Patience advised for Obama attendees

Bernard Schoenburg

People planning to attend the opening of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s pre-convention appearance in Springfield on Saturday should be ready to be patient.

“We’re going to be very patient, and we ask that they do the same,” said Eric Pingolt, Secret Service resident-agent-in-charge for an 85-county region of downstate Illinois. “We’re going to get people into the event, but it’s going to be in a secure manner.”

Obama and his still-unnamed vice presidential nominee will speak at the Old Capitol State Historic Site sometime after noon Saturday, the start of a “battleground states” tour preceding the Democratic National Convention, which starts Monday in Denver.

Uniformed members of the Secret Service will man metal detectors at the entry point to the event, which will be at Seventh and Washington streets. Streets will be closed off a block away from the Old Capitol.

The setup will be the same as on Feb. 10, 2007, when Obama announced his campaign for the presidency, Pingolt said. Obama and his apparent running mate will speak from a stage outside the southeast corner of the building.

The Obama campaign said Thursday the event will go on at the Old Capitol, rain or shine. And the forecast for Saturday calls for about a 50 percent chance of the former.

The security entrance will open at noon, and Sangamon County Democratic Chairman Tim Timoney, in a message to local Democrats, said that, as of Thursday, Obama’s speech was set to begin about 2 p.m.

Pingolt said that if he were a member of the public wanting access to the event, “I would start coming around 11.”

Metal detectors will be employed, and Pingolt said attendees should use common sense.

“We recommend bringing as little as possible,” Pingolt said. “No large purses. No backpacks. As simple as it can be.

“I understand people are going to bring their little cameras,” he added. “That’s fine. Our main concern is large umbrellas, backpacks, large purses.”

Personnel working the metal detectors will have some leeway, as in the case of someone who has a medical situation calling for certain equipment.

“If we deem something that looks like it could be used as a potential weapon … it won’t get in,” he said.

Among specifics:

--“If you’ve got a little roll-up umbrella,” he said, that opens by push-button, “we’re not so worried about those,” but large umbrellas with metal tips will not be allowed.

--He believes water will be provided within the confines of the event area. Asked if people should bring bottled water, he said, “I would say no.” He said security personnel would have to determine what liquid is actually in a bottle, and “in today’s age” that can create a security issue.

--The size of purse to be allowed is a matter of common sense, he said.

“If you’ve got a clutch purse that’s holding some money and your driver’s license,” he said, that would be OK.

“The big carryon bags, the large purses, the backpacks … create problems for us, slows the process and makes people unhappy.”

While the Secret Service is the lead security agency, he said, local and state agencies are all coordinating their efforts.

Pingolt stressed that if anyone sees anything out of the ordinary, they should contact local police or another law enforcement agency. The word will then quickly get from those agencies to the Secret Service, he said.

“Even if they think it may be nothing, we would love to have a call,” Pingolt said.

Bernard Schoenburg can be reached

Police not worried about festival, Obama at the same time

By Bruce Rushton

SPRINGFIELD -- With Barack Obama coming to town Saturday, you’d think the last thing Springfield police need is a blues-and-barbecue jamboree set for the same place and time.

You’d be wrong.

“It’s actually a pleasant surprise,” Police Chief Ralph Caldwell said Thursday. “It’s kind of neat to have a festival in downtown Springfield at the same time (as Obama’s visit).”

Downtown’s annual Old Capitol Blues & BBQs festival aside, Saturday won’t be the first time Springfield police have handled large crowds and accompanying security concerns inevitable during a presidential — or presidential hopeful — visit.

Besides President George W. Bush’s appearance three years ago at the dedication of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, local police handled Obama’s announcement of his candidacy at the Old State Capitol last year. Caldwell pointed out that both events went off with no trouble.

Caldwell also said the crowd expected for Obama’s appearance and the festival doesn’t constitute an all-hands event for police.

“We won’t be canceling any days off,” Caldwell said.

Just how many Democrats, barbecue aficionados, blues fans and assorted other onlookers will show up won’t be known until Saturday, if then — no tickets are required, so crowd estimates will be guesses.

When Obama announced his candidacy on Feb. 10, 2007, event organizers and police said 15,000 to 17,000 people showed up. However, a State Journal-Register analysis based on crowd photographs supported a figure closer to 10,000.

Although the blues event will go on as scheduled, Downtown Springfield Inc. has canceled the farmers’ market usually held every Saturday on Adams Street between Third and Fifth streets.

DSI executive director Victoria Clemons blamed uncertainty about traffic. Vendors travel as long as two hours to sell their wares, Clemons said, and no one wants them stuck in traffic jams.

Bruce Rushton can be reached at (217) 788-1542


Members of the public can enter the Old Capitol area through a security entrance at Seventh and Washington streets starting at noon Saturday. The Secret Service recommends people “start coming about 11 a.m.”

A handicapped-accessible gate will be set up just north of the main security entrance, on Seventh between Washington and Jefferson streets.

No admission tickets are required.

Metal detectors will be in use.


--Small cameras

--Clutch purses

--Small roll-up umbrellas


--Large umbrellas with metal tips

--Backpacks, large purses, other large bags

--Bottled water or bottled liquids of any kind

--Signs or banners (some signs will be available once people have passed the security checkpoint).


--Fifth Street from Jefferson to Monroe streets

--Sixth Street from Jefferson to Monroe streets

--Washington Street from Fourth to Seventh streets

Closures begin at 6 p.m. Friday, according to Downtown Springfield Inc.