North Pinellas County is showing off its charms this week for presidential candidate Barack Obama. And, as he hopefully already has learned, North Pinellas' charms are many.
Perhaps Obama saw that from his airplane Tuesday as he flew into uncrowded, convenient St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport. From the air, he would have seen a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the beautiful waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, with a big freshwater lake sparkling like a gem in the northern end of the peninsula. He would have figured out, if he didn't know already, that Pinellas County has charmed many others, because he would have seen from the air that it was thickly developed with homes and rimmed by hotels and condominiums standing side by side overlooking the water.
As he left the airport, he would have noticed that this is a county that invests in its infrastructure, because he would have traveled on smooth, well-maintained roads, passing over or under relatively new bridges, and he would have seen that the communities he traveled through cared enough to plant flowers and trees along some roads and limit the size of signs in front of businesses.
He surprised Tuesday's lunchtime crowd at one of Clearwater's longtime watering holes, O'Keefe's on S Fort Harrison Avenue, where he found the usual comfortable mix of customers — doctors and nurses from the medical facilities that surround the tavern, government workers from the county and city offices down the street, blue-collar workers from area service businesses.
When Obama left the restaurant, he would have caught a glimpse of rolling golf courses before pulling into one of the county's most treasured historic landmarks, the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa, where he is staying for a few days to prepare for his scheduled debate against John McCain in Mississippi on Friday night. The hotel is looking a little rough on the exterior right now, Senator Obama. Be sure to come back after it gets restored — work that is scheduled despite the problems in the national economy.
As he traveled to Dunedin's Knology Park on Wednesday for a jam-packed political rally, Obama could have seen glimpses of some North Pinellas neighborhoods where struggle is a part of daily life. Those who never had much to begin with have even less these days. And it isn't just those folks. We're learning about hard times here in the Tampa Bay area, senator. Unemployment is rising, businesses are going under, and we have a lot of homes that are empty and unsold or in foreclosure. We the people need some help from you the leaders.
Yes, there is trouble in our country, but the crowd at Knology Park was big and loud and enthusiastic. A local historian says Dunedin hasn't been visited by a presidential candidate since Alf Landon in 1936, so thank you for coming. Hope you got to drive through downtown Dunedin before you left. You've probably heard this a few dozen times already, but the city is called Delightful Dunedin because it is.
Did you enjoy our beautiful weather on Wednesday? Since the temperature was in the mid 80s, you probably didn't realize that there was a hint of fall in the air. It was breezy, and the sun has lost some of its midsummer intensity. We call this good beach weather. (Does the Secret Service ever let you out to play?)
So, enjoy the rest of your visit. And whether you win the presidency or not, don't be a stranger. There's a lot more about Pinellas County we could show you.
Oh, and John McCain, come on down. The weather's fine.
Diane Steinle's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.