The first in a long line of coming disappointments

So, Philadelphia area Obama supporters are disappointed that he won’t be making an open appearance in their city before starting on his train trip to D.C. leading up to the inauguration. Bear in mind, no such appearance was ever promised, just rumored and assumed. Just imagine how disappointed they’ll be when they still have to worry about their house payment, and putting gas in their car. (If you’re wondering where that’s from, here it is).

The word that came up, again and again, was disappointed.

Some longtime supporters of President-elect Barack Obama – people who gathered petitions for him, knocked on doors for him, organized their neighborhoods for him – said they felt let down at not having the opportunity to see him in person tomorrow in Philadelphia.

Excited that Obama had chosen their city from which to begin his inaugural train ride to Washington, many of his most loyal backers had expected he would hold an open-air event here – just as he plans to do down the tracks, in Wilmington and Baltimore.

Instead, Obama and his family will commune with an invitation-only crowd of about 250 people inside 30th Street Station before the train departs around noon. No open event has been announced.

“I am disappointed for the masses of people here in Philadelphia who would like an opportunity to show their love and affection for this family before they leave,” said Ruth Birchett of North Philadelphia, who did networking for the Obama campaign all last year and invited out-of-state volunteers to stay in her home.

“I really don’t even understand the point of coming to Philadelphia to meet in a room with a few people,” she said. “I don’t get it.”

Birchett, who plans to attend the parade in Washington after Obama’s swearing-in Tuesday, noted: “A lot of people can’t afford to go to Washington or are physically incapable of going there.”

Philadelphia, to be sure, is getting more inaugural attention than many other cities.

“Of all the great communities in this country, the president-elect wanted to kick off his trip in Philadelphia – a historic city that played a crucial role in our nation’s founding,” said Chris Mather, spokeswoman for the Obama inaugural committee.

Mather said the invitees were mostly campaign volunteers, not big shots.

“But who made the decision on who got those tickets?” asked Cheryl Harper, a retired school administrator who led in organizing three wards in Northwest Philadelphia for Obama. “I’m disappointed, not with Obama, but with whomever made the decision. There were some people who really worked.”

Uninvited volunteers said they were envious of Wilmington and Baltimore. In those cities, anyone who wants to will be able to see and hear Obama as he stops for open-air events on his way to Washington.

In Wilmington, 32 miles from Philadelphia, Obama will address a train-station crowd about 1 p.m. Public access to the site will begin at 9 a.m. AccuWeather is predicting the high there will be 27 degrees.

Expectations of a public event in Philadelphia grew in part from rumors and supporters’ comments on Obama Web sites. They were fed for weeks by the length of time it took for the Obama committee to announce its final plans.

It was almost 5 p.m. Wednesday before the committee said that only 250 people could attend and that the tickets already had been given out.

“I think there is some disappointment at not being able to see him in Philadelphia,” said Sheldon Motley, a campaign worker from Doylestown. “There was an e-mail going around. Some people were expecting a large public gathering.”

David DiSabatino, a Center City lawyer who had heard the rumors of an open event, thought it would be good to organize a voter-registration effort at the event site, wherever it turned out to be. He put out the word on an Obama site.

“I made certain assumptions,” he said.

As of yesterday, DiSabatino said, “488 people have signed up to volunteer. I have gotten e-mails from people who are coming in from as far away as Texas and Iowa.”

Seth Williams, a Democratic candidate for Philadelphia district attorney who organized Obama’s petition drive in Southeastern Pennsylvania last winter, said, “I just assumed there was going to be a big event.”

“I know I would go and wait outside in the cold on Saturday, as opposed to being down in Washington, D.C.,” Williams said. “I wish we could have got that chance – to give [Obama] our support and be part of history.”


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