Berry Craig, recording secretary for the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council and a professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College, is a former daily newspaper and Associated Press columnist and currently a member of AFT Local 1360. Craig sends us this.
Gerald Watkins grinned knowingly when he saw the Florida pizza guy on TV the other day bear-hugging President Obama and hoisting him off the floor.
Gerald said he felt like embracing Obama when he met him half a dozen years ago. “He was Sen. Obama then,” added Gerald, who settled for a wink and a handshake.
Gerald and I belong to AFT Local 1360. We both teach at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah. Gerald, in his last term on the Paducah City Commission, is the Kentucky State AFL-CIO-endorsed candidate for the state House of Representatives from the city.
Gerald told me that when he heard Obama was holding a town meeting across the Ohio River in Metropolis, Ill., in August 2006, he decided to go.
I got there early and so did the senator. Only about six people had arrived and I ended up talking to him for about 10 minutes.
Gerald said he peppered the senator with questions about his budding political career. “I was really impressed with him. He was so easy to talk to.”
Even so, Gerald said he wasn’t prepared for what happened next.
He reached over, put his hand on my shoulder and started asking me questions about myself. He asked me if I had ever run for office. I said I had always wanted to serve in the state House but had been beaten in the Democratic primary in 1998. He laughed and said, ‘Hey, I ran for Congress in 2000 and got skunked.’ He told me not to give up.
After the meeting, which Gerald said drew about 200 people, the senator fielded questions. “I asked him to evaluate all the Republicans and Democrats whose names were being thrown out as potential presidential candidates for 2008. I asked him to include that young senator from Illinois.”
Gerald said Obama did a good job of assessing every potential contender except one.
On the way out, he saw me, stopped, shook my hand and we talked some more. I said, ‘Hey, you didn’t answer my question about that young senator from Illinois.’
Watkins said the future president smiled, winked slyly and replied, "Yeah, that was pretty slick, wasn’t it.”
Gerald and I will vote for Obama for president again on Nov. 6. “I knew Obama had star power when I saw him on TV giving the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention,” Gerald said.
He oozes charisma from every pore. That pizza guy said he is a Republican but voted for Obama in 2008 and is going to vote for him this time, too. He said he liked to vote for candidates he feels comfortable with. President Obama really is likable, even bear-huggable.