Protesters greet McCain during Greenwich visit

Greenwich Post,, April 17, 2008

United States Sen. John McCain of Arizona is looking ahead to what is expected to be an expensive race for the Presidency.

With that in mind, Mr. McCain took a break from the campaign trail last Wednesday to visit Belle Haven for a private fund-raiser. Tickets cost $2,300 a person, and interaction with Mr. McCain at the reception, which was held at the Belle Haven Club, cost an extra $1,000. While some happily paid for the opportunity to rub elbows with the Republican nominee, the greeting he got outside wasn’t all friendly.

Mr. McCain’s motorcade was greeted by close to 30 labor and anti-war protesters gathered outside Belle Haven, a gated community. The protesters, who decried the senator’s support for continuing the war in Iraq and his opposition to universal health care, carried signs and shouted out, “Hey! Hey! What do you say? How about you raise our pay!” and “What do we want? Peace, health care and jobs!”

The protest was organized by Connecticut AFL-CIO President John Olsen, who said he wanted to make sure people saw the impact of the policies Mr. McCain supports.

“Everyone talks about how John McCain is a hero and he’s this and he’s that, but these are the people who are struggling right now, and we want their message to get out there,” Mr. Olsen told the Post during the protest. “We’ve got a war going on right now that’s sucking us dry, and he turns around and now he’s for tax cuts for the rich.

“He hangs around with the hedge fund people here but he won’t meet with the people who can’t afford to live in Greenwich and have to live in the Bronx and can’t afford to pay for the gas to drive here.... He wants to tax our health care. That’s his answer to that. What does he want to do about the war? He wants to stay there 100 years, and we can’t afford to stay there.”

Several unions, including teachers, laborers, construction workers, and pipe fitters unions, had representatives at the protest, as did anti-war groups and the Alliance for Retired Americans. Kevin Lynch drove from West Hartford to represent the alliance because of Mr. McCain’s stance in favor of privatization of Social Security.

“That’s scaring retirees to death,” Mr. Lynch said. “Half the retirees would be in poverty if not for Social Security. If it’s privatized, there are going to be tremendous cuts. That’s been demonstrated by numerous fiscal analyses when President Bush first proposed this.”

Cynthia Tun, a teachers’ union member, traveled from Watertown for the protest to voice her opposition to Mr. McCain’s candidacy. She particularly took offense to comments he made in January that having a 100-year presence in Iraq would be “fine with me.”

“McCain needs to understand that a hundred years of war makes it impossible for teachers or anyone who is in the middle class to survive,” Ms. Tun said. “How can we afford $4 a gallon in gas and increasing prices in food and expect to support a billion dollars a day in the war costs?

Mr. McCain did have support outside the event, both from those planning to vote for him in November and those a few years away from being eligible. Ryan Jeffrey, 8, and his 11-year-old sisters Charlotte and Isabelle, watched the protest from their front lawn and held up signs in support for the senator. Their mother, Laurie, said it was the kids’ idea to make the signs.

“They were excited he was coming, they saw the crowd and they decided they should have an equal voice,” Ms. Jeffrey said. “They wanted to just go out there and say, ‘We support John McCain.’”

Joe Romano was also there for Mr. McCain. He has been a volunteer for the senator’s 2000 and 2008 runs for the White House, and though he didn’t attend the fund-raiser, he was there to show his support among the throng of protesters.

“He’s an honest guy,” Mr. Romano said. “He’s not going to go to one group and pander to them and go to another group and say what they want to hear. People like what he stands for and his background. Unfortunately, we’re in this war, but he’s the best man to get us out. You can’t just get up and leave. We’d lose all credibility in the Middle East, and Sen. McCain has the right approach.”

Members of the press were not allowed at the event, and the McCain campaign did not release fund-raising totals resulting from the event.

“Sen. McCain had a successful trip to Greenwich and he enjoys a lot of support in the area,” Crystal Benson, a campaign spokeswoman, told the Post Tuesday.

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