SOUTH PORTLAND — The campus of Southern Maine Community College was buzzing with anticipation Thursday as students and others prepared for President Obama’s campaign fundraiser at the HUB Athletic Center this afternoon.
It’s one of two known stops the president will make today, including a 100-person dinner fundraiser at the Portland Museum of Art that drew donations of $5,000 to $30,000 for the president’s re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Police in Portland and South Portland have made plans to handle various traffic and security issues between 4 and 9 p.m., when the presidential motorcade will make its way from the Portland International Jetport to the college, to the museum and back to the jetport.
“I’ll be taking the bus to campus,” said Matthew Monson, a behavioral health student at SMCC who’s looking forward to hearing the president speak but hoping to avoid traffic hassles.
Monson, 28, is one of about 1,700 people who are expected to attend the sold-out fundraiser at the college’s gym. He paid $44 for his student ticket; nonstudents paid $100 to attend the general-admission event and $10,000 to have their photo taken with the president afterward. Doors will open at 3 p.m.
At the event, Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine plans to give the president a pair of sneakers made at the New Balance factory in Norridgewock and ask him to push the military to comply with a requirement that service members be outfitted with American-made footwear.
SMCC was able to lease the gym on short notice for today’s special event because the college has been spiffing it up for the May 4 inauguration of its new president, Ronald Cantor, said Kaylene Waindle, dean of advancement. Paint has been touched up. Floors are freshly cleaned.
Campaign workers and event contractors were busy at the gym Thursday, setting up tables, rolling out audiovisual equipment and making other changes needed to covert the gym into a gathering space worthy of the $100 ticket price.
Members of the Secret Service were in the building as well, preparing for the president’s visit.
The owners and employees of Transformit in Gorham were there, installing a decorative tension fabric structure in the rafters of the gym. The tightly stretched swatches of red, white and blue will help absorb sound when the gym is full of people and the president speaks.
College personnel turned away dozens of students and others who arrived throughout the day Thursday, hoping to work out in the gym’s fitness center. The fitness center will be closed until Saturday morning.
Cassandra St. Ours, 18, a criminal justice student at SMCC, was only mildly disappointed that she couldn’t make her usual between-classes visit to the fitness center because of the president’s visit.
“It’s OK,” she said. “I think it’s kind of cool that he’s coming here.”
Campaign workers and contractors will have to make quick work of returning the gym to its usual condition tonight and Saturday morning. A campus open house for prospective students is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
“Our people will be here bright and early Saturday prepping for the open house,” Waindle said.
Demonstrators are expected at both fundraisers, including representatives of Occupy Maine, who are planning to gather in Congress Square, outside the museum, to protest all of the money being spent on the presidential campaigns.
Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:
Streets around the Portland Museum of Art will be closed to pedestrians and motorists today from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. for Obama’s visit. Other closures are expected in South Portland, where he’s speaking earlier in the day. Story, A7