Thousands of people write to the White House every year. Kathy Blackwell got a personal reply from President Bush -- on her birthday, no less -- during last night's State of the Union address.
Blackwell, a 37-year-old mother of two from Craigville, Mass., shot off a two-page handwritten letter to the president a few weeks ago after he referred to the current economic slowdown as "a mild recession." Not that she expected a response, but she thought he should know things were pretty serious in her hometown.
"My heart is aching," Blackwell wrote. "And I think that you should know: Your people out here are hurting badly."
Bush quoted those lines during his address to the country, which kept the author up past her bedtime. Blackwell, who currently juggles the demands of a full-time job and a 4-month-old daughter, had planned to celebrate her birthday by catching up on sleep.
"I was just hoping he would read the letter," Blackwell said last night. "For the families and the children I see every day, I wanted him to hear their message. Things aren't going to get better tomorrow. And tomorrow and today are what they have to live with."
Blackwell runs Project Outreach, a children's program in Sandwich, a small town on Cape Cod. The program, located in a day-care center, lends toys and provides child-care scholarships for low-income families.
"I'm seeing people getting laid off from work and having to pull their children out of the center," she said. "Fathers who've been laid off coming at the end of the day to pick up their children. ... This is not a 'mild' recession. This is affecting people in the most basic ways."
She put it all down in a "passionate" letter to the president. "I wrote this from my heart as a spokesperson for Middle America." And she threw in a "brazen" question: What would happen if he lost Kennebunkport? "People are losing their homes," she said. "I don't know if he'd ever thought about that."
Blackwell has thought about it. Three months ago her husband, Paul Thomas, broke his neck. Thomas, a fisherman, was lucky: He was not paralyzed in the accident and is currently receiving disability payments. "And I still have my job, so we're doing okay," said Blackwell of her $18,000-a-year full-time position. "But we don't know if he can go back to fishing. That will make it very tough because there are just no jobs out there."
Massachusetts in general and her neighbors on the Cape in particular have been hit hard by the recession. One of her friends just filed for bankruptcy; the rest are barely hanging on. "It's affecting everything everybody's doing," she said. "People are afraid the war is going to make things much worse and it's going to take longer for the economy to recover."
Blackwell, for the record, is a registered Democrat who supported Jesse Jackson in the last presidential election. "I'm pretty liberal, I have to say." Nonetheless, she said she was elated that the president read from her letter.
"I am very thrilled, very honored," she said. "I thought it was an inspirational speech -- the things he said about helping each other. I thought it meant a lot. I hope there's something behind those words."
She found out the letter would be quoted only a couple of hours before the speech. "We taped the whole thing," she said. "My friends from around the country started calling during the speech and said, 'Was that you?!' " Her 15 minutes of fame continue: Blackwell was scheduled to appear on ABC's "Good Morning America" and "CBS This Morning" today.
"People will hear these people's message," she said. "That's wonderful."