When Mayor Gabe Campana went to work at City Hall on Friday, January 19th, the last thing he was expecting was an invitation to visit the President at the White House. Yet, the phone rang, and the offer was extended to be one of 75 mayors from around the nation to meet with President Trump the following Wednesday, January 24th.
The invited mayors were Republican and Democrats, from cities large and small. What they had in common was that these mayors had popped up on the radar as being heads of cities that are growing and developing. It was these mayors that the President wanted to share his new infrastructure plan before hopping on Air Force One to fly to Switzerland to attend the World Economic Forum at Davos.
An audience with the President of the United States in the East Room of the White House is an experience that deserves recounting. On the appointed day and hour, Mayor Campana arrived at the Visitor’s Gate, showed his invitation and his identification and then went through THREE metal detectors before being cleared. Unfortunately, the “Key to the City of Williamsport” he intended to give President Trump was confiscated by the Secret Service who said they would give it to the president. (The next Williamsport mayor invited to the White House should bring along a ‘concealed carry’ license to go along with a key to the city.)
Walking along the hallway toward the historic East Room, Mayor Campana’s first impressions were of the impeccable woodwork and the immaculate cleanliness and freshness of everything in sight. It all looked very, very clean and bright. The White House is an incredibly beautiful and majestic building, and it drips with history. Along the hallway were the official paintings of the past presidents and the first ladies. (Campana could not resist getting a picture next to the Reagan portrait). As Mayor Campana walked into the East Room itself, he immediately saw large murals of George and Martha Washington. There were reminders everywhere that this is the place, as much as anywhere in America, which represents our heritage, history, and values.
Mayor Campana sat down near the end of the second row. The diversity of the group was
represented by the fact that sitting on one side of Campana was the Cuban-American mayor of Miami, Tomás Pedro Regalado and on the other side was Vi Lyles, Charlotte, North Carolina’s first African-American female mayor. Sitting in the front row, by herself, was Kellyanne Conway. Gabe Campana decided to take advantage of the moment, and popped up and introduced himself to her as mayor of the “great city of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, the home of Little League Baseball.” She asked some questions about Williamsport and Little League and then commented on the baby feet pin on Campana’s coat lapel that symbolizes the Pro-Life Movement. That led to a quick discussion on the March for Life that had been held in Washington just a few days before. It was a brief encounter, but Mayor Campana was amazed how many subjects they were able to touch on so quickly.
Finally — just seven minutes after the 3:30 p.m. scheduled start time — President Trump entered the room. His talk was only sixteen minutes long, but he also can cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. After some introductory remarks, he highlighted many of the areas that he would address at the forthcoming State of the Union Address. President Trump discussed everything from the economy to trade to historically low unemployment rates for minorities, but most importantly, the need to partner with state and local governments to find the most innovative ways to rebuild the roads, bridges, waterways, and airports in our nation. Though he was discussing infrastructure improvements that could top $1.7 trillion (!), he added that there must be added, what he called the, “Very important words — on time and under budget.”
The president had to rush off, but a surprise guest followed — Vice President Mike Pence. He welcomed the mayors and quickly deferred to several cabinet undersecretaries who were there to answer questions. After the Q&A, the mayors were taken through the South Lawn, which is definitely not on the official tour, past the swimming pool and basketball court to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which houses most of the White House staff. Mayor Campana actively engaged all he met, and the Meet and Greet continued till 5:30 p.m., at which time the mayors were finally politely shown the door. The event ended, but there may be some good things that may come out of it in the future.