michele-obama-9.jpgBy TSITSI D. WAKHISI
Special to South Florida Times

FORT LAUDERDALE — Standing near the back of the cavernous War Memorial Auditorium in Fort Lauderdale, Dane Whyte waited excitedly to hear first lady Michelle Obama’s It Takes One speech even though he could not see a thing.

The venue, packed with more than 2,500 Barack Obama supporters, accommodated many who wanted to hear the first lady talk about the importance of being informed about the current presiential campaign issues and involved in registering voters and getting them to the polls in November. But a high-riser of TV cameras, tripods and members of the press blocked the view for scores of supporters who had waited hours for a chance to see the president’s spouse.

Whyte took it in stride.

“I’ve never seen the first lady in person and I really wanted to see her but I’m glad for the opportunity,” said Whyte, 30, a volunteer with the Obama for America re-election campaign. “I’m here to support the first lady and her Florida team is right here.”

The team included all levels of supporters, from grassroots workers like Whyte to Democratic leaders U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, and U.S. Reps. Frederica Wilson and Ted Deutch, along with state Sen. Christopher L. Smith and Fort Lauderdale Mayor John P. "Jack" Seiler.

But, unlike Whyte and other supporters who did not see the first lady as she addressed the crowd, a select group of ardent Democrats not only saw Michelle Obama but also met with her for a photo op prior to her speech.

Michael Emanuel Rajner, 41, of Wilton Manors and Brian R. Hanley, 52, of Royal Palm Beach were among about 20 people who got to shake the first lady’s hand.

Hanley’s daughter, Lauren, 12, got a hug.

“I told her I was running for president at my school and she wished me good luck,” said Lauren, a seventh-grader at Bak Middle School of the Arts, 1725 Echo Lake Drive, West Palm Beach. “It was amazing. Not many people get to meet her.”
“It’s because I step up to the plate,” said Hanley, explaining his invitation to meet privately with the first lady.

As a member of the Palm Beach County Democratic Executive Committee and a precinct captain, Hanley has hosted fundraisers for candidates on various levels. He also helps to educate his community about crucial issues facing voters and will help to get out the vote.

“When I get involved, I get involved,” said Hanley, who has met the first lady, as well as the president, before.

Rajner is active in the local LGBT and HIV-AIDS communities, the Broward Democratic Party and Organizing for America.

“Immediately after the photo, I gave the first lady the AIDS Ribbon pin from my lapel and thanked her for all President Obama has done for the LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities,” he said. “Everybody talks about how graceful and wonderful she is. She is genuine and down-to-earth, very mom-like.”

Even though he did not have a special audience with the first lady, Whyte of Dania Beach also has been active on the campaign. He said he has devoted the past two months to canvassing neighborhoods, working phone banks, helping the youth and the elderly and registering voters.

“I want to see my president succeed in getting the United States back on track.

He’s doing a great job,” Whyte said.

During her 30-minute speech on Aug. 22, Michelle Obama talked about her husband’s track record in areas such as health care, education, the economy and putting people back to work, saying there is still more work to be done.

“Barack knows what it means to struggle,” she told the crowd. “When you’ve worked hard and when you have walked through the door of opportunity, you don’t want it slammed shut,” she said to applause. “That’s what’s at stake in this election.”

For many of her supporters, the first lady was “preaching to the choir,” Rajner said.

“It was very strong and powerful,” Rajner said of the speech. “The audience was very responsive to it and she had great energy. But, for me, I was already there.”