Looking Back: Bush marched through Binghamton

By Erika Mahoney

August 22, 2013 Updated Aug 22, 2013 at 12:03 AM EDT

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) As the days dwindle to President Barack Obama's visit to Vestal, the anticipation is growing.

That same excitement was felt in early 2000, when then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush stopped in Binghamton along his campaign trail.

Just days before New York's Presidential Primary, then-Binghamton Mayor Richard Bucci said Bush's campaign reached out him. Campaign managers were looking for an event where the Republican hopeful could get in the middle of a large crowd.

With the St. Patrick's Parade just a few days away, Bucci made it possible.

On March 4, Bush weaved through the crowds in downtown Binghamton, often breaking rank to personally greet bystanders.

"If he could have, he would have shook hands with everybody along the street," said Bucci. "I think a lot of people realized at the time, this very well could be the next president of the United States, that history was in the making because a presidential candidate and potentially the next president of the United States was walking down Court Street in the city of Binghamton."

The event allowed both the public and local politicians to meet the candidate face to face.

"I found him to be a very different person than the person we all saw on television," said Sen. Thomas Libous, R-Binghamton. "Very down to Earth. We had some great conversations together. And it was kind of cool with the Texas Rangers, and their big white hats. They were the security with him."

After the parade, Bush headed to what was then called Hotel DeVille -- and what's now the Grand Royale. He spoke to the media and meet with delegates for the 2000 Republican National Convention.

"My wife, Wallis, was an alternate delegate, and as a result, she was invited to that meeting," said Former Broome County Executive Jeffrey Kraham. "I came along. It was great to meet then-Governor Bush and Laura. My wife was really the only woman in the room, so Laura obviously gravitated to her. They had a really nice conversation, and she was just lovely, Laura Bush."

The visit garnered not only local and national media attention, but also drew international media outlets.

Bucci said one of the first calls he received about coverage came from the BBC.

The parade turned out to be one of the city's most attended.

Bucci remembers the parking garage near the hotel packed full of people: "Every level of the parking ramp, from the bottom to the top, was jammed with supporters, holding sings, holding banners, holding balloons."

"People came out that had never come out to the St. Patrick's Parade before," Libous said. "They were holding signs of 'Viva La Bush,' and it became a little bit of a political event."

It was a parade to remember, and a time when a local tradition became a national platform.

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