CHICAGO -- If President Obama is looking for a little love after getting beaten up by both sides of the political aisle over the debt negotiations, he’ll find it waiting for him on the corner of Lawrence and Winthrop avenues here on the city’s north side.
That’s where Frances Rubio, 55, has been waiting since 11:30 a.m. Wednesday to attend the president’s 50th birthday party at the Aragon Ballroom, where doors open at 4 p.m. local time.
Rubio was first in line for the party, a fundraiser that features performance by Jennifer Hudson, Herbie Hancock and OK Go! Tickets went from a general admission price of $200 to $35,800 for the VIP section, the legal donation maximum. Proceeds will go to the Obama 2012 campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
By early afternoon, about 20 people were waiting in the sun, some sitting on folding chairs next to the Aragon, a historic 1926 venue that can hold up to 4,500 people. Dozens of police officers milled about in front of the ballroom, and party volunteers, mostly young, dressed in suits and dresses, waited in another line to get inside. Obama was due to arrive around 6 or 7 p.m. local time.
This was a die-hard crowd. Though polls show a drop in public support for the president, one wouldn’t find much criticism among this bunch.
“I totally agree with the way Barack Obama handled the debt ceiling,” said Rubio, who works part-time as a pharmacy technician at Walgreen’s. She had donated $200 for her ticket. “I was totally against what the Republicans were trying to do. Even though there will have to be some [spending] cuts, we’re all going to have to chip in. I was hoping the rich would have had to contribute a little bit more, but I’m okay with the deal that was done. The fact we didn’t go under, didn’t lose our credit rating, was a good thing.”
Leo Henton, 52, a Boeing engineer from Seattle who was on vacation with his wife, Cynthia, said that Obama was realistic in the face of stiff Republican opposition to raising taxes and cut the best deal he could.
“My opinion is that the deal is for 10 years and there’s a trigger,” said Henton, who was third in line. “We’re in a recession right now, or what sure looks like a recession to me. The heavy cuts will not come in for another two years. He did the wise thing in terms of the deal. When he gave his acceptance speech in Grant Park three years ago, he said he would be the president of all the people, not just his own special interests. I think he’s the best president of my lifetime.”
Not that the crowd didn’t think there are major problems. Rubio said her 30-year-old daughter, a social worker, had lost her job and moved in with her for a while before landing a gig at a charter school. Rubio, who is a Mexican-American, said she also understands some of the complaints from the Latino community about the Obama administration’s record on immigration reform.
By the time the Aragon doors opened in late afternoon, a group of about two dozen Latino activists gathered to protest Obama’s record on immigration. Holding signs, they chanted, “Yes you can, no deportation!” Police forced them to stay a block away as partygoers streamed inside the venue.
“Hey, hey, Obama, don’t deport my mama,” they also chanted.
Also in line was Jennifer Gray, 48, an African American who works for the U.S. Postal Service. Gray said that even though unemployment in the black community is at record highs, she thinks African Americans will come to the polls to support Obama next year.
“I think we are going to come out in numbers because of the jobs and economy. I think we’re going to make him the president for another four years,” she said. “I would like to say, “Happy birthday to you on your 50th birthday and keep doing the great job you have been doing. I look forward to seeing you for the next term, the next four years.’”