
One was to deliver a health care speech at Youngstown State University that wasn’t considered a campaign stop. It was an official presidential visit, meaning taxpayers footed the bill for it. From the moment Bush stepped off Air Force One in Vienna to the time the plane took off was exactly 120 minutes. The speech and town-hall discussion were forgettable. The one thing I clearly remember was being amazed at the precise timing of the event.
Bush returned to the Democratic-dominated area a few days before the November 2004 election. He held a huge public rally at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Vienna that attracted about 15,000 people.
Again, Bush flew in, gave his speech and got out of there in a hurry. The problem was the campaign didn’t make any plans to get people who came to the rally out of the area in any organized way. That led to some waiting eight hours from the conclusion of the speech to get off the airport property.
[Cheap shot alert!] No exit strategy from Bush. Hmm, that’s odd.
Right after Bush was nominated as the Republican candidate for president at his party’s convention, he got on a train and made a quick stop in Youngstown. I wasn’t at the event, but those who were say the train actually missed the station and had to back up.
So to have McCain spend a few hours in Youngstown was unusual.
The visit was part of McCain’s “Time for Action Tour,” in which he went to “forgotten communities,” most of which lean heavily Democratic.
You have to give credit to McCain, a supporter of the North American Free Trade Agreement and a vocal advocate of free trade, for coming to the Mahoning Valley. NAFTA is symbolic to some here of the federal government’s attitude that we mean nothing.
The steel mills were closed long before NAFTA was enacted in 1994. Major companies relocated American jobs to other countries before NAFTA.
Political corruption, the acceptance of organized crime and the inability of the area to adapt to the changing times didn’t help.
The area continues to suffer economic peril for other reasons.
The “evils” of NAFTA have a life of its own in the Valley.
McCain realizes that. He didn’t back down from his pro-NAFTA position, but he said the Valley has the opportunity to get a second chance toward economic recovery by focusing on alternative energy and new technology.
Enough of the serious stuff.
McCain did a few amusing things during his visit.
When politicians of national prominence come to this area to speak at a public event, they have tiny Teleprompters at the podium. Some of the devices are so small you can’t see them from the audience.
When McCain spoke Tuesday at YSU, there were three wide, wide-screen televisions set up in the Kilcawley Center’s Chestnut Room.
They were gigantic. One was in front of McCain, another was to his right and the other to his left.
The words of the speech were visible to about half of the crowd, who could follow along with McCain.
McCain staffers warned those near the wide-screens, primarily reporters and bloggers, to not touch them, to not stand in front of them and to not move much on the platforms on which they stood. The assumption was anyone committing the offenses would be placed on double-secret probation.
He repeatedly mispronounced “Fireline,” a company he toured after the YSU event. At one point, he couldn’t get it right even though people only a few feet away from him attempted to correct him when he called the company “Fairlawn” and then “Firelawn.”
McCain had little idea about Youngstown 2010, but that didn’t stop him from talking about it. He also incorrectly said the city’s major population decline occurred in the last 10 to 15 years when it was over a period of more than 35 years.
The Q A portion of the YSU event was way too long. Many of the high school and college students, the majority of the attendees in the back of the room, walked out before McCain was done.