Danville goes to Washington | January 23, 2009 | Danville Express | DanvilleSanRamon.com |


Danville Express

Cover Story - January 23, 2009

Danville goes to Washington

Inauguration strikes optimistic note for residents who travel to the capital

by Mark Curtis

"We are ready to lead once more," said newly sworn-in President Barack Obama in his Inaugural address. It was a speech that at times was uplifting and inspiring and at other moments brutally honest. Obama spoke at length about the "gathering clouds" caused by the U.S. economic recession and uncertainties about tensions overseas.

The message was not lost on Danville and San Ramon Valley residents who were in attendance.

Young people turned out in droves for Barack Obama this year, voting in record numbers. Among them was Danville resident and San Ramon Valley High graduate Melanie Bowman. She is now studying political rhetoric at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. She says she loved Obama's speech.

"I thought it really captured well the emotions of everyone in the crowd," Bowman said, "the tensions and anxiety, but also the hope and excitement for the future." Bowman, who is 18, added that many young people finally realized that they could affect the political system by going out to vote.

Local political leaders were impressed, too. Danville Mayor Newell Arnerich, a fellow Democrat, found Obama moving. Arnerich said when he arrived at the National Mall at six o'clock on Inaugural morning, police were already estimating 1 million people were there waiting in the bitter, cold temperatures.

"Regardless of your philosophical beliefs or whether you are a Democrat of Republican, it was an exciting place to be," said Arnerich.

"I haven't seen this many together in one spot, who all had a common cause, who all felt comfortable even in very tight circumstances and in the cold, who felt so proud to be here," he added.

The Inauguration was a special moment for San Ramon Mayor Abram Wilson, an African-American and a Republican. "I have a frame of reference that I think is unique," Wilson said. "I still remember growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, and seeing, 'No Negroes Allowed' (signs)," Wilson added.

Wilson also found irony that Obama was being sworn in on steps that were built by slave labor. "How far we've come," Wilson said.

That message rang true for another Danville resident. Steve Lincoln and his wife Tracy Davis traveled to Washington, D.C., with their three children. Lincoln is white; his wife is black; and their children, ages 10, 8 and 5, are bi-racial, like President Obama. Lincoln said his family headed to the Mall at 5:30 in the morning.

"It was cold and dark, but the kids held up OK," he said, and they enjoyed the event

Lincoln also hopes that as an African-American, President Obama can help heal some of the racial strife that has scarred this country. "I hope that this gives my kids hope," Lincoln said, "that as they grow up, their opportunities will be as good as everyone else's."

Lincoln wants more than just racial healing; he wants the economy to mend as well. He works as legal counsel to a biotech firm and his wife is employed by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

There were other San Ramon Valley residents here, too. Twenty students from Athenian School in Danville made the journey to the nation's capital, with their teacher April Smock. One of the students was 16-year-old Kristina Meyer of Danville.

"I decided to take the trip because I am really interested in politics," Meyer said. "It was really great to experience what I have been studying in action."

Like many people, Meyer was just glad to see an Inauguration in person, instead of on television, and it may just have inspired a career choice.

"I want to study journalism," Meyer said, "but I would like to be a political analyst or a foreign correspondent."

Meyer felt the most important part of the Obama campaign was that it showcased how community action could help people at the grassroots level and cause change.

"I want to help people struggling in their communities," Meyer added.

Of course, once all the pageantry of the Inaugural Parade and Balls are over, there is work to do. President Obama must work with Congress in leading the country. That means that local mayors did not just come here to hear inspiring speeches. They came looking for support for projects in their local communities.

"In California, and particularly in Danville, we realize that in order to get people back to work - which is what we need to focus on locally - we have to focus on construction," Mayor Arnerich said.

Arnerich cited economic studies that conclude that for every dollar spent on municipal construction, the economic impact is doubled or tripled by workers spending their paychecks in a whole host of places.

"We have projects in Danville, particularly construction projects, that are ready to go," Arnerich said. Specifically he talked about federal dollars needed for completion of the auxiliary lane on entrances and exits of Interstate 680 in Danville, similar to the ones at Sycamore Valley Road.

San Ramon Mayor Wilson, a successful businessman, wants the federal government to be more accountable, and to help ease the nation's credit and financial liquidity crises. Wilson, Arnerich and other Tri-Valley mayors met with legislators while attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors as well as the Inauguration.

"As mayors, we came here to make sure the (federal) money goes directly to cities and not states," Wilson said.

He noted that funds for local municipal construction could create new jobs.

"We can start programs today," Wilson said. "We can put shovels in the ground."

The two mayors and a handful of residents from Danville gathered at the Capitol Hill office of U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA), who was just elected to his second term in Congress. McNerney is also focused on reviving the slumping economy, but in new ways.

"Well, the thing that I am most excited about," said McNerney, "is that if we move forward with the new energy technologies, that we can bring so many of those jobs home."

McNerney cited two businesses in Pleasanton that can employ people from nearby Danville. "One that is going to use municipal solid waste to produce energy," McNerney said.

"We have a company that uses algae to produce energy," he added.

Of course, it wasn't all business. Both mayors were excited to see Danville resident Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger III and his family as "front row" guests of President Obama. Sullenberger, a US Airways pilot, successfully landed his badly damaged jetliner on the Hudson River in New York last week, saving all 155 people on board.

"It was real special for them to be here," Arnerich said.

Everyone talked about the different needs the country has today, but there was a tone of optimism at this Inaugural that was shared by many from the San Ramon Valley. When Obama made his laundry list of challengers facing America, he said, "But know this, America, they will be met."

Steve Lincoln of Danville was touched by that.

"I think it really shows that we've gotten to the point where we can fulfill the promise of our ideals," Lincoln said.

Day one of the Obama Administration, it seems, got off to an optimistic start.

Mark Curtis is a Danville political analyst and freelance reporter. His book, "Age of Obama: A Reporter's Journey with Clinton, McCain and Obama in the Making of the President 2008" (Nimble Books, LLC), is out this week; Curtis will be doing a book signing at Rakestraw Books, 409 Railroad Ave., Danville, at 7 p.m., Friday, Feb. 6.