Vice President Biden holding town hall meeting in Minn.by Ambar Espinoza, Minnesota Public Radio
Vice President Joe Biden visits St. Cloud today to focus on how the federal stimulus package will help the middle class. He'll get feedback from central Minnesotans at a town hall-style meeting.
St. Cloud, Minn. — St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis is a Republican, yet he's excited to welcome the Democratic vice president to his city.
"It's nice that the vice president is flying right into St. Cloud," Kleis said. "He'll have a town hall meeting here allowing the public to ask questions. It's a very important task force.
"Also, I think it's important to have the second meeting in Minnesota, but more particularly in St. Cloud. So we're excited to have the vice president here. It's very rare to have those visits."
Kleis said the last time St. Cloud hosted a vice president was in the 1980s, when George Herbert Walker Bush came to town. Kleis said the vice president's visit is a big deal for St. Cloud.
"I am more interested to see what the next phase or the additional dollars in the recovery package and how that translates to the City of St. Cloud and our region," he said.
Kleis doesn't know exactly how much the city of St. Cloud will get from the federal stimulus package, but he does know the city will get money for transportation and public safety. Kleis said he'd like the vice president to minimize the red tape cities have to go through to get that money. He said it would be more efficient to have the federal government distribute that money directly to cities.
But not every Republican is as thrilled as Kleis is about the vice president's visit. Several St. Cloud Republicans said they have no desire to attend Biden's town hall meeting.
But resident Kenneth Williams wants to hear the vice president. Williams is originally from Chicago, and St. Cloud is his new home. He wants to hear how the job market will improve in St. Cloud, particularly for disabled veterans like himself.
"I mean, it's terrible down here, especially for certain veterans that can't work, there are not many programs for veterans out here," Williams said. "You can't get decent housing because you don't make enough, and the way the economy is, you have to make a substantial amount to try to make a decent living here."
Williams said he's disappointed to hear that insurance giant AIG used taxpayer money to pay bonuses to its executives. He wants Biden to address how the Obama Administration will fix that.
Another St. Cloud veteran, Jessie Elliott, shares Williams' concerns. Elliott recently got laid off, and he's looking for a job.
"There's a lot of people out of work and we have concerns about how what are they going to do to strengthen our economy and people losing jobs, losing houses," Elliott said. "It's [happening] all over the country, but if he's in our community speaking, I want to know what he's planning to do to help our community."
Tickets were distributed at the New Flyer of America Bus Company in St. Cloud. The company makes low-emission, alternative-fuel transit buses. According to employees at New Flyer, the 300 tickets that were set aside for the public were gone within 20 minutes. That disappointed several people who showed up to get tickets a short while later.
Ingrid Drekonja, who showed up for a ticket when none were left, said the White House should have made more tickets available.
"They couldn't find a bigger venue somewhere if they know they're running out of space," Drekonja said. "I just wanted to hear him explain how all the things they are putting in place will help the middle class since they have been losing ground steadily."
Those who got tickets will also be able to see Education Secretary Arne Duncan who is accompanying the vice president.
- Morning Edition, 03/19/2009, 7:20 a.m.