MANVILLE – The first thing that strikes you upon coming into town are the piles of debris – all types of it – stacked on the sidewalk of Main Street awaiting pick-up.
And then, there’s the shell of the Saffron Banquet Hall, which burned to the ground in the aftermath of last week’s floods. In a perverse predicament, the problem was water as floods prevented firefighters from getting to the scene.
It was this blue collar and Republican leaning Somerset County town that Joe Biden chose to visit today.
Elected officials visiting disaster sites is always a mixed bag politically.
Critics say it’s just a photo-op.
Pete Jarema sat on a chair on South Main Street this morning and said just that.
“He can come here all he wants,” said Jarema, who was proud of the Grateful Dead T-shirt he was wearing and also quick to talk about how he voted last fall.
Not for Biden or Trump, but for “legalized weed.”
As for the president, Jarema said, “I don’t know him, he doesn’t know me.”
A bit later, a man waiting for Biden to arrive outside Central Jersey Regional Airport called the visit a waste of money; he mentioned police overtime.
Then again, if a president, governor, whoever eschews such a visit, they run the risk of being called indifferent to human suffering. Recall how George W. Bush was criticized for not walking the streets of New Orleans after Katrina.
Around the corner from where Jarema held forth, Sam Ighohardo, an immigrant from Nigeria by way of New York City, said he liked the idea of Biden visiting. He said flood water kept him out of his home for two days.
Could be, but we live in a divided country.
About a hundred or so Trump supporters saw the event as a great opportunity to rally against Biden.
Waving signs, some of which were obscene, the group at first set up outside a CVS on South Main.
Interestingly, of the handful of people I spoke to, all were from out of town. I conversed with people from Mount Olive, Ogdensburg, Bridgewater and Belle Mead. But none from Manville.
As is always the case with this sort of thing, this was a passionate group.
They waved flags supporting Trump and held signs castigating Biden and claiming, of course, that Trump “won” the election.
Soon, some members of the group moved to the entrance of the airport.
This was more of a diverse crowd.
Some were Biden supporters; others just wanted to see a president, as limited as that view was destined to be.
As the Trump contingent waved their flags and shouted insults, one woman, who said she was an independent, lamented the display of vitriol.
She said the president of the United States deserved respect even if you disagree with him.
Biden’s Marine One helicopter landed shortly after 11 a.m. Soon thereafter, his extensive motorcade rumbled past the crowd outside the airport.
This prompted picture taking by some and a torrent of shouted curses and obscenities from the Trump crowd.