President quips, praises at town hall meeting
Some memorable moments from President Barack Obama's town hall meeting Thursday at the University of Tampa:
• Obama's introduction of Florida's chief financial officer: "Alex Sink is in the house."
• Obama's shoutout to former Bucs coach Tony Dungy: "He's not just a great coach. He's a model individual and leader."
• Obama on Florida: "First of all, let me say it's good to be back in the Sunshine State. It is especially good to be back in January. And it's always nice to be out of Washington."
• Obama on rail: "Those things are fast. They are smooth. You don't have to take off your shoes."
• Before Obama started taking questions from the crowd, he took off his jacket and asked Vice President Joe Biden to hold it. Said Biden: "You answer all the tough questions; I'll hold the coat."
Politicos abound in air, on tarmac
Obama and Biden arrived in separate planes at MacDill Air Force Base about noon. U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, flew on Air Force One with the president. Biden traveled separately, as is protocol when he and the president go to the same place. Gov. Charlie Crist, state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer were on the tarmac to greet them. State Sens. Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg, and Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, showed up at the town hall.
Cohen shows he's a big Obama fan
Tampa defense attorney Barry Cohen was at the town hall gushing about Wednesday's State of the Union address from his viewing spot close to the stage. "I think he's a visionary," he said. "People forget what he inherited. He wants to unite this country and unite the world." Cohen brought with him a photo taken during the 2008 campaign of Obama and Cohen's 8-year-old son, Barry. He was hoping to get the president to sign it. And, he did. It now bears the message: "To Barry — Dream big dreams! Barack Obama"
Is this a game or a town hall meeting?
At noon, with most floor and bleacher seats in the Bob Martinez Sports Center filled, some students led quick cheers for the bleacher crowd. "Barack!" one side yelled. "Obama!" the other side responded. "Barack!" "Obama!" "Joe!" "Biden!" "Joe!" "Biden!" "Yes he can!" "Yes he can!"
Pressing the flesh, touring a tanker
At MacDill before the town hall, Obama and Biden stopped to speak to guests of MacDill Air Force Base officials, smiling, holding babies and shaking hands. They then toured a KC-135 Stratotanker — an aircraft that refuels other planes while in air — that recently has been involved in Haiti aid missions. Col. Larry Martin, the MacDill Air Force Base wing commander, led Obama and Biden on a tour of the hangar, introducing them to dozens of crew members who demonstrated how parts of the aircraft worked. When an airman told Obama that he, too, was from Chicago, the president laughed and said, "The weather's nicer here."
Colleen Jenkins and Kim Wilmath, Times staff writers