Barack In Bridgeport

President Obama comes to Bridgeport this Saturday.

He’ll be at Harbor Yard arena, campaigning for Democratic candidates 3 days before the gubernatorial and senatorial elections.

I plan to be there — one of the items on my to-do-before-I-die list is to see a sitting president — but I also wonder how many people will make the connection to a similar Bridgeport event half a century ago?

Two days before the presidential election — Sunday, Nov. 6, 1960 — John F. Kennedy came to Connecticut.  Nearly 50,000 people waited hours in the cold rain  — until 3 a.m. — to hear the Massachusetts senator speak from a 2nd-floor Waterbury hotel balcony.

After a couple hours’ sleep, Kennedy attended early mass at a church next door.  He headed off to Hartford, New Haven and — finally — a Sunday afternoon rally in Bridgeport.

I was in the Bridgeport crowd.  I don’t remember much at all — I was just in 2nd grade, brought there by my father — but I do recall a tremendous sense of excitement, before JFK arrived and throughout his speech.

Connecticut had not gone for a Democratic presidential candidate since FDR, in 1944.  But in the aftermath of Kennedy’s electrifying Connecticut visit, state Democratic chairman John Bailey predicted he would beat Richard Nixon by 30,000 votes.

Bailey was wrong.  JFK won by 91,000.

Much has changed in 50 years.  This year’s election is not for president, and indications are it will not be a good one for Democrats.

But once again, on the weekend before an important vote, Connecticut will enjoy the presidential spotlight.

28 responses to “Barack In Bridgeport

  1. Hopefully his limo won’t be left up on cinder blocks.

    Parking there is terrible.

  2. Hi Dan, About a month before JFK came, I happened to be walking on Main Street in Bridgeport when a strange motorcade passed. I was started to see Richard Nixon standing in an open car reaching out to the few bewildered and uninterested passers by. What a contrast to the electric energy in the crowd of thousands who turned out for Kennedy. (My father took me, too!)

  3. Westport Expat

    Darn, I used up my Sitting President chip on Ronald Reagan in Fairfield, ’84.

    • My brother and mother were accosted by people in the crowd for holding Mondale signs at that Reagan rally in Fairfield. It was a really classy group I was told.

      • Westport Expat

        Well, I didn’t accost anyone. I am not now, nor was I in 1984 a fan of Reagan; but at the time, Presidents didn’t come around here very often. It was a big event, and I went in the spirit of having something to tell the grandkids about. Minus the accosting people part, of course.

  4. Obama seems to like Philly, as he’s been here 3-4 times in the past 2 months. My wife saw him at a rally on a Monday, and he said it was nice to visit when the town was in a good mood, alluding to the Eagles and Phillies both winning on Sunday. Mrs Laz (invisible among the standing attendees) called out “Go Bears!”, which caused Obama to pause and calmly say: “Yes, the Bears won yesterday as well.” Apparently, this exchange was picked up by some news sources, though we never saw it. Does that count as a conversation?
    I’ve never met or even been in the same room as any state or national official.

  5. I thought just seeing a (pre-, sitting, or post-) president was enough of a challenge but that he has to be a sitting president really ups the ante. Having seen in person eight of the past 13 presidents (starting with FDR) I realize only four were sitting and the rest were either before or after they were elected. Can anyone beat that?

  6. Now’s your chance to increase those prez numbers: Former President Clinton is stumping for Jim Himes on Sunday in So. Norwalk, I am planning on attending both events!

  7. The Dude Abides

    I have an ongoing competition with ’43, “W”. He couldn’t get into the law school I attended, I beat him in the ’93 Houston Marathon and ’96 Capitol 10K. However, he did prevail over my boss and mentor Governor Richards in ’94. I try to forget the elections of ’00 and ’04 so I figure I am still ahead. I have never seen George W.Bush “sitting.”

  8. My family was snowed out of the ’60 inauguration even though we tried to attend living in Arlington. I was a guest at the ’80 Democratic Convention and saw President Carter while my “Uncle Johnny” Glenn give the keynote address. And I saw President Clinton drive by Coldwell Riverside here in Westport in ’96. He smiled. At all the women.

  9. The Dude Abides

    Whoops, I forgot ’41. George H.W. Bush used to take a heliocopter from the nearby Houstonian Hotel where he stayed while President. He landed on Memorial Golf Course and would proceed to run the 2.9 mile circular track
    with his Secret Service folks and us common runners. It was quite a treat. He would be yapping all the way. Nice man. ‘Bout an 9 minute per mile clip too.

  10. Along these lines…on a very rainy spring day in 1980, Bush 41 held a primary rally in the Fine Arts III movie theater. Because I was friends with leading Republican notable Julie Belaga’s daughter, Heather, I got to shake his hand. Funny memory: he kept thanking “Judy” Belaga. He had to wait eight more years, but he did eventually get to the White House. So yes, I did shake the hand of an American President.

  11. I believe the guidelines, Don, were a “sitting’ President. Nice story though. ’41 was notorious about forgetting names. He called “W” Neil and Jeb, “W”.

  12. I was thankful in 1978 while living in Mandeville Cyn, Brentwood, CA during a huge brush fire, they held the fire line at our back yard because Ronald Reagan’s house was across the ravine. Of course, the people of Pacific Palisades were not thrilled when their 22+ homes went up in flames.

    Did we ever see him? Yes, and became really irritated when the PD would quickly shut down roads so he and Nancy could go by waving and smiling, like ALL the time. Few were sad when he sold the house & moved to Washington, until later.

  13. @EB Many years ago the Westport Rotary had a member named Irving Granville. He prided in the fact that he had shaken hands with the 13 presidents. As his health failed the story goes, GHW Bush heard about the unblemished string (through Irv I suspect) and arranged for Irv and a few friend to come to the airport. Air Force 1 arrived, the President shook his hand to keep the string alive, The visit was very brief as the president reboarded the plane and went about his schedule.

  14. I met Bill Clinton while he was a sitting president at a fundraiser and shook his hand. All things considered and politics aside, I think seeing Frank Sinatra perform life at Radio City Music Hall was a far more memorable and wonderful memory.

  15. Yikes, that would be “live” not “life” … sorry about that!!!

  16. Orville Freeman was JFK’s first pick to become VP in 1960. But Orville was from Minnesota and they needed the South so it was LBJ. Poor Orville lived next door to us at our weekend cottage in western Virginia. His wife wouldn’t let him watch television, so he would sneak over to watch football with my father.

  17. The Dude Abides

    My father had breakfast with LBJ in 1966 and said “he looked so tired that he thought he was going to pass out.” As many know, LBJ would rise at 3:30 a.m. daily to get the casaulty reports from Vietnam. Unfortunately, he didn’t do anything about stopping that routine or the war.

  18. I have shaken hands with Carter, whose grip is stronger than you’d expect, and I did see Reagan. The only president I ever saw wile he was in that office was Ford and yes, it was at the Republican convention in 1976 in Kansas City. I was on the convention floor and the day before the VP nomination was announced, Howard Baker was right next to me, accepting all kinds of congratulations for it and was smiling broadly about it. Of course, the nominee turned out to be Dole.
    It occurs to me that sometime during that period I must have also seen Bush 41 before he was Bush 41, but I have no vivid recollection of that.

  19. Does it count if we got to shake hands at a young age (and I believe I was even part of a photo op) with someone who seemed destined for the Oval Office, but never made it? I was taken by my mom to see Nelson Rockefeller, just around the corner from where we lived in Queens, during Rocky’s campaigning for governor or during his first year in office. So I was only 4 or 5, but I still remember it as being pretty exciting.

  20. Oh, one more thing. I still have a letter I received from the White House in March 1961, which was in response to a letter I wrote to JFK as a second-grade student. President Kennedy was unquestionably inspirational to many children.

  21. Dan:
    I was there that cold sunny Sunday too. My mother’s family was from Bridgeport and my mother prevailed upon my Uncle Jim to take me to that rally. Like you, I hardly remember a thing from his speech. Talked, in part, about the “gold standard” and a strong dollar I think.
    JFK’s motorcade went right past us; you could almost reach out and touch him. He spoke down near the rairoad station. I was hoisted on my Uncle’s shoulders so I could see him over the crowd. Then we raced several blocks so we could get a good spot to see him as he was leaving.

    We had a mini family reunion a year ago June at Sherwood Island and my Uncle’s kids, who are a bit younger than me, were really ripped when they found out their father was there and didn’t bring them along.

  22. “…I am proud as hell of what we have accomplished…
    …I stand behind what we have done and what we have voted for…
    …I stand behind what this president and this congress has been able to do…
    …I am proud as hell, not just on the economy…
    …I am proud as hell…I’m just proud as hell.” – Jim Himes

    Jim Himes voted in favor of the $787 billion dollar stimulus plan. After saddling your family with over ten thousand dollars in additional debt, we still have a ten percent unemployment rate.

    Himes voted the healthcare bill into law, a law which is already projected to cost more than was advertised.

    Himes voted to increase our national debt by a record $1.9 trillion dollars, bringing our total debt to a new high of $12.4 trillion dollars.

    Himes voted with Nancy Pelosi-led Democrats 95% of the time.

    After two years of votes that create too few jobs but too big a role for government, most voters in Fairfield County disagree with each of these votes. Two-thirds of these voters think that Washington is on the wrong track. If you want more of the same, then there is an incumbent congressman who is “proud as hell” of our current direction, but if you think that there is a better way, then you should know that Dan Debicella ( ) thinks so too. If you would like to help Dan get across his message of free enterprise and individual liberty, than you can do so here: . Please give what you can because Fairfield County deserves better.

  23. ccdemuth is apparently New Caanan operative who spends all his trime scouring the web and criticizing Jim Himes regadless of how far-fetched his comments are from the subject being discussed. Read him when appropriate; ignore him otherwise.

  24. Well, a nice walk down memory lane ruined by “ccdemuth”. Now I will be sure to vote for Himes.