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Aldermen catch Obama and Mays at Lambert -- from a distance

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 14, 2009 - President Barack Obama cut an unlikely figure as commander in chief Tuesday afternoon when he descended Air Force One in jeans. The president also appeared to be focused less on the small group of airport greeters than on the older man at his side: baseball great Willie Mays.

Obama took Mays' arm and helped him descend the stairs from the plane's door to the tarmac, where the two then slid into a waiting limousine. The entourage of limos, vans of reporters, Secret Service agents -- and an open jeep with sharpshooters -- then traveled on to Busch Stadium.

Five St. Louis city aldermen had shown up at Lambert, along with a handful of others -- such as a local aunt of a Secret Service agent -- who were lucky enough to stand in the "pen'' with reporters and photographers a few hundred feet from where Air Force One touched down. 

A White House advance man had forewarned the group ahead of time that there was a remote chance that the president might walk over to shake hands and visit.

Then again, maybe not.

Obama stayed with Mays. But that didn't bother or disappoint St. Louis Alderman Kacie Starr Triplett, D-6th Ward, who was among those snapping away with their cameras -- even though the distance and late-afternoon light was such that it was hard to distinguish the president and Mays from some members of the presidential staff. (My camera can testify to that.)

"This is my first experience (watching a president arrive at Lambert),'' said Triplett. "How great it is to live in America and see this in my home city. It's a blessing to see that."

Even after the presidential caravan was long gone, Triplett, Alderman Samuel Moore, D-4th Ward; and Alderman Joe Vaccaro, D-23rd Ward, were among those who took their time standing at the edge of the "pen's" plastic fence. They took photos of each other with the famed plane behind them -- at a distance.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.