By David Skolnick
On the same day the U.S. Labor Department reported the national unemployment rate remains at 8.2 percent, President Barack Obama spoke at a Poland school about his support of an economy to help the middle class.
“It’s still tough out there,” Obama, a Democrat, said Friday during a 40-minute speech to a crowd of about 300 at Dobbins Elementary School in the township.
The pro-Obama audience — including several politicians and local labor leaders — was there by invitation only and gave the president several standing ovations.
Friday was the final day of Obama’s “Betting on America” bus tour that took him to several stops in Ohio, and finished with an event in Pittsburgh.
Rather than discuss in detail the June unemployment rate, announced early Friday, he focused on positives in the American economy.
That includes 84,000 new jobs in June, and 4.4 million in the past 28 months, including about 500,000 in manufacturing, he said. “That’s a step in the right direction,” he said.
The president added that the economy needs to grow faster but said turning it around isn’t “going to happen overnight.”
Mitt Romney, Obama’s Republican opponent, said Friday in Wolfeboro, N.H., that 41 months of unemployment over 8 percent is unacceptable.
“America can do better, and this kick in the gut has got to end,” Romney said.
During Friday’s speech, Obama said the presidential election is more than just two candidates and two political parties. It’s about “fundamentally different visions,” he said.
Obama said he believes that supporting the middle class grows the national economy while Romney — whom he mentioned by name only twice — wants to cut taxes, particularly for the rich and at the expense of the middle class, education and proper federal regulation.
“It’s a theory,” Obama said. “But I think it’s wrong.”
The reason it’s wrong, the president said, is that it already was tried and failed.
Obama said he “bet on the American worker” when he saved the auto industry with an $82 billion government bailout of General Motors and Chrysler.
The statement drew a lot of applause. GM’s complex at nearby Lordstown produces the Chevrolet Cruze, one of the company’s best-selling vehicles.
Obama also said he was “proud” that he got his health-care reform bill passed into law. The law was ruled constitutional last week by the U.S. Supreme Court.
During his discussion of the law, Obama praised ex-U.S. Rep. John Boccieri, a Democrat from Alliance, who voted for the bill and lost his re-election bid in 2010. The president said Boccieri “may have lost” his seat because of his vote.
After the speech, Boccieri said it was “humbling” to be singled out by the president.
Boccieri said his health-care vote was one of the reasons he lost in 2010, but the main reasons were the high national unemployment rate and the weak economy at the time.
“I’d take that vote again, no question,” he said. “My mom told me sometimes that the right thing to do isn’t always the most popular.”
After the speech, the pro-Obama audience complimented the president.
“He hit the nail on the head,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, who spoke to the crowd before Obama’s arrival. “He outlined why he’s the person for our community to support. No one thinks we’ve seen enough progress, but we’ve got momentum.”
Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone said: “Republicans help the rich. Democrats help the middle class and people trying to get to the middle class. That’s what he said. Trickle-down [economics] doesn’t work.”
At the start of his speech, Obama mentioned Boccieri, Ryan and Sammarone, pronouncing the mayor’s last name as if it ended with an “i,” similar to pepperoni or macaroni.
Sammarone said in Italy, his last name is pronounced either with an “i” sound or without it.
“I heard it 100,000 times in school,” he said.
But he called being mentioned by the president an “honor. You can go through a lifetime and not be recognized by the president of the United States.”
When Obama was shaking hands with people, he held babies twice.
One was Owen Papini, a 10-month-old from Boardman, who attended with his mother, Melissa, and his 4-year-old sister, Lucy.
“It was amazing,” his mother said. “It was a very special moment for my family. I became very emotional being a middle-class parent struggling. The work [that remains] undone needs to be finished [by Obama]. I can’t leave that to anyone else.”
Local businessman Herb Washington, who hosted Obama’s first presidential fundraiser in the Mahoning Valley on June 20, 2007 at his Boardman home, spoke to the president.
“I told him to keep doing what you’re doing and keep us on the right track,” Washington said. “I’m one of the fortunate ones, and I’ve been blessed.”
Washington agrees with Obama that those considered wealthy should pay more taxes.
Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras, who started many standing ovations and chants of “four more years” during Obama’s speech, said the president was “outstanding and amazing.”