When I was in high school back in the late 1970s, I remember making the 15-minute trek with a group of classmates from Edison to New Brunswick to witness a motorcade visit from then-president Jimmy Carter. It was a WOW moment for me and other New Jerseyans as we watched the 39th POTUS smile and waved to us. The moment was such a big deal that a picture of a toothy President Carter flanked by Secret Service agents was published in the local newspapers, and more importantly, my high school yearbook! It was the first time I saw a POTUS live and in person. Little did I know at the time that it would not be the last time.
Fast forward 20 or so years later, and there I was, sitting in the media/press box of a nationally televised press conference by then-President Bill Clinton in Kansas City, Mo. I was flanked by other journalists, including then a little-known journalist named Harris Faulkner. Faulkner, a moderate conservative, and by some accounts, a broadcast diva, has since gone on to become an anchor at FOX NEWS. I watched Bill Clinton give a speech and respond to a series of questions. Clinton was a frequent visitor to KC. During a group interview with fellow journalists, I recall him mentioning that he enjoyed visiting Kansas City—especially chowing down o barbecue—a hallmark of the city. I recall seeing Clinton several other times during press events during his tenure as president.
It would be a decade or so before I would see another POTUS live and in person. The year was 2007, and it was back home in the metro New York/New Jersey area, and it was Barack Obama. He made a campaign swing through the metro area, and I was assigned to cover it. I recall shouting out a question or two to the future POTUS. I just remember being thrilled to be part of the press corps covering the historic run for president by an African American man. After he won, I went on a frenzy of writing story after story about him and covering some of his speeches and activities throughout his eight-year tenure. I recall when he visited a popular and long-time eatery in my hometown of Edison—Tastee Subs. I was part of the press team covering the 2016 Democratic National Convention (DNC)) in Philadelphia. I watched as he delivered a powerful and all-supportive speech to then-candidate Hilary Clinton.
During that time, I was assigned to cover and report on events in Atlantic City. The so-called gambling mecca of the East Coast and home of the multi-million dollar Trump Plaza Casino and Hotel. Of course, I was pretty familiar with the Trump name–having grown up in the metro area and see the Trump clan splashed on the front pages of the local, regional and national newspapers. Donald Trump and his family were featured on the local nightly newscasts. However, my memories of covering the then future POTUS in Atlantic City are not particularly good ones—i.e., accusations of discrimination and racism from employees, vendors, and patrons at the resort; allegations of violations of eminent domain laws. And stories of multiple and subsequent bankruptcy filings abounded. I recall shouting out a question or two to the future POTUS during a press conference or briefing. I don’t remember if he responded.
At any rate, the 2020 election is just days away. While it remains to be seen if I will add the name of Joe Biden to the list of presidents’ I have covered, I laugh and chuckle at how I have evolved during my near 40-year presidential pilgrimage. I’ve transitioned from an Afro wearin’ high school journalism student covering a visit by Jimmy Carter in 1979–to follicle challenged, card-carrying member of AARP and the national press corps. What’s the adage, you’ve come a long, baby?!? Remember to vote!