Home News Tribune Online 02/11/07
WOODBRIDGE — Obama-mania hit the Reo Diner in Woodbridge Saturday as about
30 supporters gathered to hear Barack Obama, the first-term Democratic
senator from Illinois, declare his candidacy for president.
"You get that vision of JFK's inaugural," said Damian Bednarz, the state
director of New Jersey DraftObama.org. "The same energy coming out of
Bednarz said his group organized listening parties at 20 locations
nationwide, including diners in Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Ocean
counties to hear Obama speak from Springfield, Ill.
Obama announced his candidacy from the state capital where he
began his elective career just 10 years ago, and in front of the
building where in another century, Abraham Lincoln served eight
years in the Illinois Legislature.
"We can build a more hopeful America," Obama said. "And that
is why, in the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where
Lincoln once called on a divided house to stand together,
where common hopes and common dreams still live, I stand
before you today to announce my candidacy for president of
the United States."
Obama's voice from the television rose above the clack
of plates and conversations in the Reo Diner, as many in
the crowd nodded their heads and broke into occasional
whoops and applause.
"I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness, a
certain audacity, to this announcement," Obama said.
"I know I haven't spent a lot of time learning the
ways of Washington. But I've been there long enough
to know that the ways of Washington must change."
Obama spoke about investing in education,
protecting employee benefits, insuring those who
do not have health care, ending poverty, weaning
America from foreign oil and fighting terrorism
while rebuilding global alliances.
His speech was steeped in American history,
touching on how previous generations have
brought change fighting off colonizers,
slavery and the Great Depression, welcoming
immigrants, building railroads and landing a
man on the moon.
Obama, 45, repeatedly referred to
Lincoln and his success in moving a
nation. He said it is because of Lincoln
that Americans of every race face the
challenges of the 21st century together.
"Each and every time, a new
generation has risen up and done
what's needed to be done," he said.
"Today we are called once more, and
it is time for our generation to
answer that call."
And that call was heard even
among those whose regular
Saturday breakfast at the Reo
was interrupted by the political
"He's young, and he's
smart," said Anthony
DeRasmi, a 59-year-old Fords
resident who had never heard
an Obama speech before
Saturday. "He'll change the
system. We need a young man
— the old people are too old
fashioned. I'd vote for
Lorraine Williams, a
resident seated at
DeRasmi's table, was
equally impressed but
felt the country wasn't
ready for a black
president — like Obama —
or a female president —
Hillary Clinton of New
"There's too much
prejudice in the
said. "But I think
he's the best black
candidate I've ever
seen running for
president. He's a
lawyer, he's a
senator — he's got
feel he can make a
Bednarz said he
race will hinder
It's not an
Obama gained national recognition with the publication of two best-selling books, "Dreams From My Father" and "The Audacity of Hope," and by delivering the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. His optimistic message and his compelling biography immediately sparked talk of his White House potential.
Initially he said he would not run for president. But he said last fall that he was considering it after receiving so much encouragement. He formed a presidential exploratory committee last month.
Bednarz said he wasn't sure what shape his group might take next, having achieved its original goal of convincing Obama to run. But before people began to leave the diner, Bednarz said this was not the end.
"We drafted him," he said. "But the next step is to make him president."
Contributing: The Associated Press