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Thursday, February 25, 2010 - 8:38am

Obama To Visit Savannah

Updated: 4 years ago.
YouthBuild students dig out a foundation for a new home in West Savannah. Students work in the morning and study in the afternoon. This is the fifth home YouthBuild has worked on in Savannah. The program has built three new homes and renovated a fourth. The program has received federal stimulus funds. (photo Orlando Montoya)

President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Savannah next week on Tuesday.

It'll be the city's first Presidential visit in nearly six years.

The President is expected to highlight jobs and the economy.

Although Barack Obama narrowly lost Georgia to John McCain in the last election, the Democrat got 57% of Chatham County's vote.

Much of that support came from Savannah's majority black population.

At the city's Black Heritage Festival last weekend, the president's popularity was on display.

In the Civic Center, tucked between a creole shrimp vendor and an artist, a man selling all things Obama hardly had a free moment.

Christine Boyd-Bassette bought two calendars, one of the President for her office and one of the First Lady for her kitchen.

"I wanted a visible reminder and a presence of the President and First Lady in my home," Boyd-Bassette says.

Others walked away with Obama T-shirts, framed pictures and books.

Like many of them, Boyd-Bassette, a nurse, said, she hopes Obama's visit will focus the President's mind on jobs.

"I would like for him to see the economic conditions, to look at where some of those stimulus dollars have been sent," Boyd-Bassette says.

And she is sure to get her wish.

The White House says, the Presidential visit is part of a so-called Main Street tour of areas hit hard by the Recession.

He'll also visit Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Savannah's 8.4% percent unemployment isn't as high as in the industrial northeast, but it is biting for those surrounded by persistent poverty.

Among them is 17-year-old Octavius Hill.

He's busy digging out a foundation for a new house in a run-down neighborhood.

"It'd be a great deal if I could just shake his hand one time," says Hill.

Hill is employed thanks to the economic stimulus package.

The high school drop-out is working toward his G.E.D.

He's in a program Obama could highlight here called YouthBuild.

It uses government funds to build homes with young adults as the workers.

Program supervisor Ronald Hamilton says, the goal is to prevent a future in povery.

"What we do, we transform lives and neighborhoods," Hamilton says. "We transform the lives of our students by helping them get to the point where they are responsible citizens."

YouthBuild has built three new homes here.

The program received $792,000 in stimulus funds.

Other stimulus items Obama could highlight include a long-delayed highway project now set for spring construction and dredging for ships and boats.

Chatham County Republican Chairman Frank Murray says, he disagrees with the President's debt-spending ways, but respects the office of the President enough to try to see Obama.

"I think it's good that any President comes to town," Murray says. "And I'd like to be there because I'd like to ask some questions."

For Democrats, the Presidential visit is sparking a wave of questions as to how one can see the man himself.

Those details are expected in a few days.

One person who shouldn't have any trouble getting a front-row seat is State Senator Lester Jackson.

It was his persistent requests that led to the Savannah visit.

He's the first Savannah-area representative on the Democratic National Committee since the 1990's.

"It says that the President isn't concerned about the state of Georgia being a red state," Jackson says. "He's not concerned about red states or blue states."

Jackson hopes to get Obama's ear on jobs and health care.

And in the unlikely scenario that the President wants to ditch all that policy and political talk and just have a Savannah moment for a few hours?

Jackson has an idea.

"I would take him to the Savannah State University gymnasium and have a two-on-two basketball game with him and his Chief of Staff with my brother Arnold Jackson and see who has the better game," he jokes.

President Obama loves basketball.

Whether his Savannah visit is a political slam dunk or bad shot won't be known until the next election.

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