Monday, January 19, 2009

Witness history through the mayor's eyes

By John DeStefano Jr.

Do not get stuck behind the president-elect’s train. Trust me, his has the right of way.
Kathy DeStefano and I left Union Station in New Haven Saturday morning for Washington, D.C., without knowing that.
But more on that later.
The first thing you notice about all this are the crowds, and that started right in New Haven. There was nationally known Yale Child Study Center advocate Dr. Jim Comer with his bag, and Westville neighbors Mary and Fred Ginzburg. Once on the train, we met the kids who left college to work on the campaign; they were delaying the start of the semester to attend the inaugural. They would tell stories that all seemed to end with the exclamation, "It was nuts, but it was great."
Then there was the woman who had not expected to go, had never won a lottery, but did win tickets from (U.S. Sen.) Chris Dodd. So she got her train tickets and headed down. By the time the train left Penn Station in New York, it was all Obama, all the time.
That’s when the delays began. We discovered that Amtrak Train 195 was the caboose to the Obama-Biden train marking the passage that President-elect Lincoln took to Washington in 1861. So we stopped outside Philadelphia as the president-elect boarded the train. And we stopped outside Wilmington as the train picked up Vice President-elect Biden. And we stopped outside Baltimore, where we ultimately passed Obama’s train and headed into Washington.
The most interesting thing on the train was the number of young people traveling to the inaugural. They were mostly college age, and lots of parents taking their kids to be part of something historic. That was great to see.
Union Station in Washington was not great to see. It’s already set up for the Eastern States Inaugural Ball, which includes Connecticut, being held Tuesday from 10 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. the next day. That was fine. However, there were a lot of people and not an equal number of ways to get them out of Union Station. But we all did.
In my 15 years as mayor, I have now seen two great changes in Washington, D.C. The first was after 9/11. Then the city seemed to move into lockdown. Streets and sidewalks closed. Troops in battle dress carried automatic weapons. Entry into public buildings became extraordinarily difficult. All necessary, but not what we want in the national capital of the world’s oldest democracy.
The second change I witnessed these last few days. People from all over the country coming together to witness this next step in our amazing journey as a nation. And like the train we took on Saturday, we may have taken a little longer than we expected to get to where we were going. But we got there. Americans always seem to.
And that’s a pretty good thing to celebrate.
John DeStefano Jr. is mayor of New Haven. He and his wife, Kathy, will attend the inauguration of Barack Obama. As readers might have guessed, the mayor does not work for the New Haven Register. But for the next few days, he’s got a bird’s-eye view of history. And he will tell the Elm City what he sees and hears, so stay tuned.

See the mayor's video here:

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