Sen. Obamas Visit Affects U. Nevada-Reno Activity

This story was written by Jessica Estepa, Sagebrush


One week ago, many classes were canceled. Thousands stood in lines that wrapped from Mackay Stadium to John Mackays statue. Roads were closed and cars were re-routed. A small section of the quad was crowded with dozens of reporters, photographers and videographers.

It was all for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obamas visit to the University of Nevada-Reno. About 12,000 people attended the senators speech, according to Reno Fire Marshal Bill Burney and university officials.

Though Obamas speech lasted for almost 40 minutes, his visit affected different parts of campus life, from venue planning to university police being stationed around the university to students running late to class, for several days.

Plans for the event began Sept. 25, five days before the speech, when the campaign determined that Obama would return to Reno for his second visit since August. Obamas attempt to win Nevada contributed to the decision, campaign spokesman Jeff Giertz said.

Washoe County is the swing county in a swing state, Giertz said. Whichever way Washoe tips, so tips the state.

He said the campaign was looking at several different venues, but settled on UNR because of Obamas strength in winning over young voters.

We want to motivate and educate voters, he said. It just made sense to go to UNR. We wanted to do something to show students how important they are and to get voter registration up.

The campaign then made arrangements with the university to bring the senator to campus. Ray Needham, scheduling services coordinator for the university, said the university has a standing committee that deals with political events on campus. The committee typically deals with the events venue and contacts other departments that may be affected by the event.

While several campus locations were considered, the university and campaigned decided on the quad because of its size and location. Though Obama could have spoken at Lawlor Events Center or Mackay Stadium, the size of the event would have looked different, Needham said.

Twelve thousand people on the quad looks different than 12,000 at Lawlor or at the football field, he said.

After a location is chosen, the campaign handles most of the arrangements, Needham said.

Giertz said the national campaign sends an advance team, which travels to every place Obama speaks at days before the event, to set up staging, barricades, a media area and a sound system.

The University of Nevada-Reno Police Department worked with the Secret Service and other local offices on security issues, Cmdr. Todd Renwick of UNRPD said. While the Secret Service brought in its own bomb squad and secured the area, UNRPD prepared for crowd control.

Renwick said UNRPD has an agreement with other police agencies in Northern Nevada to assist each other at political events. The agencies include the Washoe County Sheriffs Office, the Reno Police Department and Nevada Highway Patrol.

On the day Obama spoke, Renwick said there werent any major security concerns, aside from helping with a few medical incidents where people fainted.

It was a success, considering all of the commotion going on, he said.

While thousands of spectators filed through a line that reached back to Mackay Stadium, some students and professors made an effort to continue their regular Tuesday routines.

The heightened security on south campus led to students being late to class, and in one case, a student missing her quiz.

Christina Signoretti said the route she takes to her geography class was completely blocked off that morning. She ended up getting ito the line for the event while trying to find a way to her class.

I knew Obama was coming, but I thought Id still be able to get to class, said Signoretti, a 19-year-old business major. I ended up missing a quiz because I had to walk around everything. I think better planning on everyones part could have prevented some of the chaos.

Professor Kris Hansen said he canceled his English class that morning because he was told the Frandsen Humanities building would be locked. Because he wasnt notified of the event until the day before, he said he wasnt able to prepare for the event or give directions to his students about potential campus closures.

But despite some of the confusion people faced, political science professor Eric Herzik said the event was a rare opportunity to show the campus-wide enthusiasm for politics. Though candidates have spoken on campus weeks before the general election both Sens. John Edwards and John Kerry spoke on campus during their run in 2004 people seemed more excited for the Illinois senator, he said.

People stood in line for a long time, he said. They got up early to wait for (Obama). Even non-Democrats showed up. It shows the magnitude.

Herzik said to expect another presidential event to come to Reno and possibly UNR before Nov. 4.

College campuses are a fertile ground for the Obama campaign, he said. The McCain camp will most likely be back in town, too. Its going to be a busy month.
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