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Obama in a Hurry

By Alec MacGillis
CHICAGO -- Add this to the stresses of a primary campaign that has been going on nearly a year now, with three or more events a day and nary a break for rest: getting to the memorial service on time.

And not just any memorial service. Barack Obama and a handful of staff members rushed as fast as they could Sunday night to make it from a campaign rally in Toledo to the service at Northern Illinois University for the five students slain in a classroom by a gunman 10 days ago. The 4:20 p.m. Eastern time rally in Toledo had started late because Obama had taken time to greet some of the residents who had not made it into the packed fieldhouse at the University of Toledo -- something he often tries to do for those left outside -- and because the introductory speakers had gone on way longer than planned.

He and a few staff members rushed to a chartered Gulfstream jet waiting at the Toledo airport and, on landing in DeKalb, Ill., at 6:50 Central time, raced across snow-covered farmland to the campus.

They had been told the event was running slightly behind its 7 p.m. start time, but when they arrived about 7:12, they heard a somber voice carrying through the entrance tunnel of the arena: The university president, John G. Peters, had just begun the service.

Obama was visibly irked and chagrined to have missed the start and waited behind a curtain in an entrance tunnel for an appropriate moment to enter, pacing back and forth while the president spoke. A university official came through the curtain and apologized for starting the event without him, and Obama apologized in return for his lateness and said he did not want to enter until he could do so unobtrusively.

He bowed his head while the president's wife, Barbara Peters, read the names of the fallen, and during the invocation, and then entered the hall during a selection by the university choir, at 7:25. He slipped up steps on the rear side of the dais and stooped over as he crossed the dais to take a seat in the second of two rows of seats, the row he'd have sat in even if he had been on time.

Sen. Dick Durbin, the senior Illinois senator, acknowledged Obama when it came time for him to give some remarks on behalf of the state's congressional delegation. Obama did not speak, as had been decided before.

At the end of the roughly hour-long service, Obama descended to the floor to greet members of the victims' families, who had sat in the front two rows on the floor, holding white roses. He shook their hands, embraced several, expressed his condolences, and asked them to let him know "if there is anything I can do."

Several family members said they were grateful that Obama had taken time from the campaign trail to attend. Gene Mace, the grandfather of victim Ryanne Mace, and someone who had met Obama several times previously, said he was untroubled by Obama's late arrival, adding that he had not been sure whether Obama was planning to attend and did not notice when he slipped in. "I think everyone will understand," he said. "I think everyone will appreciate that he got here at all."

On the way out, Obama waved briefly to those of the 12,000 in attendance who had gathered near the tunnel to wave to him and snap pictures, and he signed a few autographs. But there was not a hint of the smile that usually is flashed in such moments on the trail. He got back in his SUV and sped back across the fields.

By Web Politics Editor  |  February 25, 2008; 2:24 PM ET
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Were you actually there, Alec? The route from the DeKalb airport to NIU is straight through downtown DeKalb, which may not resemble Manhattan, but is a far cry from "snow-covered farmland" or "fields".

Posted by: converse | February 26, 2008 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Thank you Ralph Nader for putting the Boy George into the White House in 2000. Now go ahead and do the same for McCain.

Posted by: alzach | February 26, 2008 7:09 AM | Report abuse

On a bill to ban ADULT stores near school zones in the Illinois senate, Obama was not sure, just PRESENT ( not yes or no). Wow, he is so decisive that I can puke...

Posted by: vs_sv | February 26, 2008 6:05 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, 33rd Street. You've told it like it is.

Sem in Chicago

Posted by: book | February 25, 2008 10:08 PM | Report abuse

What a bunch of tasteless louts. This is a story about the families of students killed on their campus and you folks take it over to shill for candidates who have nothing to do with the matter. How utterly revolting!

Posted by: 33rdStreet | February 25, 2008 10:06 PM | Report abuse

They did not need Obama at the State of the Black Union. His run for the presidency is in itself a step forward for their cause. And I believe 90% of the people there were very happy for him to be campaigning rather than shmoozing. They know that a black president will the best gift he can give them.

His home state is Illinois. He was an Illinois senator for 8 years. It was the appropriate thing for him to do to be at the memorial service. I dare you to find one person at the Smiley even that would complain.

As for Nader, bring him on. Some may want a third party candidate...but no one said they wanted Nader. I voted for Nader in 2000. But this is a new year and new election with new choices...real choices. Let Nader run. If he can get on the ballot.

Posted by: visionmw | February 25, 2008 9:20 PM | Report abuse

To the Nader and Clinton supporters posting egregiously off-topic comments here, please give us a break. Senator Obama is my senator and he is the senator of the grieving families and of this grieving state. He took time out of his campaign to do what we needed him to do, quite apart from any political agenda you impute to him.

Show a bit of human decency and back off.

Sem C. Sutter

Posted by: book | February 25, 2008 9:17 PM | Report abuse


Which bull headed candidate swung the 2000 election to GW and afflicted us all with 8 years of Bush incompetence?

Answer: Ralph Nader

Thanks, Ralph. What a pal.

Posted by: dcasali | February 25, 2008 7:17 PM | Report abuse

Read the article of Michelle on This woman has alot of hatred towards our country and it's people.

Another unattractive "Angry Black woman"

Read the article of Michelle on This woman has alot of hatred towards our country and it's people.

Another unattractive "Angry Black woman"

Posted by: ebubuk2004 | February 25, 2008 6:47 PM | Report abuse

Read the article of Michelle on This woman has alot of hatred towards our country and it's people.

Another unattractive "Angry Black woman"

Read the article of Michelle on This woman has alot of hatred towards our country and it's people.

Another unattractive "Angry Black woman"

Posted by: ebubuk2004 | February 25, 2008 6:29 PM | Report abuse




Posted by: laplumelefirmament | February 25, 2008 6:18 PM | Report abuse

Playing POLITICS with dead people. Hussien Obama

Posted by: ebubuk2004 | February 25, 2008 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Three polls from Texas were released today and two of them show Obama surging ahead and taking the lead from Clinton. Full roundup:

Posted by: campaigndiaries | February 25, 2008 5:40 PM | Report abuse

This isn't about the candidates it is truly about the victims, show some respect and decency. For anyone to attend and show respect should be commended. This is the problem with Americans, we get to caught up in things that don't really matter.

Posted by: weaversmsw | February 25, 2008 5:32 PM | Report abuse

matthewcrow - Did it ever occur to you that Hillary didn't want to intrude on this gathering. It would be inappropriate for her to attend since she is currently the Senator of New York. I suppose you wanted her, Bill and Chelsie to attend so you could accuse them of pandering and only attending the event in order to troll for votes. Face it, with you (and the press), she's damned if she does and damned if she doesn't.

Posted by: InSearchofTruth | February 25, 2008 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Why are middle-income, hard-working families worse off than they were almost 8 years ago?

Answer: Ralph Nader

From "The Simpsons" Jan. 6, 2002, episode featured Homer's boss Mr. Burns at a meeting of Springfield Republicans, asking what new "unspeakable evil" the party can come up with. One rumpled fellow is waving his hand, ooh-ooh-oohing for attention like a schoolboy, but Burns dismisses him: "You've already done enough, Nader."

Posted by: heisted547 | February 25, 2008 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Another question, sir bhatttt: who would you rather have as president: Obama or McCain?
Answer: Not Ralph Nader.
Vote Obama. Stop acting like a twit.

Posted by: rupertornelius | February 25, 2008 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Obama is a phony progressive and Nader is the best and here is why:

Over the past few months, we’ve heard a lot of rhetoric about change, hope, courage and experience from Barack Obama and John McCain.

But what about the facts on the ground?

Take a moment to test your civics knowledge in this election year.

Of the following Presidential candidates â€" Ralph Nader, Barak Obama and John McCain â€" which one supports a single payer, Canadian style, free choice, Medicare for all health care system?

Answer: Ralph Nader

Which one supports solar energy and would take nuclear power off the table?

Answer: Ralph Nader

Which one would cut the huge bloated wasteful military budget?

Answer: Ralph Nader

Which one would reverse U.S. Middle East policy in Israel/Palestine, Iraq and Iran?

Answer: Ralph Nader

Which one would launch an aggressive crackdown on corporate crime and corporate welfare?

Answer: Ralph Nader

Who has consistently supported the Palestinian right to nationhood and peaceful settlement?

Answer: Ralph Nader
(Obama has flip-flopped and has now been bought off by the Israel lobby)

Who has never been in cahoots with the likes of Exelon corp. or Rezko?

Answer: Ralph Nader

Who has spent his entire life working for the common people like you and me and has written books to advance the rights of consumers?

Answer: Ralph Nader
(Obama wrote his books about himself while Nader was looking out for us.)

Who has been direct about proclaiming that Bush is a war criminal?

Answer: Ralph Nader

Which candidate has opposed all wars, every time?

Answer: Ralph Nader
(Obama supports bombing Pakistan and war against Afghanistan)

Some claim that having a racial minority as president would send a positive message to the world. So which candidate would be best suited to address the troubed areas in the world?

Answer: Once again, Ralph Nader, an Arab-American
(Who better to quell the anti-American sentiment in Arab world than an Arab-American)

Can you guess the others?

What's off the table for Ralph?

The empty rhetoric.

The empty gesture.

The empty politics.

What’s on the table?

Taking these issues seriously â€" all the way to action.

Challenging the corporate domination of our democracy.

Organizing young and old alike, 1,000 in every Congressional district in the country, half a million strong, to take back the country from the corporations.

If Obama or McCain and their parties had seriously and effectively addressed these and other necessities vital to the American people, there would be no need for Ralph Nader to run for President.

Ralph Nader would be happily out of business.

But we’ve waited so very long â€" and still â€" not a blip on the political radar screen on any of these issues.

So in this pivotal election year, ask yourself this fundamental question:

Which side are you on?

The corporate criminals, the big banks, Wall Street, the credit card companies, the nuclear power industry, the war profiteers, the agribusiness giants, the health insurance industry, the polluters, the drug companies, the unionbusters, Big Oil, the corporate Democrats and corporate Republicans?

Or with people fighting back?

Vote Nader!

Posted by: bhatttt | February 25, 2008 3:14 PM | Report abuse

The man is all class.

Posted by: madinafilms | February 25, 2008 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Obama catches flak for not going to NOLA for the Travis Smiley State of the Black Union (TM).

But he can show up at this.

Good move Senator.

And where was Hillary? Bill? Chelsey?

Posted by: matthewcrow | February 25, 2008 2:45 PM | Report abuse

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