It was 1992, and America’s home-building industry needed a boost during an economic downturn.
That was the scenario that brought President George H.W. Bush to the Riverside community of Harford County.
“Many families share the dream of owning their own home, but hard times have put a hold on that dream,” President Bush told a crowd of about 150 people. “My aim is to help you get that dream in reach and help the economy.”
Bush, the 41st President of the United States, died Friday at age 94.
He came to the Arborview at Riverside development in Belcamp to tout his plant to stimulate the housing industry through a system of tax credits for first-time homebuyers. As part of his tax proposal, the president was touting a $5,000 tax credit and a provision allowing homebuyers to take up to $10,000 penalty free from individual retirement accounts for a home purchase.
He had given Congress until March 20 to act.
"The American people, I believe, want action," said Bush, wearing a brown leather flight jacket. "I've asked Congress for nothing flashy.”
His 45-minute visit on Feb. 14 of that year — delayed a day because of a snow storm — was billed as a presidential visit, though President Bush was running for re-election that year.
The president arrived by helicopter at Phillips Air Field at Aberdeen Proving Ground just after 1:30 p.m. and was greeted by Republican officials. Bush was driven by motorcade to Belcamp, where he toured a $150,000 single-family model home, then walked to a townhouse development, getting mud on his cowboy boots and chatting with construction workers along the way.
It wasn’t just politicians such as Rep. Helen D. Bentley, Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Harford County Executive Eileen Rehrmann who attended President Bush’s speech. Harford builder Dwight Griffith was in the audience as well.
What Griffith remembers most about the visit are the logistics leading up to it.
“It was three weeks of solid, intense work by the Home Builders Association of Maryland, and the builders organizations he was considering visiting, and the Secret Service visits,” Griffith said.
On the day of the visit, Griffith said, he was “definitely in awe of being at an event with the president and being able to shake his hand.”
He agreed with many of President Bush’s policies, but what Griffith said he respects most about the 41st president is how he carried himself.
“Policy is one thing, who you are as a human being is more important, and George Bush was an incredible human being in my opinion,” said Griffith, who writes a weekly Facebook post for the Griffith Never Give Up Foundation.
Just two days prior to the president’s visit to Belcamp, the Bel Air High School band had played at Bush’s announcement in Washington that he would seek a second term.
The band, under the direction of Wes Lockhart, performed 11 pieces handpicked by the president’s re-election committee to generate enthusiasm. About 1,800 Republicans gathered in a hotel ballroom with First Lady Barbara Bush, Vice President Dan Quayle and his wife, Marilyn, and members of Bush’s cabinet.
“I found myself getting caught up in the enthusiasm,” then 17-year-old trombonist Dave Berndt said.
President Bush wrapped up his 10-minute speech as the Bel Air High band played “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
For Havre de Grace Mayor William T. Martin, President Bush’s death brought back memories — good and bad — of the early 1990s.
“He was always a very dynamic man,” Martin said of the president, lamenting that he didn’t have a second term. “He was one of the last true statesman we had.”
Martin, a history teacher, noted that Bush was the last president to be a World War II veteran. He was a pilot who was shot down in the Pacific. As president, Bush pressed for passage of the American With Disabilities Act, a measure Martin called landmark legislation.
“We refer to it often in making public areas of the city accessible for all people,” Martin said.