Years from now, local officials who made the trek to Washington, D.C., to witness the inauguration of President Barack Obama will likely forget the bitter cold. But for a few days after the event, local officials still felt numb, partly from the frigid temperatures that chilled them as they watched the ceremony, but mostly because they still hadn’t quite grasped the magnitude of serving as witness to one of the most significant moments in American history.
Bayonne Council President Vincent Lo Re, his wife Janice (principal of School No. 14 in Bayonne), and Assemblyman and Bayonne Councilman Anthony Chiappone joined millions to see the first African American president sworn in on Jan. 20.
Lo Re and his wife took the train out of Newark Penn Station the morning of the inaugural, arriving at Union Station for the short walk to the Capitol building.
Thanks to the efforts of Rep. Albio Sires, the Lo Res had tickets and were seated within 200 feet of the podium where Obama took the oath of office.
“I never saw so many people in one place,” Lo Re said. “But the logistics were amazing.”
Local police, SWAT teams and the National Guard each played a variety of roles in supplying security as well as making certain people got in and got out.
Lo Re said he didn’t see anyone from Bayonne while there, but was seated near actor Forest Whittaker and Adrian M. Fenty, the mayor of Washington, D.C.
“We were in the same section,” he said. “We could see everything clearly, and the sound system was very good – far better than the sound system we have in the council chambers.”
Although cold, the day seemed filled with remarkable excitement, Lo Re recalled, and the crowd seemed well behaved.
“Everyone we saw was gracious and courteous,” he said. “People seemed patient to wait, and they listened intently.”
Lo Re – despite being in office for several decades – was in awe of his surroundings, looking toward the capital dome, which he called “a jewel.”
Unlike some speeches made by past presidents, Obama’s was under 20 minutes.
“I believe Obama is the right president at the right time.” – Vincent Lo Re
“It was hopeful but realistic,” Lo Re said. “It recognized that we are a nation with problems.”
But Lo Re said the speech also said the problems would take people working together to solve in a community effort.
“I believe Obama is the right president at the right time,” Lo Re said, although, like many other local officials, his first choice in the Democratic primary last year had been Hillary Clinton.
But Obama’s enthusiasm is contagious, Lo Re said, saying that Obama’s family is an asset, serving as an example for the nation of the strength family ties can bring. He was also impressed with the diversity of people who had come to the event.
Still digesting the words of the speech, Lo Re got startled by the traditional firing of the cannon.
“I forgot they did that,” he said.
If there was a sour point in the whole day, it came at the departing of the former president, George W. Bush.
“Some people booed,” Lo Re said. “This was discourteous, and I believe they should have respected the office.”
Lo Re, a well-known collector of political memorabilia, said the amount of items for sale at the event was overwhelming, including hats, shirts, and other items. “It was a field day for the small entrepreneur,” he said.
Lo Re said the nation and president now have to get down to the business of healing the hurts of the nation and addressing the sagging economy.
“That goes for us on a local level, as well,” he said. “It will take hard work to resolve the issues at hand.”
A moment of national pride
For Chiappone, an early supporter of Obama, the event was the historic culmination of democracy.
“For me, bearing witness to the inauguration of Barack Obama was both historic and spiritually uplifting,” Chiappone said. “I swelled with pride. With the swearing in of Obama, we can truly say that we are one people and part of a country by the people and for the people that allows anyone – regardless of race, creed, or color – to not only aspire to the highest office of president, but can actually achieve that.”
A short paragraph spoken by President Obama left a significant impression on Chiappone: “Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met. On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear.”
Like Lo Re, Chiappone sees Obama as the right person for the job.
“I believe President Obama’s resolve to take us through troubled times in this firm but optimistic manner is a message and sentiment that can be applied in all aspects of government, and even here on a local level where we face financial hardships,” Chiappone said. “I believe that this inauguration is one that will rejuvenate our country and is one that has served to inspire me, as well. Most of all, I was extremely proud to be an American during this monumental inauguration.”
Sires was impressed
While others were basking in the glow of the moment, Rep. Sires was back home in Hudson County suffering from a cold.
“I was sick as dog,” Sires said. “I watched the whole thing from home.”
But the feelings generated on the cold mall outside the capital building traveled over the airwaves none the less.
“I am always amazed at the change of power in the United States,” he said. “How smoothly we do it compared to what happens throughout history.”
Sires was also struck by the short span of years that allowed Obama to rise to the highest office in the nation.
“We you think that 50 years ago his family couldn’t get served in a store, and now he is the president. That speaks volumes,” said Sires.
Like Chiappone and Lo Re, Sires thought Obama’s speech was very strong.
“He talked about rolling up his sleeves and he showed a lot of confidence,” he said. “I think there is a lot of confidence in this leader. We all want to see people going back to work and buying homes again.”
Sires said he had met Obama on the campaign trail last year.
“We talked about immigration and he had some very good ideas,” Sires said. “But with all the large problems facing him right now, I do not believe he will address immigration in his first 100 days in office.”