Ordinary People Guests of Clintons, Gores
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Michael Querico, Bob Shannon and Demitrios Theofanis were more than just faces in the crowd to candidate Bill Clinton. They were special, memorable, inspiring.
Today, President-elect Clinton sat down to a ″Faces of Hope″ luncheon with Querico, Shannon, Theofanis and 50 other Americans who, in one way or another, touched the candidate during his presidential campaign
They each are on a five-day, all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, including a tour of the capital in its inaugural splendor. They had special seats at Sunday afternoon’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial and will sit up front at the inauguration and parade. Each brought along a guest.
Bruce Hornsby played piano and sang ″That’s Just the Way It Is″ at the Shakespeare Folger Library luncheon. During the main course of grilled tenderloin of beef and jumbo shrimp, Clinton went from table to table, greeting each guest, chatting and posing for pictures.
Querico, 32, of Worcester, Mass., teaches a required high school course on AIDS at Worcester Academy. During a Clinton campaign stop in Boston, Querico walked up to the candidate and announced that he was gay and had tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Clinton clasped his hand for five minutes and discussed the disease with him, Querico said. Clinton, he said, ″has done more for the anti-AIDS campaign as a candidate than President Bush did in four years.″
The 53 ″Faces of Hope″ from 30 states were invited, along with one family member or friend, to spend inaugural week in Washington as the guests of Clinton and Vice President-elect Al Gore.
Some cried and others were stunned into silence at the invitation, but none refused, said John Doorlay of the Presidential Inaugural Committee. All remembered the moment they had met either Bill, Al, Hillary or Tipper on the campaign trail.
And the Clintons and Gores remembered them.
Benjamin Edwards of Philadelphia was homeless when he met Clinton - a meeting that resulted in a janitorial job offered by a local businessman.
Ricky Mullins, 37, of Parsons, Tenn., wrote both President Bush and Clinton when he lost his job after his company moved to El Salvador. Mullins ended up at a televised town meeting in Nashville with Clinton, Gore and TV talk show host Phil Donahue.
Patricia Wetzel of Arlington, Texas, who tested positive for HIV after an accidental needle prick, is one of the ″Faces″ here this week. And the Ray family of Orlando, Fla., whose 15-year-old hemophiliac son Ricky died of AIDS last month, a few weeks after Clinton had talked to him by phone, also are attending.
Other faces include a labor leader, a disabled veteran, a librarian, a 3- year-old girl who hopped on Gore’s lap, several people who overcame physical infirmities to campaign for the Democrats, two former gang leaders and a high school student who discovered a bomb just before a Gore rally.
Shannon, an inner-city football coach from Ferguson, Mo., gave Clinton and Gore and pep talk during a campaign stop in Missouri.
″They kinda liked my philosophy because we don’t look for reasons to fail; we look for reasons to succeed,″ said Shannon, calling the trip to Washington a ″once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.″
The inaugural committee and private corporations are sharing the costs of the five-day stay. Bloomingdales is providing tuxedos or gowns - at an estimated total cost of $100,000. The tuxedos are rented, but the women get to keep the gowns.
USAir committed $200,000 to fly the faces to Washington, said spokesman Susan Young. The longest journey was by Pona Tiedmann, 29, of Honolulu, mother of four children under 6.
Finding all the faces in the crowds was lengthy task, Doorlay said.
The hardest to find - and the last to be invited - was Theofanis, a banquet waiter Clinton encountered in a New York hotel kitchen. Clinton remembered that the man was Greek-American and had told him he came to America to be free, but that his son couldn’t be free from street violence.
A little detective work finally tracked down the 46-year-old Theofanis, lives in Queens, N.Y., with his wife and two sons, 10 and 11.
″We’re very honored,″ said Tina Theofanis. ″But I think I understand it. We’re the common people, and there’s hope for us.″