2009-07-23 / Front Page

Obama lends star power to Corzine rally

More than 17K attend re-election stump
BY ERIN O. STATTEL Staff Writer

Despite the heat and humidity, thousands of people packed the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel last week to hear President Barack Obama speak about his health care initiative and urge voters to support the re-election campaign of Gov. Jon Corzine.

Above: President Barack Obama addresses the crowd of more than 17,000 who attended a re-election rally for Gov. Jon S. Corzine (l) on July 16. Right: A supporter displays a poster. Above: President Barack Obama addresses the crowd of more than 17,000 who attended a re-election rally for Gov. Jon S. Corzine (l) on July 16. Right: A supporter displays a poster. The governor, on a re-election campaign with the hope of defeating Republican nominee former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, enlisted the help of Obama on July 16 to rally support and show that "New Jersey has a partner in the White House."

"Before sitting down and having a humble steak dinner in a Chicago steakhouse, I didn't expect to be swept off my feet by the state senator with a funny name," Corzine said during his description of his first meeting Obama. "I share his values and share his commitments. This is our time for renewal, and we will succeed."

During his 10-minute address to the crowd before introducing Obama, Corzine spoke about the state's renewable energy sources and called New Jerseyans courageous.

"The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is working," Corzine said. "Finally, New Jersey has a partner in the White House."

According to officials, the PNC amphitheater holds a little over 17,000, but more people were seated outside and some even had to be turned away due to the high volume of attendees.

Several groups in attendance showed their support for Corzine with T-shirts, members of the carpenters union among them, while others showed up in numbers to their own cordoned-off section front and center, like members of the N.J. Education Association.

But most individuals were there for the headline act.

"We think the governor has done a wonderful job under extreme economic conditions, and the average New Jersey citizen has truly not felt the reduction of services first predicted," said Dr. Michael Jones, chair of emergency services at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold Township, prior to entering the reception center where a Corzine campaign fundraising luncheon with Obama was held. "But regardless of how you voted, the opportunity to meet the leader of the free world is one you do not miss."

President Barack Obama and Gov. Jon S. Corzine wave to the crowd of more than 17,000 who attended a re-election rally for Corzine at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel on July 16. President Barack Obama and Gov. Jon S. Corzine wave to the crowd of more than 17,000 who attended a re-election rally for Corzine at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel on July 16. Other groups had issues they wanted emphasized with their presence, such as Clean Ocean Action, of Sandy Hook.

"Obama is key for us because the governor needs to be listening, all of the gubernatorial candidates need to be listening to the president, because we need to get off our dependency for foreign oil," said David Byer, a water policy attorney with the ocean advocacy group.

Others just wanted to hear what the president had to say.

"Honestly, we came here to see Obama," said Amanda Feigenbaum, of West Orange. "There is such a big turnout, and I just think it is going to be really, really exciting to hear him speak in person."

Feigenbaum's friend Rachel Shanahan echoed her sentiments.

Many in the audience held up signs calling attention to Obama's support for Corzine. A U.S. Marine Corps helicopter flies over the PNC Arts Center prior to the arrival of the president. Many in the audience held up signs calling attention to Obama's support for Corzine. A U.S. Marine Corps helicopter flies over the PNC Arts Center prior to the arrival of the president. "The turnout is huge," she said, clutching a water bottle, like many other attendees. "Everyone is here to see Obama, really."

"We just wanted to be a part of the event and show our support," said Jackie Jackson, who works at Rutgers, where the event was originally scheduled to occur.

Elected officials were certainly excited that Obama was voicing his support for Corzine's campaign.

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (DBelleville) called the event historic.

"This looks like it is going to be huge," Caputo said. "With President Obama being here, it will hopefully help Governor Corzine's campaign. This is historic, since Obama is making an appearance at a governor's re-election rally in New Jersey."

The hype regarding Obama's appearance and the screams that erupted from the crowd when Marine One flew over PNC may have made many wonder, Who's show is this anyway?

"We are here to show support for our governor, but of course we came to see Obama," said Andrea Verdier, who was accompanied by her husband, William. "It is our first time at a political rally, and we definitely expected a huge crowd, and I am glad that [Corzine] has such a great turnout. The only problem so far seems to be a lack of organization for handicapped access."

After removing his jacket, Obama rolled his sleeves up and began addressing the audience, promoting Corzine's reelection.

"This isn't someone who's here because of a special interest or because of a political machine," Obama said of the governor. "He is here because he really cares."

Obama also commented on the current state of the economy.

"Before the recession, the economy was good for people at the top but we were without good paying jobs for people toward the bottom," he said. "But that was the America of yesterday; we are going forward. We are a forward-looking people, and I am confident we will weather this economic storm."

Obama also pushed his health care reform.

"I will not defend the status quo; we are going to change the status quo," he said. "I will not stand for ignorance and a future where 14,000 Americans lose health care every day."

As for naysayers, Obama told the audience to ask the critics, 'What's your plan?' while Corzine looked on, happy to let Obama man the helm.

"Movement for change doesn't start in Washington, it starts in New Jersey," Obama said.

Lisa Whitehead, a respiratory therapist from Old Bridge, was glad to hear about Obama's health care reform.

"I definitely paid attention to the health care bit," she said. "There are four living generations in my family right now, and to hear about health care in a sense that it would be more accessible to them, and to my children when they are adults, is really important to me."

Whitehead said she believes Obama and Corzine will keep their promises.

"Yes, I think they will," she said.

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