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Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2007 01:17 pm

Big-top Barack

The circus is coming to town. Please watch your step.

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Illinois Times readers got their first good look at the man who would be president nearly three years ago.
GINNY LEE PHOTOGRAPHED BARACK OBAMA FOR THE MARCH 11, 2004, EDITION
Untitled Document Like it or not — regardless of whether you think he has a mortal or political death wish or are concerned that he’s too green, too black, or not black enough — Barack Obama is running for president. This weekend, the Democratic junior senator from Illinois will make his candidacy
official in Springfield.

Most of downtown will be closed off, according to Mayor Tim Davlin, who is also committing personnel from the city’s public-works, fire, and police departments to provide support to the event. “Everything that we’re putting forward — from our police department to our public-works department, certainly — is going to pay off in dividends for everything that we’re going to get in return,” Davlin says. Exactly how many people will flock to Springfield is unknown, however. “We don’t know the numbers, but we do know that Springfield, Ill., is going to get some great press,” Davlin says. He says that about 100 representatives of national and international media outlets, some of whom have already begun trickling into town, are expected. So far, Davlin says, the city has fielded calls from news organizations in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, and “a number of African countries” wanting to profile the capital city.
Groups of Obama supporters in cities around Illinois will pile onto chartered buses early Saturday morning to make the trek to Springfield. Davlin also says that Illinois Democratic leaders, such as Gov. Rod Blagojevich and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, have been invited but, as of press time Wednesday, had not indicated whether they will attend. Nor is the mayor certain that he will participate in any part of the program.
For “obvious reasons,” Davlin says, he won’t go into specifics about security arrangements, other to say that the city’s emergency-operations center — which was first put to use when President George W. Bush visited Springfield in 2005 for the grand opening of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum — will be running. But reports suggest that Obama’s campaign has gradually added layers of protection around the candidate, the man considered by many the first African-American who could actually win a major party nomination for the presidency. His wife, Michelle, expressed concern early on that her husband would be vulnerable to an assassination attempt by racist extremists. Some leading voices in the black community believe that Obama is jeopardizing his political career, because, as Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial-page editor Cynthia Tucker opines, America just isn’t yet ready to elect a black president. Obama thinks he’s ready, though. “As I’ve spoken to many of you in my travels across the states these past months; as I’ve read your e-mails and read your letters; I’ve been struck by how hungry we all are for a different kind of politics,” he wrote in a statement to supporters last month. “Running for the presidency is a profound decision — a decision no one should make on the basis of media hype or personal ambition alone — and so before I committed myself and my family to this race, I wanted to be sure that this was right for us and, more importantly, right for the country.”
But Obama, now just a third of the way through his first term in the Senate, is the first candidate in the field of hopefuls to announce his plans with so much fanfare. Others, including his Democratic Senate colleagues, have all launched their presidential bids with less pomp and circumstance. Several candidates — including former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson — made their intentions official via their Web sites.
The Obama show gets under way this Saturday, Feb. 10, most likely on the southeast lawn of the Old State Capitol. The gates to the free event open at 9 a.m.; Obama is scheduled to speak at 10 a.m. Anticipating below-freezing temperatures, Davlin isn’t sure whether hot liquids will be permitted at the event. However, he says, several vendors will be set up, just in case.
Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com
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