Yesterday they were in line as early as 5 am hoping to get one of 1,000 tickets to be handed out. The tickets were gone within a half an hour. This morning, the first person to arrive was there at 1:30 am just to get a place in line. The lines grew three to four people wide, and after a long wait, the lucky ones got in, while others many others were turned away.
They were gathered at the University of Tampa Martinez Sports Center waiting to see President Barack Obama who would make the announcement that Florida would be receiving a portion of the $8 billion in federal stimulus funds for the Florida High-Speed Rail project. Obama spoke briefly about the funding during his State Of The Union address last night.
Florida will receive $1.25 billion for the first phase of the project which will come from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The state will receive only half of the amount originally requested. The line will run between Tampa and Orlando along the I-4 corridor and the project is expected to create 23,000 jobs and stimulate business development that will help boost Florida’s struggling economy.
The President and Vice President flew to MacDill Air Force Base before heading to the town hall in Tampa. They were greeted by Republican Gov. Charlie Crist who decided at the last minute to meet Obama there. (He did not attend the town hall for the announcement, nor did his GOP opponent Marco Rubio. They both oppose the funding for the project.)
Also greeting them with Crist were state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, and Col. Larry Martin, MacDill Wing Commander.
Traveling with Obama and Biden on Air Force One were U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek.
Upon arriving at The University Of Tampa, they were joined by the University President Dr. Ronald L. Vaughn. Vice President Biden spoke briefly about the rail project before introducing President Obama.
Before addressing the crowd of about 3,000, Obama made introductions for all those who traveled with him.
He also introduced former Coach of both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Indianapolis Colts, Tony Dungy who got a standing ovation. He wasn’t the only one. Obama also introduced the crowd to Tampa Fire Rescue Lt.’s Roger Picard and Brian Smithey, members of the department’s canine search and rescue team. Both recently returned from Haiti, where they took part in the search and rescue and saved seven lives.
“Job Creation The Number One Priority”
President Obama spoke and answered questions for about an hour and 20 minutes. The crowd was enthusiastic and at times the cheering was so loud it was hard to hear him speak. Much of the speech echoed what he said the night before during his State of the Union address.
“We ran to get the tough stuff done,” he said. “I make no apology for trying to fix stuff that’s hard.
“Change,” he said, “never comes without a fight.”
“You’re doing a good job,” someone yelled from the crowd.
He said job creation has to be the No. 1 priority in 2010.
“The markets have stabilized,” he said. “The economy is growing again. The worst of the storm is past. But I think all of you understand the devastation remains.”
“I’m excited,” he said. “I’m going to come back down here and ride it. … Y’all have a date!”
“I Won’t Stop Fighting”
Obama talked about how good high-speed rail is for the economy, and lifestyles because “people won’t be stuck in traffic for two hours” which drew loud cheers and applause. The Tampa area, as well as the I-4 Corridor has a long history of traffic and construction problems and has long been a headache for commuters. The area near downtown Tampa, where I-275 and I-4 merge, for decades has been referred to by the local commuters as “Malfunction Junction.”
Repeating to a cheering crowd what he said during his presidential campaign:
“Change never comes without a fight. That was true then, it’s true now. …. I won’t stop fighting.”
Wrapping up his speech, Obama said everyone should be ready to roll up their sleeves and play their part in rebuilding America.
As he was ending his speech, a man in the crowd spontaneously shouted: “Yes we can!” Obama stopped, smiled at him, and said “Yes we can!”
Yes we can, indeed.