MINNEAPOLIS - President Barack Obama told a town hall audience Thursday that he's still listening, and working for common sense reformed aimed at helping middle income Americans. He acknowledged, however, that reality is often obscured by the media coverage of political bickering in Washington.
The town hall, open to a few hundred invited guests and media, took place in the Minneapolis park that is home to Minnehaha Falls.
The water fall was roaring, fed by a rain swollen Minnehaha Creek, in contrast to President Johnson's visit there 50 years earlier when the fire hydrants were turned on upstream to feed the falls.
Although he didn't ask her to stand up and be recognized, President Obama spoke of having lunch with Rebekah Erler, the St. Anthony woman who wrote him a letter asking if anyone in Washington still cares about the pocketbook problems average families are dealing with in the middle of the country.
He had lunch with Erler at Matt's Bar in south Minneapolis on his way to the town hall.
"What I told her is the same thing I want to tell all of you, which is, I know it. You're the reason I ran for office," Obama said.
"No, I'm not looking for applause. I want to make this point. I'm still listening."
Afterward Erler, an accountant and mother of two, told KARE she felt the president was genuinely interested in hearing about her family's experiences.
":He was amazing and very open to talking to me," Erler remarked. "I just felt like I had a really incredible opportunity to share what's important to me, and my friends and family and what we go through every day. And I was very appreciated of that chance."
Erler's letter detailed the how her young family rode out the Recession, which forced her husband to leave the construction business and start a new career path. Erler herself went back to school and started a new profession. The cost of child care and repaying student loans had forced the young family to put off vacations and question how they'll be able to send their two sons to college.
Obama told the crowd the challenge is getting Congress to work for average citizens, instead of trying to please special interests and the wealthiest taxpayers with the expectation that profits at the top will "trickle down" in the form of job opportunities.
He said his agenda -- better childcare options, paid family leave, a higher minimum wage, equal pay for men and women -- has been tripped up by the Republican majority.
The president fielded a dozen questions on a wide range of topics, including gun control, college debt, and stagnant pay for federal workers.
One question came from John Martinez, a recent graduate of the Freedom House EMS academy in St. Paul, which is a program designed to help people from ethnic minority populations that are underrepresented in emergency medicine receive training. Martinez, who was recently hired as an EMT by Allina Health, asked if the president would support expanding such programs to other fields.
The president turned around and asked Martinez to explain the program.
"I'll confess to you I don't know enough about Freedom House, so I'm considering it right now, but you've got to tell me more about it," Mr. Obama said.
Martinez admitted later he was nervous, but it didn't seem that way when the president put him on the spot. He calmly explained how the cadets wear uniforms, adhere to strict academic standards, and gain the skills to get a foot in the door that will lead to actual job opportunities in the EMT and EMS profession.
Obama said he was impressed and would lend his support to such programs.
"I brought up the question because I never thought I'd be where I am today, and all it took was hard work and a good attitude and perseverance," Martinez explained to KARE.
"But I know there are many others like me looking for real opportunities."