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The Presidential Campaign

Presidential touch in downtown Safety Harbor

Bush stops on Main Street during a campaign tour that pulls more than 1,000 from daily routines in a first for the city.

By MEGAN SCOTT
Published October 20, 2004

[Times photo: Willie Allen Jr.]
President Bush supporters cheer and wave a cardboard cutout of the president as his motorcade stops on Main Street in Safety Harbor on Tuesday. People brought their kids and businesses closed for the occasion. Bush visited for about 15 minutes before heading to a rally in New Port Richey.

ELECTION 2004 COVERAGE IN TODAY'S TIMES
[Times photo: Willie Allen Jr.]
President Bush speaks at Sims Park in New Port Richey on Tuesday morning. He earlier had visited St. Petersburg's Progress Energy Park.

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SAFETY HARBOR - Is he going to stop? Shake hands? Or just drive by?

More than 1,000 people dropped what they were doing Tuesday morning to find out whether President Bush really was coming to their town.

Parents pulled their kids out of school. City leaders took off from work. Some of the businesses on Main Street closed.

After all, a president has never visited Safety Harbor before.

"I took a half-day personal leave without pay so I could be here," Mayor Pam Corbino said. "We're very excited."

Bush's motorcade drove down Main Street about 10:35 a.m. en route to a New Port Richey rally. The motorcade stopped around Fourth Avenue N, and he got off the bus.

Wearing a casual blue-collared shirt with no tie, he walked into the Paradise Restaurant and shook hands with several of the customers. He autographed flags, took pictures with commissioners and accepted a plaque from the city.

He then came out the back and glad-handed the cheering crowd.

"God bless you, Mr. President."

"Oh, my God. I touched his sleeve."

The president's brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, followed.

But it was clear who the real celebrity was.

Carol Buczynski shook the president's hand. She vowed never to wash it again.

"I'm going to put this hand in a mold," she said.

Sandra Logan took pictures with him inside the restaurant.

"He was genuine and warm," said Logan, the wife of City Manager Wayne Logan Jr. "He was shaking hands with everybody. It didn't seem like he was in a hurry. What a great day. The president in Safety Harbor."

The visit lasted only 15 minutes. Neither brother gave a speech. And hundreds of people never even made it through security. Everyone had to be screened.

But the people were overjoyed.

"It's a pretty historic thing for Safety Harbor," said Liz Foss, who lives in Clearwater.

Safety Harbor had less than 24 hours to decorate the Gazebo in John Wilson Park downtown, find patriotic music, make the plaque and post the no-parking signs. The White House contacted city officials Monday morning but gave no details on what the president was going to do.

"All we heard was that the president was coming through Safety Harbor," city spokeswoman Julie Yaeger said earlier. "My little one was so excited. She was like, "The real president?' It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

For some, the opportunity to see the motorcade was enough.

Diane Strickland was excited about seeing the Chevrolet Suburbans and buses. She closed her business, Brysen Optical Corp. on Main Street, for a couple of hours "to support the president."

"This is my first time seeing him in person," she said. "I'm excited. Maybe he'll wave."

Laura Weikel, a member of the McMullen family, was just hoping to catch a glimpse. Her father, Guy McMullen, was there also. Both are Bush-Cheney fans.

"To think Safety Harbor would get this kind of recognition," said Weikel, who lives in Seminole. "This is a big deal."

But not everyone was there because they were Bush supporters.

Jane Rose Doe was attending class at Bhakti Academe when she saw the crowd. She borrowed a hat that read "Bye-Bye Bush" and walked over. She was hoping to get a chant together.

"I was hoping I would find other Kerry supporters," said Doe, who is a disc jockey for WMNF-FM 88.5. "I guess I'll just wave with this hat on."

Megan Scott can be reached at 727 445-4167 or mscott@sptimes.com

[Last modified October 20, 2004, 00:38:59]

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