First Lady Visits Department of Housing and Urban Development

'The Federal Eye' Ed O'Keefe asks HUD employees what they would tell First Lady Michelle Obama about their department.Video by Ed O'Keefe/
By Richard Leiby
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 5, 2009

They stood in line for hours. They jostled one another to stake out positions as close to the stage as possible. Dance music amped up the crowd. Then, finally, she arrived: the headliner, the first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama!

Amid wild adulation, Mrs. Obama looked out over her fans and offered a line we've heard before from other stars.

"Wow," she said. "There are a lot of you here."

Yes, there are a lot of cubicle-dwelling bureaucrats here, and yesterday they all wanted to see the most famous woman in the world. The Michelle Obama Federal Agency Tour made its second stop, at the huge headquarters of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Southwest Washington.

"She looks just like she does on television," observed Robin Hawkins, one of about a thousand employees who lined hallways and pressed excitedly into an auditorium to welcome Mrs. Obama. "It was just the best feeling to see her up close in person." The first lady's remarks also were beamed to 83 field offices. On Monday, she went to the Education Department, where a crowd of about 350 hailed her.

"I feel that we matter," said Alison Borchgrevink, who works to provide housing for people with HIV/AIDS. "Michelle Obama came here at the start of her agency tour!"

The first lady had uttered only a couple of sentences before a voice called out, "We love you!"

"I love you, too," she answered. "That's one of the reasons why I'm here."

Mrs. Obama gave a brief speech that hit many of the notes of her emerging agenda. She spoke of the importance of public service and giving back to the community. She talked about wanting to connect with her new neighbors, in this case the federal workforce. She touted better housing for military families. She promoted her husband's economic stimulus plan.

It had elements of a pep rally -- she closed by saying "Let's get to work" -- and of a church service, too.

From the transcript:

"I want to learn, listen, know what's going on from you," Mrs. Obama said. "But I also want to say thank you, on behalf of my husband, my family and this country."

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