Local

Visit to Blackmon Rd. causes unfamiliar stir

Former U.S. Sen. John Edwards visits with Hope Whitlock in her home during a tour of the Blackmon Road Community on Friday. The presidential hopeful's visit attracted a media contingent larger than any other candidate who has visited York County.
Former U.S. Sen. John Edwards visits with Hope Whitlock in her home during a tour of the Blackmon Road Community on Friday. The presidential hopeful's visit attracted a media contingent larger than any other candidate who has visited York County.

As the horde of reporters accompanying John Edwards made their way down a gravel lane outside Rock Hill on Friday afternoon, it was hard to tell where the photo-op ended and a tour of Blackmon Road began.

A wide-eyed woman in one house looked out in apparent disbelief at the crowd standing in her yard, which had become the setting for a makeshift news conference.

Moments earlier, Edwards toured A Place for Hope, the community center that serves Blackmon Road's 75 residents. The center includes picnic tables, a garden and, unlike most of the nearby homes, running water.

On this day, a handful of volunteers tilled soil and planted flowers in the garden, some at the urging of Edwards campaign staffers who scurried to get them in place before the candidate arrived.

"This is inspiring, seeing the work that's being done in his community by people who care about their neighbors," Edwards said. "A lot of America doesn't understand Americans are living this way."

Though his national campaign appears to be faltering, Edwards' visit attracted a media contingent larger than any other candidate who has traveled to York County this year.

Among the reporters in tow were George Stephanopolous of ABC's "This Week," who stepped out of a black Lincoln town car shortly before Edwards' arrival.

For reporters, the walking tour offered a more compelling visual than the typical candidate speaking in a banquet room. For residents on Blackmon Road, though, the commotion was unlike anything they've experienced.

"It just shook me up to see all these people," said Hope Whitlock, the community's longtime matriarch. "There was a crowd of 'em."

Glover joins tour

Some listeners seemed most excited about seeing actor Danny Glover, an Edwards supporter who tagged along on the visit.

"This is ridiculous, you know what I'm saying?" Glover said as he stood in a front yard. "This is unimaginable. This isn't people living (this way) for a moment. This is their lives."

Despite whatever political benefits the appearance may bring for Edwards, A Place for Hope director Karen McKernan believes it can give Blackmon Road the kind of exposure it needs to get more help.

Others agreed with that view.

"You know, they need publicity to run for president," said Joe Caldwell, who lives on nearby Springdale Road. "But this is a good stop for him. Maybe he has a social conscience. Cameras shine light on situations that need to be brought to the front.

"Maybe you need somebody like him."

Edwards compared what he saw on Blackmon Road to the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, where he declared his candidacy in a neighborhood ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Speaking with reporters during a brief pause on the tour, he brushed aside the notion that his support is slipping. A new Winthrop University/ETV poll shows his support at 9.6 percent behind Hillary Clinton (33 percent) and Barack Obama (22.7 percent). Thirty percent of respondents said they haven't who to support.

"I don't think I was running third the last time at this point," said Edwards, a Seneca native. "As soon as people are reminded that I come from here, and they will be, we'll be fine."

A few minutes later, Edwards climbed into the front seat of a minivan and rode away. Whitlock and her neighbors returned to their homes, and one of the more unusual days in Blackmon Road's existence came to an end.

WEB EXTRA

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