Hope of Seeing President-Elect Draws Crowds And Cameras

President-elect Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, have arrived at the White House for a visit, his first since last week's landslide election victory. Video by AP
By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 11, 2008

They craned their necks, held up cameras and pressed five deep against the White House fence across from Lafayette Park, hoping to glimpse their hero yesterday afternoon as he set foot in the iconic mansion for the first time as president-elect.

Tourists from Ghana and Japan, students from George Washington University and a high school in New York City, men in suits and moms with strollers: Everyone in the crowd of several hundred seemed to share a buoyant expectancy about Barack Obama and the significance of the moment.

"I feel like today we are in a brand-new America. When I heard he was coming here, I rushed over, even though I have a flight to catch at 3:30," said Michaela D'Amico, 21, a student from Rhode Island. "Even if I don't glimpse him, I will at least have been here when he first entered the White House."

They didn't see Obama, who entered the grounds by a different gate for his 2 p.m. tour and meeting with President Bush, waving briefly to news photographers stationed on the lawn. But still people lingered, sharing their hopes and concerns for the incoming president and the problems he will face.

Judy Righetti, 63, a nurse from Santa Rosa, Calif., said she hoped Obama would bring a more generous tone to American leadership. "Our nation has been too divided by party, economy, race and other countries," she said. "We all need to be a little friendlier to each other."

Nearby, boisterous teenagers from Campus Magnet High School in Queens, N.Y., were peppering their tour guide with questions. Their bus trip to the capital was a reward for honor students in three grades. Some were giddy with excitement; others offered more sober observations.

"What I hope to see is the first black president of the United States and the current president of the United States have a mutual agreement. . . . It is a very historic day," said Rawshan Mobin, 13, of Queens.

A few people brought political agendas to the otherwise upbeat and impromptu gathering. One group of about 20 protesters strode up chanting "No more war" and hoisting a banner that read "Arrest Bush for War Crimes." They approached the West Gate of the White House and knelt, chanting, when security guards blocked their path.

Not everyone watching was an Obama fan, but that didn't seem to matter.

"I didn't vote for him, but I wish him well," said Jeff Leiter, 55, a lawyer who works a block away. "It was a nice day, and I wanted to come out and see some history."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company