Bush visit draws mix of protest, support

Area residents brave slushy, cold weather in hopes of seeing president

December 06, 2003|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

The boot-clad protesters lined one side of Light Street, their inflatable White House with the "For Sale" sign sagging in the wind. The well-heeled supporters stayed to the other side, rushing past the thick police perimeter into the warmth of the Hyatt's lobby.

For those keeping score, George W. Bush's visit yesterday to Baltimore's Inner Harbor and to a Lansdowne Home Depot turned out far more admirers than detractors.

About 550 people paid $2,000 to munch on roast beef sandwiches and hear the president discuss war, terrorism and the economy. In contrast, only a few dozen demonstrators shivered outside the Hyatt and Home Depot to protest issues ranging from steel tariffs to the Iraq war.

"I have very simple views. I think the president is doing a great job leading the country," said Brian Rogers, a T. Rowe Price vice president who ran over from his office without his overcoat. Rogers skipped the food and drank a Diet Pepsi.

Peace activist Max Obuszewski said the whipping wind and persistent sleet kept many regular demonstrators home.

"These Baltimore types, two inches of snow, and they don't come out," said Obuszewski, at the Inner Harbor. "I'm from Erie, Pa., so eh, no big deal."

But the wind was not so kind to the 16-foot tall, 20-foot long blow-up White House, which the group Public Citizen erected on McKeldin Square.

Around 11:30 a.m., the house blew downward, then came back up with a surge to smack the protesters who were standing in front of it, nearly toppling the eight-person team holding up letters that spelled "BUSH LIES."

"It seems to be symbolic of his administration," Obuszewski said of the house's resurgence. "We thought he was voted out. But then he came back. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court had the only vote that counted."

Sierra Club activist Charlie Garlow had a red bullhorn, while others in the organization held signs proclaiming "Maryland's Air is Not for Sale."

Ellicott City resident Jayson Bozek, who voted for Bush in 2000, didn't let the weather stop him from attending his first protest. Angry over the prisoner situation at Guantanamo Bay and the aftermath of the Iraq war, the 32-year-old financial analyst said he had to come.

"The policy has just risen to the level where I couldn't stay at home and sit on my hands," he said.

The protesters said they weren't sure the president could see them. But the American Civil Liberties Union's worries that they would be shut out of the area, and that only the pro-Bush forces would land prime Inner Harbor space, proved unfounded.

ACLU spokeswoman Stacey Mink said the anti-Bush activists had "reasonable access" to the Hyatt.

"We were monitoring to make sure that there was equal access to the hotel," she said. "Everything went fine today."

The president's supporters seemed to concur. Executives from Pratt Street firms wandered over to the Hyatt without so much as a suit jacket to protect them from freezing rain.

"He's handling all the pressure with grace and style," said Legg Mason researcher Chad Meyer, who had little more than a sweater vest keeping him warm on his short walk.

Substitute teacher Ryan Shafik had even less - he left his suit jacket in the car and walked the three blocks back to his car with his tie tucked into a light button-down shirt.

Shafik, an event volunteer who attended for free, took issue with protesters' claims that the Hyatt was packed with wealthy special-interest types.

"It's not all corporate interests," he said. "People without money can get in."

Most of the protesters and supporters stayed in their respective corners. When Bush luncheon attendees did cross the street, they occasionally crossed words with demonstrators.

When one well-dressed woman yelled "Go GW" as she hurried past the group, Patrick McKale yelled back "Eat the rich!" followed by a string of curses.

McKale, a construction worker fresh from the free trade protests in Miami, said the weather didn't deter him at all.

Nor did it bother the dozens of supporters standing outside the Lansdowne Home Depot for more than an hour, hoping for a glance of the president or his motorcade.

They got neither - Bush came and went through another entrance.

Arbutus teen-ager Shane Long, who trudged through the snow for two hours to reach the Home Depot, said he wasn't too disappointed about missing the president.

"I guess I should have waited by the Wendy's," he said before trudging home.

Sun staff writers Stephanie Hanes, Andrew Green and Matt Whittaker contributed to this article.

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