Gore calls on Nick's of Clinton President cancels public appearances

July 22, 1993|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Staff Writer

WALDORF -- They came to the parking lot outside Nick's of Clinton grocery and deli expecting a chance to ask President Clinton about his proposed tax increases -- and got neither the president nor the chance to ask questions.

Some didn't even get in.

These quickie trips across the D.C. line into Maryland have served as effective props for the Clinton administration, but yesterday's appearance in Waldorf by last-minute stand-in Al Gore left a little to be desired.

"It was extremely disappointing, and I'm sure I speak for all of Charles County," said Mickey Ferrante, Nick's wife. Thinking she might be showing the vice president a little disrespect, she hastened to add, "But it was still an honor that Mr. Gore came."

The vice president was sent at the last minute when Mr. Clinton canceled his public schedule after the apparent suicide of Vincent W. Foster Jr., deputy White House counsel and a longtime friend of the president and first lady.

Many in the audience did not know of Mr. Foster's death, and the crowed complied respectfully when Mr. Gore asked for a moment of silence in his honor. He then spoke about the Clinton administration's economic plan and why he believes it will help, not hurt, small business.

Afterward, the vice president took questions on a telephone satellite hookup from small-business owners in seven other cities tTC while sitting on a stool in front of the meat counter in Nick's.

At least some of the 300 or 400 small-business people and local Democrats invited to the event were impressed.

"I'm elated," said Evalyn Phelps, owner of a tiny elevator safety inspection company in White Plains, a small community south of Waldorf. She said that as she listened to the vice president explain the plan, she realized her taxes probably would not be going up as she had believed. "I said, 'Hurray!' "

Paul Ratcliffe, owner of a florist shop in the shopping center where Mr. Gore spoke, had a different reaction. He said he and his wife haven't broken even on their shop in the three years it's been open and think very little of Mr. Gore's claim that low interest rates will allow businesses to take out loans to expand.

He says he doesn't want to expand, couldn't service a loan even at low rates, and just hopes to make a small profit each year.

"Their plan doesn't help me," Mr. Ratcliffe said. "When I look at what they're proposing -- taxes that hit people all the way down to $30,000 a year -- people are going to have less money to spend on discretionary items like flowers. It will be flowing into the federal government, not into my shop."

At least Mr. Ratcliffe got to hear Mr. Gore.

Scores of area residents showed up hoping to see the president, only to be turned away from the by-invitation-only event.

"I had a store full of people here, and the cops wouldn't even let them across the street," said Herman Mason, a clerk at the nearby Beantown Texaco Food Mart. "It was frustrating to a lot of people."

By the time Mr. Gore finished answering questions from the other cities, the crowd had all drifted away -- even though his Q&A was piped outside. Some didn't get far, though. Traffic was stopped on the town's main drag for nearly 15 minutes before the motorcade departed, leaving a huge tie-up for at least a mile up the road.

But for some, the thrill was undiminished.

Dawn Lucini, a college sophomore and head of the local Young Democratic Club, said, "I couldn't vote in the last election, and to me a vice president is just as good as a president any day."

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