On the ides of March, the most powerful military leader in the world entered Ardmore.
People lined the streets around this central Lower Merion Township community to see his entrance Monday afternoon. Many cheered. Some booed. Only commuters trying to get from one end of Lower Merion to another needed to beware as they navigated around long stretches of cordoned-off roads.
President George W. Bush came to the Main Line ostensibly to talk about the importance of federal housing programs to first-time homebuyers. On his way to making that point, however, the president managed to promote his domestic agenda, stress the importance of his foreign policy and offer a hearty pat on the back to oft-independent Republican U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, who is in the primary fight of his political life with conservative Congressman Pat Toomey.
Bush also used the event to lobby for the Senate's confirmation of Acting Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson.
He called Specter "an ally and a friend."
"We haven't always agreed on everything, but we need his independent voice in the U.S. Senate," the president said amidst a packed audience in the gymnasium at the Main Line YMCA on Montgomery Avenue at about 3 p.m. "I'm glad he's here."
Joking, President Bush referred to Montgomery County Board of Commissioners President Jim Matthews as "the smart brother." Matthews' iconoclastic sibling is MSNBC "Hardball" host Chris Matthews.
The president promised to bring an end to terrorism and the "cold-blooded killers" behind the Sept. 11 attack.
"We are holding Saddaam Hussein to account," he said. "Some people called this a march to war. What's more important, though, is that we are now marching to peace."
Turning to the economy and corporate America, the president said, "People didn't tell the truth in many corporations. We have passed tough new laws that won't tolerate dishonesty in board rooms in America."
He praised the economic recovery, noting interest and inflation rates are low, and inflation is down. He called for Congress to sustain his tax cuts and "get more money into the hands of people who need it."
"The first thing Congress needs to do is not take tax relief away from the people," he declared.
He predicted if Congress doesn't act, child credits will go down and marriage penalties will go up.
Bush additionally called for health care reform, medical liability reform and a new energy bill.
He then turned to the topic of home ownership.
Joining the president on stage were new homeowner Pearl Cordon; soon-to-be homeowner Penny Wolk; Genesis Housing co-owner Judy Memberg; Genesis Housing counselor Nikki Holcroft; and Delaware County builder Scott Cannon.
President Bush visited Cordon's new federally subsidized home in South Ardmore before attending the event held at the YMCA.
Genesis Housing is a non-profit agency that provides credit and home ownership counseling to first-time homebuyers.
The Lower Merion Housing Authority, the agency created to build low-to-moderate housing in the township, steers potential buyers to use Genesis or another counseling agency during the application process. The applicants must complete the counseling before any loan for affordable housing can be processed. Genesis also helps homebuyers find financing. Another arm of the company remodels distressed homes and constructs affordable housing.
"Home ownership is at the highest rate it's ever been," the president said. "It's a fantastic experience to come to a first-time homeowner's home and meet with their family," he added, referring to his South Ardmore visit at Cordon's house.
Bush underscored that federal programs are in place to help with down payments for homes. He commended Genesis and called for more groups to help educate first-time home buyers.
"We need legislation to build affordable housing areas that need affordable housing," the president said.
On the podium, Cannon pleaded with the president to streamline the paperwork with which builders must contend.
"If there is a local forum, it should be good enough for the federal government," the president responded to cheers.