“Can we talk?”
I thought, “Another contribution call.”
“You’ve been selected, one of four people to be considered for the Biden campaign stop in
Rochester. Would you consider doing an intro for Vice President Biden?”
I paused and wondered if this was legitimate? He tells me his contacts and how he received my name and I’m now somewhat convinced that it could be real.
“I’d want to discuss it with my wife who tends to be adverse to seeking the spotlight.”
After a short visit with Lauri we return the call with positive answer. We felt it isn’t
what small retailers seek to do and our customer base has always been too small to divide with political
views. The issues and concerns overload the possible negative impacts. Besides, I’ve held my opinions to myself for 35 of 40 years while trying to eke out a living in a small town of 10,000.
My customer base has treated us with unflagging patronage and this incredible support has
allowed us to stay in a community of this size. We are ever grateful for each and every person
that darkens our doorway. Does our customer base have broad enough intellectual capacity and
understanding to allow the small shopkeeper an opinion of his own? Hmmm, I think so, I hope
We gave this stranger on the phone all of our vital information including full names
including birthdates and social security numbers. With the understanding that they would be
doing a security check on us. He said that we were top on the list, but the final decision
does not come from them. The last instruction is that we tell no one. What a great hoax or
scheme to play off my ego and steal all my frog skins ($). The theme song for Jeopardy started
playing in my head.
Two days worth of waiting went by without any communication and I get more worried; this
could be the coolest con game ever!
An email came on Sunday that said I’d been selected and that I would need to start writing some prepared remarks.
The intro was to be brief statement on our business and why I support
the current administration.
The intro was written with some concerns I had about health care issues, fairness and equity
for all people. The first draft goes for review and critique. It passes muster rather
quickly with some revisions. They like the sound of the remarks and ask if I can elaborate; it gets bulked
up with additional thoughts.
I’m not adverse to public oration but today I’m being edited,critiqued and advised by real speech writers!!
Rochester is a place that a few years ago caused me some trepidation. I had a music
gig at a fancy hotel in this town and didn’t realize how far it was from Worthington. I was
almost late for this gig so the “Rochester” name leaves me with a feeling of unease — don’t be
Lauri has a VIP back stage pass and Sigin, our God daughter has recently caught up with us. She wants to attend and we realize that since she has not had the background check we have no assurance of her being able to attend.
As we pull into Rochester the vehicle lines are queuing up at the fair grounds and we
steer the Sprinter van (Starship Enterprise) toward the parking monitors. We explain to them
we aren’t spectators and reveal our contact name. They perk up and send us into the V.I.P. parking
area and we start to feel special! This might have been the coolest moment — I’ve always been
average! So average in fact, that I’m being feted by these event builders. Oh please, I don’t want to
come off as “Joe the plumber” from elections of years gone by.
We are allowed to go to the front of the line that is now about two or three blocks long and
we check in and are quickly whisked through police security and then on to Secret Service security, our
bags, briefcases and ourselves are searched. Each station is possessive of their own space. We all past
security and then go onto a separate building that is perhaps 75 yards from the event arena. Between
us and the arena is a sound booth tent that also serves as a pre-staging area for the “on stage guests.”
We hear music and excitement building as the event goers are being entertained by
music, pledge of allegiance and various crowd pleasing activities. The building is developing a
pulse of sound and rhythm. We stand alone in a separate building, hearing the distant cheers,
music and revelry. Finally in comes friend Tim Waltz and shortly after that Al Franken shows
up. At this point we are 40 to 45 people strong, being sequestered without a Vice President anywhere
to be found. There is significant security everywhere, almost within arm’s reach.
We visit and queue up for the official White House photo sessions. Everybody getting their assigned space in line. After everybody is in line (we are at the very end). The person that is
orchestrating the event looks up, points me in the eyes! We get signal to proceed to the front — in front
of EVERYBODY! He puts us in a huddle and quickly states the objective “When Biden comes in, you
visit, you photograph and then you head directly for the white tent next to the event building and give
me your brief case.” (it has my notes) “You’ll find it in the tent with everybody else’s brief
cases…..but, but, but.” Please hand me the briefcase.
An event official then approaches the Mayor of Rochester and informs him that the fire marshal is
having a problem with building capacity, everybody dithers a bit and it gets resolved. Everything and everybody seems to be dense packed into a building that is just a bit beyond capacity.
Special buses have been parked intentionally and tightly in front of our walk ways so there is
no line of sight to the outside world. All the windows are covered with material that looks
carbon fiber gray.
We are secure 100’s of yards in all directions. All entrances are secure and then we hear some distant doors slam, it comes from behind large curtains and behind the U.S. flags and MN buntings. More security walks in and looks us all over, up and down and sizes up the place, then giving the nod, through the curtains briskly strides a warm, friendly, smiling, familiar face — Joe Biden.
Applause erupts and VP Biden acknowledges everybody and then comes immediately over to Lauri, Sigin and I and introduces himself.
Engaging, sincere and energetic and vibrant, we visit for a minute or two until the White House
photographer tells him to get photogenic! He’s got lots to do and only so much time for small
talk, they keep him on task. I’ve been previously advised that if the VP isn’t wearing a
tie, you might consider removing your own. (I discreetly removed my brand new tie, a tie that had
secret powers of poise, grace, eloquence and self-confidence. )
Once our official photos were taken we are immediately separated from the rest of the people in this
staging area. Security and event people have taken my brief case 10 minutes earlier and assured
me that it will be where I can find it. (It has my notes for the intro)
I say bye to Sigin and Lauri and I am whisked off with Al Franken and Tim Waltz and the Mayor
of Rochester. We head to the white tent and search for our intro notes. Darn, they got to be
The sound being generated from the crowd in the event site is building and it is pulsating
with energy. I have had very little trepidation up until this point. My original notes were
a page long and I almost could have gone it alone, but with the help of the WH they are now 2
pages long, and nowhere to be found. This is when I could finally, at long last become
anxious. The crowd noise was continuing to build and we were being called upon to head in as
a team to the main stage. I am ready to balk, almost annoyed but then I realize the Mayor
doesn’t have his and Al doesn’t have his either. NOBODY IS GOING ANY WHERE UNTIL….
Somebody peeks out of the exterior sound and audio tent and points to the distant chair by
the entrance and as we enter the building we all grab our notes!
The volume level goes up another notch or two or three as we enter as a foursome and I’m the
only unknown, which is fine. I’ve put on a pretend parka that makes in invisible.
My politician friends and I are waving hands, shaking hands, clapping hands and the event begins.
Its really, really loud and really, really fun, besides — I’m invisible nobody has a clue who I
This joyful frenzy is a small payment for politicians that spend their days in meetings that I would
find frightfully boring; they appreciate this time with their constituency, rightfully so.
I’ve had a number of opportunities to do some public speaking on “event development” and as
the revelry continues, my mind wanders to this subject because they have appointed this
building perfectly. Densely packed people on the main floor and a perimeter balcony that is
packed to capacity. The sound system must travel with the VP because it’s perfect E.Q. and the audio
tech’s are not even in the building! Lighting is perfect, camera positioning is perfect; 5 to
5 big boy tripod camera’s in back and another dozen or more throughout the sides and balcony.
Signage is well placed, color and buntings everywhere, Steel guard barriers (10 feet from the
stage) Tele prompters functioning and complete with polite well-dressed Secret Service
people stage side. There are even buntings on the stage all around the podium, they seem to be
hung on a 30″ high wall of 1/2″ plate steel? OH MY! I comprehend the design and I think I’m
in a pretty secure spot.
The Mayor of Rochester welcomes the crowd, then Tim Waltz gets and fires up the crowd like
no other. I believe Congressman Waltz was a history teacher and also a veteran, what better
qualifications, I’m honored to be on stage with him, I hold him in high regard, he talks meaningfully to this crowd.
Tim passes the stage to Sen. Al Franken, Al has become a favorite son of Minnesota.
Far from his SNL beginnings, Al is smart, charming, eloquent and on task! Al signs off and does the
intro for me, I’m grateful that I’m being introduced by someone that actually knows me! Over
the past few years I’ve worked a little bit with his wife Frannie and see him occasion in Worthington.
or out on the trail. He of course can’t leave the introduction without mentioning Worthington’s Turkey Day, the event that has continued to put Worthington on the map for the past 40
years or so.
I step up to the podium and almost ponder why I don’t seem particularly nervous, but I
quickly realize it is because I’m surrounded by people of like minds and like aspirations.
I have spent so much of my natural born days holding my tongue and it’s refreshing to know I can
talk openly about a few subjects that are quite relevant to small business people.
***************** Please find below the approximate text of what I said.
–ad lib the Mars Lander comment by Waltz
Good afternoon! I am so excited to be here today – as I suspect we all are!
· My name is Bill Keitel. My wife Lauri and I have owned and operated a small
manufacturing business in Worthington for the last 40 years called the Buffalo Billfold
· We are a small business. We employ 1 or 2 people on an ordinary day and might have as
many as 6 or 7 employees on a busy day.
We hand craft all of our leather goods in a small town, and have always prided ourselves on
making those products here at home, so we can proudly stamp them with “Made in the USA.”
· For us, adaptability is the key. And over the past four years it’s been clear that
President Obama and Vice President Biden understand that, and are looking out for small
business owners and middle-class families like ours.
Whether it be through tax cuts for middle-class families and small business owners, or
fighting for middle-class tax relief, helping us manage health care costs for employees, or
support insourcing and support companies like ours that grow jobs right here at home –
the President and Vice President have had our backs. …. … Now, we have theirs!
Over the years we’ve seen incredible societal change both in the demographics of our
community and also in our wholesale and retail endeavors . And as we all follow government
politics in this election year – it’s clear that there is a stark choice in vision for the
economy and the middle class.
· We are heartened by the current administration and their indefatigable efforts to
create a sense of fairness and equity to all people in this nation.
· President Obama and Vice President Biden are working to build an economy to last,
where hard work pays off, responsibility is rewarded and everyone plays by the same rules.
That not only helps
small business owners like us, but also middle-class families like ours continue to move
It’s exactly the kind of vision that our country needs to continue our economic recovery, and
Exactly the kind of leadership that all Americans need to continue to create a better, stronger
future for their families.
· It is my privilege to introduce to you a man who has worked hard for the middle-class
and small business owners all his life, because he has been where we are and understands what’s
Please join me in welcoming the Honorable Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden!
If their idea was to present the face of a “ma and pa” business and American craftsmanship, in
full support of the current administration, I think we got the job done.
As I was finishing up my remarks and playing to the crowd… I was hoping that VP Biden was somewhere to
be found! My last few words “VP of the United States, Joe Biden” were probably drown out by
As I turned to see if he was in the wings or behind the stage, he was coming up the steps
just as planned.
His speech was compelling, his logic sound, his desire to do good, beyond reproach. The
crowd could not contain themselves! Afterwards Joe Biden, Al Franken, Tim Waltz and Mayor
Rochester and myself rose thanking the crowd.
Politicians moved forward off stage, toward the crowd barriers, shaking hands and reacquainting themselves with their constituency, while I smiled and timidly edged stage
I actually did a bit of shaking because many were extending their hands! Whoa! ….that’s
I found Lauri and Sigin high in the balcony behind my left shoulder, they had a good view of
the back of my head. We did spend further time with Waltz and Franken afterward.
I’m trying to find a way to get out of the “secure area” that has been so cordoned off with security & the barriers. I head around behind the stage to see if I can get into the public side of things.
I see V.P. Biden leaving through the back door with Secret Service. My eyes meet the last Secret Service man to exit in the defensive “V” position as they go backward thru the doors guarding his back and the door snaps shut.
Bill Keitel 8-23-12
The phone rang and it was a fellow named Scott, he explained that he worked for the Obama Campaign.