Last Wednesday, September 29th, Richmond was included in a list of cities visited by the President in his Backyard Talks series. A different but relatively calm scene unfolded outside of the Southampton Recreation Association as news teams lined the streets, parking restrictions covered the surrounding area, police presence posted up at every corner, and curious spectators looked on.
Details of the event were not made public until just prior to President Obama’s arrival, and even then gave little more than a descriptive of time, place, and probable topics to be covered at the meeting. The meeting took place just off Forest Hill Avenue, with families from Richmond’s Stratford Hills community.
Timothy Wilson, a resident of the neighborhood, explained why he thought it was chosen to host the Richmond Backyard Talk.
“Stratford Hills is a nice neighborhood, it always had been, very diverse, this is where a lot of people have made their homes after they met a lot of adversities in other places, Southampton Elementary School sits right here in the hub of it, it has educated many students of many cultures and backgrounds,” he said.
Despite differences in personal and political opinion, Wilson said there was something special going on in Richmond that day.
He said, “I don’t think anyone is really looking at who is Republican who is Democrat today, the president’s in the neighborhood, it’s a unique event to be a part of.”
The Backyard Talk brought intrigue from different vantage points. Neighbors anticipated getting in on the action and Republicans and their community representatives made their presence known.
Pat Koury was one of those residents. She said although there was not much notice given prior to the event, everybody seemed to have jumped at the sound of the gun.
“We haven’t heard about it too much ahead of time, so it just happened that we heard it last night, and I’ve been calling all my friends and neighbors, and everyone’s excited,” she said. “A Republican worker called the house and wanted to know if they could put a sign up for lower taxes, and we agreed to do that.”
Stratford Hills resident Blake Huff explained the neighborhood wasn’t exactly Obama friendly.
“I think it is very interesting to have the president here, this is not a big support area for him, I believe Eric Cantor is the representative for this area, and it’s a pretty densely Republican neighborhood,” he said.
He said that many of the families in their community had felt the hardships of the down economy and were faced with the reality of the job market.
“A lot of these houses right up the street just directly in front of where he’ll be speaking, maybe five, or seven where short sales, people lost their jobs, and maybe that’s where the negative response from the neighbors are, it’s really hit hard here, just walking down the street with a woman who lost her job, I retired, I had my time in, but I had to retire because of budgets,” he said.
Huff said people in the neighborhood were complaining about disruption throughout the day President Obama visited but he said it wasn’t a big deal.
“I was just noticing a car over here, I thought someone was just visiting the neighborhood, it’s been here for a month, evidently they’ve been scanning this area for a month, and this was unbeknownst to anyone, and I know that’s all security related,” he said. “There’s inconvenience everywhere, they just paved the road, and we were more inconvenienced with the road pavement than the president coming.”
The meeting was invite only and included about thirty Richmonders. Margie Castleberg wished she could have been privy to the conversation inside and been able to address the president.
“My biggest concern is, I wish I could get in and ask him a few questions,” she said. “I would like him to see from people who are more like me, who are more, I call it not all one party, just a normal person.”
Castleberg went on to explain why her neighborhood was a good choice, not only as locale, but also as a representative of Richmond.
“I think it’s a good example of a middle class neighborhood, it’s a nice neighborhood, but it’s not the real exclusive area, it’s not the real poor area,” she said.