7,000 cheer Clinton at Pa. college town


KUTZTOWN, Pa. -- President Clinton brought his ambitious plans to offer tax cuts for education and job retraining to a sympathetic setting yesterday -- a small-town, working-class college campus.

Addressing an enthusiastic crowd at Kutztown University, the president spent part of his 25-minute speech playing the role of professor. Competing in a global economy "that moves at lightning speed," Mr. Clinton said, has resulted in most Americans working longer hours for less money -- and with less job security.

"All these changes are great if you can always get a new job," he added. "But if you're the one losing the job, the change doesn't look very good."

The solution, Mr. Clinton said, is "education for all of our people," and for seeing education as "a lifetime project."

To help achieve that result, Mr. Clinton outlined some of the details in his proposed "middle-class bill of rights": to make tax deductible up to $10,000 in college and vocational school tuition and to merge about 60 federal job-training programs into a single "skill grant" that would go directly to a person who is being retrained for another field.

"I want all of you to help me do this for you," Mr. Clinton told the cheering audience of 7,000 jammed into the college gymnasium. "Will you do that? I need you."

The speech and a private round-table discussion the president held with business people were intended, White House officials said, as a follow-up to Tuesday's State of the Union speech.

It was the first of what is expected to be a series of rallies and speeches around the nation devoted to bolstering the themes Mr. Clinton outlined in that address.

In addition, about two dozen Cabinet officers and high-ranking Clinton administration officials were dispatched around the country yesterday to highlight aspects of Mr. Clinton's plans.

The president is convinced that his record of the past two years -- and his ideas for the next two -- are beneficial to the middle class and that voters familiar with his agenda will rally behind him.

White House officials professed to be pleased with the Tuesday night's address and said they hope the speech, coupled with follow-up events in the ensuing weeks, will give the administration momentum.

"The president hit the principal themes that he believes are most important for Congress and the country to focus on," Vice President Al Gore told a group of reporters in Washington yesterday.

Citing instant polls that indicated public approval of Mr. Clinton's remarks, Mr. Gore added: "Whenever the president has an opportunity to speak directly to the American people, without being filtered and spun, the response is extremely positive, because people have a chance to hear it directly from the president."

But a foul-up over tickets yesterday left hundreds, perhaps thousands, of students and Kutztown residents angry and disappointed after being turned away at the door -- despite having tickets for the event and having waited up to five hours in subfreezing weather.

Officials in the presidential advance team were vague about the source of the foul-up, but one Kutztown University representative said that the White House instructed them to print thousands of extra tickets to make sure that the president "got a good crowd."

"It's so unfair," said Mary Alice Dries, a 63-year-old Kutztown resident who waited in line -- with a ticket -- since 7:45 a.m. for the 12:15 p.m. address.

Bill and Dorothy Fox, a Kutztown couple also in their 60s, waited in line twice -- the first time, from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. Monday, to get tickets. They, too, were turned away.

Mr. Fox, holding his crumpled Clinton/Gore bumper sticker in his hand, said, "I came prepared -- but what's the point?"

"I'm going to take this worthless ticket and mail it to Bill Clinton and tell him what happened here," Mrs. Fox added.

Students who had waited in line for hours, watched as adults and hundreds of elementary school children -- some bused in from out-of-state -- were waved into the hall until state police ordered it closed.

Those who did get in were pleased. "I think he's a great president," said Mike Sharadino, 21, a biology major. "He's right to want to make college tuition more affordable."

Even some students who didn't to hear the president couldn't be discouraged by his visit to this community 50 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

"That's our sign," shouted a group of female students. "Don't forget us!"

Their sign read: "Bill, Bill, He's our man. If he can't put Kutztown on the map, nobody can."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad