SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – Baseball Hall of Famer and San Francisco Giants legend Willie Mays was a big hit with the crowd at President Barack Obama’s $5,000 a plate fundraising lunch in San Francisco’s Financial District on Wednesday, as the slugger offered an enthusiastic endorsement for the president’s re-election effort.
“It’s just a wonderful feeling that I have in my heart… a great, great pride (in Obama). He’s the man that we need to be in the White House,” said the 81-year-old Mays, wearing a Giants cap and donning a big grin, as he introduced Mr. Obama to cheers and a standing ovation by the 270 guests at the historic Julia Morgan Ballroom in the Merchants Exchange Building.
While the event was closed to cameras, according to press pool reports Mays compared his excitement of being with Mr. Obama to the excitement he felt when the Giants were in the World Series.
“I had no idea in my lifetime that we would have an Afro-American guy in the White House,” Mays said. “It’s so wonderful that he can remember me and invite me to a place like this.”
Mays recalled his own personal contacts with Mr. Obama, including recounting in some detail how he managed to wangle an invitation to fly aboard Air Force One shortly after the president was first elected.
“When he came in to the White House, I had no idea that I’d be able to fly in on Air Force One,” Mays said with thrill and amazement, his recollection of that day coming off as still fresh.
He said he talked to his attorney and asked him to contact the White House on that issue. “Five minutes later” he got a call. “It was so quick,” he said.
Mays said he didn’t know what he should do when he got on the plane, where there were “four guys…they said we want to give you a tour.”
When Mr. Obama came on stage at the luncheon, the two men embraced.
“Willie Mayes, everybody,” he said. “The Say Hey Kid,” he added, calling out Mays’ nickname.
Mr. Obama, riffing off Mayes’ talk, agreed that he has a cool plane. But “as cool as Air Force One is, it is much much cooler when Willie Mays is with you on the plane.”
The president acknowledged the historic landmark that his election in 2008 was, but added “we don’t make that history unless there are folks like Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays to pave the way… to lay the groundwork for a more inclusive America.”
Then he launched into a standard campaign stump speech, telling the crowd that “We’ve got to finish what we’ve started and that’s why I’m running again for president of the United States of America.” He made no mention of Tuesday’s failed Democratic effort to recall Wisconsin’s GOP governor or of new economic turmoil that was occurring in Europe on Wednesday.
Mr. Obama said this upcoming election presents an especially stark choice, more so than 2008 because John McCain, unlike Mitt Romney, believed in such things as climate change, campaign finance reform and immigration reform. In 2012, the fundamentals of the GOP “have shifted,” he maintained.
“Their theory with Gov. Romney is the economy grows best when we are all on our own, when the market is king and the regulations are stripped away,” Mr. Obama contended, but “we recognize the way America became great: There are some things we do better together and that’s the reason why America became the singular economic power that it’s become.”
Today there are two fundamentally “different visions” on that, he maintained, with Republicans calling for an “additional $5 trillion of tax cuts for people who don’t need ‘em” and eliminating college Pell Grants versus funding for “the kind of infrastructure that will help us.”
“We are going to be facing a fundamental choice (and) I’ve been pretty clear about what I believe… If somebody asks you, you tell them it’s still about hope and change,” he said of the 2012 election.
“Change is making sure that not only are we attracting manufacturing back to our shores,” but investing in battery technology, “solar energy or wind power that will not only usher in” hundreds of thousands of new jobs and will give future generations the kind of technology “that they deserve.”
“That’s what change looks like,’” he said, speaking without visible notes as a U.S. and California flag served as the backdrop behind him.
“We passed a health care bill so that 30 million Americans” won’t worry about “going bankrupt” if they get sick, Mr. Obama said. “That’s what change is,” he added to applause.
“Change is ending the war in Iraq, and winding down the war in Afghanistan, and reestablishing respect for America around the world.” Because of “our efforts,” Osama Bin Laden is no longer a threat and “Al Qaeda is on its heels,” the president said.
He acknowledged that “this is going to be a tough race, precisely because the economy is not where it needs to be yet.”
“The American people are tough, and the tougher the times, the tougher they get,” he said. “Because of the extra talents and gifts and the resilience of the american people,” the administration has been able to create 4.3 million new jobs.
“We’ve been able to stabilize the situation, but we also understand” that folks are still hurting out there, and that’s why in some ways, “2012 is even more important than 2008. We’ve got to finish what we started,” he said to applause.
Calling for more infrastructure public works programs, he said that essentially “you can borrow at zero percent,” and thousands could be employed in such projects. “Why wouldn’t we do that now?”
But perhaps the biggest applause line of his speech came as he spoke of his recent support for same-sex marriage, saying “everybody deserves respect, everybody deserves dignity.” America will not be “re-fighting that battle” to determine “who you can love.”
“The other side, they don’t have any new ideas,” he contended, and quoting former president Bill Clinton, added: “They’re just offering more of the same, on steroids.”
“When ordinary people come together, when they decide” to join with friends, families and say they “see a direction for this country” and are “willing to fight for it, guess what? Change happens. America is transformed,” he explained.
“I still believe in you. So I hope you still believe in me,” Mr. Obama said in concluding his remarks.
Obama’s San Francisco lunch was one of four fundraisers he was holding in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas on Wednesday that were expected to yield at least $4.6 million.
Some diners on hand for the San Francisco lunch speech dismissed criticism of Mr. Obama’s regular trips to California to pick up campaign cash and said that they understood the need for his frequent fundraising.
“My reaction is the other candidate’s travel schedule is no more oriented to the masses. I wish we had a system where this kind of fundraising isn’t necessary,” said Martin Checov, a San Francisco attorney who attended the event.
Checov noted that the food the donors were served for Wednesday’s lunch – grilled Coho salmon with sea beans, purple artichokes and lemon caper sauce- was better than one usually gets at such fundraising events.
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