Folks hanging out at Caffe Paradiso on the University of Illinois campus knew something was up Friday afternoon.
A throng of media flooded in from the heavy rain and crowded along a side wall. Handlers scurried around, getting everyone in place.
“Hey, people!” former President Barack Obama walked in and yelled, his light blue shirt sprinkled with rain.
Customers gasped then cheered.
“I hear there’s pretty good food here.”
The coffee shop appearance was part of a campaign stop Obama made alongside Democratic governor candidate J.B. Pritzker and running mate Juliana Stratton. The three greeted surprised students and local residents for about 40 minutes, continuing the theme of his morning speech at Foellinger Auditorium: Vote in the Nov. 6 election.
Obama’s speech earlier was a clear and rare rebuke from the former president against what he called the “politics of fear” from his successor, President Donald Trump, and the Republican Party. He called the November election the most important in his lifetime, saying the future of the nation’s democracy depended on people exercising their right to vote.
Cafe owner Young Jeon said one of Pritzker’s representatives told her someone important would be visiting her cafe on the east side of the campus, but she was stunned to find out it was the former president.
She then texted the news to her son and one of her daughters, who came sprinting over to take pictures.
Even afterward, as the president glad-handed customers, she was at a loss for words.
“My whole family is a big fan of Obama,” Jeon said. “It was such an honor. So cool.”
Jeon and one of her daughters, Dana Yun, served the president a hot black tea with honey and lemon and delivered green teas for Pritzker and Stratton. The president also grabbed a slice of tiramisu to go.
Lauren Uy and Mia Kim, both sophomores, unsuccessfully tried to get tickets to Obama’s speech. They decided to stop at Paradiso after getting lunch and, instead, got to meet the president in person.
Pritzker offered to take their photo with Obama, and they excitedly sat at their table to compare the shots on their phones.
“I didn’t even know what to say,” said Uy, 19. “He’s such an inspiration and it was such an honor meeting him. I can’t stop shaking.”
Obama next is scheduled to stump for House candidates Saturday in Orange County, Calif. In brief remarks, Pritzker said Democrats are committed to vociferously supporting one another’s bids for office.
“Our party is united, up and down the ticket,” Pritzker said. “Everywhere we go, local Democratic officials come.”
He then took a swipe at his opponent, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
“On the Republican side here in Illinois, Gov. Rauner just barely won his own primary. His primary opponent still has not endorsed him,” Pritzker said, referring to state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton. “There are an awful lot of other Republicans that have not joined together with him.
“I think we’re seeing that Democrats are fired up. Democrats are ready to go.”
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September 7, 2018 at 05:00PM