Donna Mattoon holds up the Blue Q bag of Pittsfield presents for Michele Obama that couldn't get past security. Neither could we.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Dozens of area residents suffered through the heat Friday afternoon in hopes of seeing Michele Obama — who was inside the Colonial Theatre "electrifying the crowd."
A few claimed to catch a fleeting glimpse of the first lady as she entered the back of the Colonial Theatre for what was billed as a private fundraiser. But hopes she would wave to the melting crowd outside were dashed.
Still, people were excited about having a national figure once again in Pittsfield.
"I want to give her a hug and tell her she can come to my house for dinner on Sunday," said Tiffani Sobers, who'd ducked out of nearby Berkshire Place with fellow cook Anne Fortier. "I would make her some baked macaroni and cheese, collard greens, I would make some biscuits, chicken, ribs — barbecued ribs — I'd do it up for her."
Both said they are supporters of the Obamas. "It's is nice to see her come into town," said Fortier. "We were at work and we decided to come out and see what's going on."
Nine-year-old Brandon Bamba, who plans to be president of the United States when he grows up, was growing frustrated but eager to see the first lady. He and his mother were sticking out the 90-degree heat "because I haven't seen her before and I want to take a picture of her."
Obama has been on the campaign trail for her husband's re-election. Her appearance at the Colonial, with James Taylor and Gov. Deval Patrick basically sold out the 765-seat venue. Prices ranged from $125 balcony to $10,000 as "co-host." A few people were lucky to get in for nothing — one woman asked about access and was told there were a few empty seats and she could have one, gratis.
Not suprisingly, the response of those who attended the event was overwhelmingly positive.
"I didn't know she could speak like that, she is an amazing amazing orator," said state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield. "She obviously knows the issues inside and out ... She electrified that house."
Clockwise from top: Anna Fortier, left, and Tiffani Sobers were hoping see the first lady; Brandon Bamba, 9, future president; Beth Radsken, left, Diane Brown and Anna Kunce bonded during the wait.
Obama first attended a fundraiser luncheon at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield before finally arriving after 4 p.m., an hour after the concert began, with a police escort from the Massachusetts Turnpike. The crowd hurried to the south side of the building and began calling for "Michele, Michele" but she was in the building quickly, and left the same way.
She was scheduled to dine with 20 campaign supporters (at $20,000 a pop) at the governor's Richmond home Friday evening. Patrick is a co-chairman of the president's re-election campaign.
There was a police presence around the theater and only invited guests could enter the doors but the atmosphere was casual.
"This is phenomenal from a professional point of view, and a career point," said Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn, saying the Secret Service has "been a pleasure to work with. They've been happy with what we've been able to provide for them."
The city and the multijurisdictional response team that handles dignitary visits only had a few days to get everything needed in place.
"They clearly had a game plan, they knew exactly what they needed from us," he said.
On a personal level, Wynn said "it's kind of an exciting event, it's good for the city." But, he added with a grin, "I'll feel better about it in a couple of hours."
The Colonial event was closed to press and news photographers with the exception of one pool reporter who was allowed limited access. Fans waited outside the theater for hours, many finding relief under the large shady tree at Colt Insurance next door.
"I'm waiting over two hours now," laughed Anna Kunce. "I have my camera and I'm here because I think it's a privilege to have the first lady come to visit our hometown. It doesn't matter if you're Republican or Democrat.
The long wait engendered some camaradie as Kunce soon made friends with Diane Brown and Beth Radsken. "You make friends just sitting next to people," said Radsken.
"I think it's really an honor for Pittsfield to just to have the first lady come and I'm delighted that so many people are here," Brown. At least one had a friend inside that they were hoping to get the scoop from.
Donna Mattoon, the city's director of administrative services, was more concerned about getting a bag inside the building. The gift from mayor's office on behalf of the city was having difficulty getting past security — calls were made to very-important-people, and someone would escort it inside only to sheepishly return rejected.
Mattoon took in stride with a laugh. "What can you do?"
The Blue Q "Mighty Michele Shopper" bag was filled with Pittsfield presents: T-shirts from Arrowhead for the first lady and President Barack Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha; books from Ty Jackson of Big Head Books; and an antique frame from Museum Fascimilies.
Blue Q knows its consumers; Youth Alive gives an impromptu street performance.
"These are all from Pittsfield and kind of represent us as a city," said Mattoon, noting the city's historical, literary and creative manufacturing roots.
The shopper bag, produced in Pittsfield, was also handed out to the crowd by Blue Q representatives along with a box of chill mint gum with a picture of the president and the plea "Please Save Us, This place is a mess."
Pittsfield's gift ended up on a table with others in the Colonial but the mayor did get a "shout out ... which was kind of nice."
"She is such a great advocate for so many wonderful causes, for child obesity, for nutrition programs for kids, for literacy programs. She has been such an inspiration," said Mayor Daniel Bianchi. "A lot of communities across the nation have adopted those programs. She's been a wonderful first lady and that's why we're hopeful to have her as our first lady for four more years."
The Democratic president is facing former Gov. Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, in what so far has been a tight race. In Springfield, Michele Obama spoke on health-care reform, education and reminded the audience of the her and her husband's working-class roots.
"It was very, very inspiring," said Linda Ruberto. "As someone was saying on the way out, it makes you feel proud to be an American again.
"She was very articulate really about this being grassroots, about the basis of what it means to be an American, the ideals that most of us — like me coming from an immigrant family — having those ideals and being able to have an education, being able to succeed, have a job and do for our children."
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