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Published: 8/2/2004

Kerry campaign stop brings excitement, headaches

BY LUKE SHOCKMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Mike Paolella of Sycamore, Ohio, lets his feelings about John Kerry be known in Bowling Green. Mike Paolella of Sycamore, Ohio, lets his feelings about John Kerry be known in Bowling Green.
MORRISON / BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

BOWLING GREEN - Tom Votava, Bowling Green's police chief, stood on the corner of Church and Wooster in downtown Bowling Green, sweat pouring off his forehead and looking like he needed a nice, long vacation.

He said it's great when your city gets some national attention like it did yesterday when John Kerry and John Edwards made a campaign stop.

It's not so great when you face the wrath of hot, sweaty, and angry people upset about everything from the lack of water to being unable - despite having tickets - to get access to the ticketed campaign event area.

"I'll be glad when he [Mr. Kerry] leaves town, safe and sound," he said, sucking on a cigarette to calm his nerves.

It was a sentiment shared by other city officials.

"I think it went very well," said Mayor John Quinn, who estimated at least 15,000 people crammed into downtown for the campaign stop.

For many businesses, especially those selling water, the cash poured in. The crowd, other than some boisterous shouting back and forth between the largely Democratic crowd and a few dozen Bush supporters, behaved well. There were no serious injuries or heat-related incidents.

But Mr. Quinn had a feeling of "I told you so" yesterday. Democratic campaign officials approached him last Monday and told him they were coming. Sure, come to Bowling Green, he remembered saying, "but we really tried to steer them toward the university."

Over at Bowling Green State University, he told them, they'd find lots of room and lots of parking spaces. It's right off the interstate. Nothing doing, the campaign responded - they wanted a nice Main Street feel for the campaign stop.

By noon, it became apparent why Mr. Quinn pushed for the university site. Crowds began lining up to get into the ticket area at the intersection of Wooster and Main street by 10 a.m. Traffic was backed up on southbound I-75 for more than two miles as cars pulled onto the shoulder and slowly made their way into Bowling Green; the two-mile trip took a good 30 minutes or more.

Long waits were common for shuttles from the university parking lots to downtown, and many just decided to walk.

And after several hours in the heat, many folks wilted, keeping the ambulances busy. Wood County Hospital called in extra staff and reported 17 cases of heat exhaustion, but had no serious incidents.

Once the crowd got downtown, some people ended up standing in line for hours only to be told their tickets - handed out by Democratic campaign officials and others - were useless because there wasn't enough room.

Still, most people made the best of it. Though there was limited room inside the ticket area, the loudspeakers made it easy to hear Mr. Kerry, Mr. Edwards, and other speakers.

"This is great," said Ephraim Smith, 20, as he sat on a mattress outside of his friend's house on Wooster and watched the crowd go by. "We had ESPN here last year, and now this."

So maybe Mr. Kerry's visit isn't quite the same as ESPN broadcasting a BGSU football game, but hey, attention is attention, he said.

Down the street, other students enjoyed the day too. Chris Hurt, 24, and his friends had "found" a Kerry/Edwards campaign sign and customized it by inserting "Vote Bush," along with the words "Liberal Scum" after Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards' names. However, they were polite.

The crowd also got high marks from Charlie Michals. And he knows crowds. He has been following the Kerry campaign all year and sells campaign buttons in support of Mr. Kerry.

"This is a good event," he said of the crowd. "I've been here 40 minutes and sold $600 worth of buttons!"

It sure beats his day job of coaching a semi-pro football team in St. Louis, he added, even if he's got Mr. Kerry's speech memorized.

Next to Mr. Michals, Jane Kary stood in the back of a Red Cross truck from Toledo and took a break. She and her fellow volunteers were out of water after giving away 10,000 bottles.

Across the street, John Pierce, general manager of Jeds restaurant, said business had been "fantastic. Wild. This is great. The people just kept coming and coming."

Down the street a little farther, Cristin Berry, co-manager of the Sterling Food Store, summed up the afternoon: "It was crazy, but good for business. A record."

Thinking it would be a slow day because they weren't on Main Street, she remembered asking her co-workers about 11 a.m.: "I wonder where the buses will drop people off?"

She got her answer as bus after bus began pulling into her parking lot and dropping off people; all were thirsty or wanted to use the bathroom. Water and Gatorade flew off the shelves, and the line to the bathroom got longer and longer.

Mr. Quinn said he'll worry about the "significant" overtime bill for extra security and other staff later. For now, he's glad everything went off mostly without a hitch. Being a Republican, he'd be happy to have President Bush make a visit to Bowling Green too.

But next time?

"We're really going to try and find a place out of downtown."

Contact Luke Shockman at: lshockman@theblade.com or 419-724-6084.



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