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Outside town hall, protesters and disappointed ticket-holders

Calling himself a member of the “Love Police,” Hillsborough Community College sophomore Jordan Harrah, 20, shouts about freedom and how to be a better human being.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times

Calling himself a member of the “Love Police,” Hillsborough Community College sophomore Jordan Harrah, 20, shouts about freedom and how to be a better human being.

TAMPA — There was a moment, 10:45 a.m. Thursday to be precise, when Obama supporters tried to shout down protesters who read scripture through a bullhorn and called the president a tyrant.

"Yes we can," they bellowed as police sharpshooters watched from a rooftop at the University of Tampa.

Then the chants dissolved into giggles. Like much of President Barack Obama's visit to the University of Tampa, the scene became a carnival of spirited, nonviolent discourse.

"I used to work for President Clinton, and this is normal," said King High School teacher Mark Johnson, 51. "This is tame."

Parents reassured their children that it was legal, patriotic in fact, for people to wave signs that read "Obama lies" and "Stop the Spending."

University of Tampa students Anthony Rossi and Steve Dilauro watched as a toddler stood among the protesters with the bullhorns. "This is ridiculous," said Rossi, 20. "If that was my dad, I'd be totally freaking out."

To Scott Silvestro, a photographer for the college newspaper, it was pure political theater.

"I'm a government major, and I love it," said Silvestro, 21. "It's cool to see politics in action."

Dee Jackson, 36, was less enthralled. "This isn't a campaign anymore," said the struggling West Tampa graphic designer. "People want action."

Ticket-holders took their places early Thursday outside the Bob Martinez Sports Center. As cool skies turned balmy, the line snaked around the cobblestoned North B Street, where protesters offered myriad opposing views.

Barry Bench, 51, of Orlando, chastised both political parties for bankrupting the nation.

Rachelle VanWyk, 55, of St. Pete Beach, said Obama has put health care on the back burner.

"He's escalating troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that money could be spent here at home," she said.

Excitement built as police cleared the streets around noon. A helicopter circled. Motorcycles led a parade of limousines and vans up N Boulevard, then left behind the stadium.

Deborah Gonzalez, 19, got video of Obama waving from inside a limo.

She was glad she did.

Because even though she and fellow Strayer University student Shaun Ghaisarzadeh had tickets, they never got into the building.

Police told them the fire marshal had declared there was no more room. Dozens of ticket-holders stood, crestfallen. They were directed to an audiocast at the stadium across the street.

"My assignment was to write an essay about Obama," Ghaisarzadeh said. "So now I guess I have to write about getting shut out."

Marlene Sokol can be reached at sokol@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4602..

Outside town hall, protesters and disappointed ticket-holders 01/28/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 28, 2010 11:02pm]
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