The crowd that turned up at Sacred Heart University this spring to see John Kasich in the midst of his presidential campaign was so large, it overflowed a meeting room and spilled into an atrium, two nearby classrooms and a second-floor balcony.
Kasich was at SHU’s Frank and Marisa Martire Business & Communications Center to conduct a town hall meeting, discussing his views on issues facing the nation. State Sen. Tony Hwang of Fairfield, who was Kasich’s Connecticut campaign chair, arranged the visit. (Kasich suspended his campaign May 4.)
Kasich entered the Martire atrium to loud applause from an enthusiastic audience of students, faculty, community members and media. “We’re still the strongest country, by far, in the entire world,” said Kasich, who continued to speak positively about America. He told the crowd he wasn’t going to whine or incite fear during his campaign. “Great leaders don’t drive people into depression, and they don’t divide people. Great leaders bring people together and respect differences…,” he said.
After speaking about his record as a congressman and as the current governor of Ohio, Kasich took questions from the audience related to taxes, veteran affairs, fracking and health care.
Former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays took the microphone before Kasich. Shays has been on the campaign trail with Kasich and provided the audience with anecdotes about the candidate, including the time Kasich met with President Richard Nixon as a college freshman.
Gary L. Rose, professor and chair in the Department of Government, Politics and Global Studies, likened the event to “an old-fashioned political rally.” He said the setting “was perfect for a candidate like John Kasich, who, in some respects, reminds me of the politicians from a previous era in American politics.
“The governor’s interaction with the audience was sincere, and I particularly appreciated how substantive his replies were regarding the income tax, fracking and common core,” Rose said. “One could also see a very human dimension to his persona, as opposed to stock deliveries and the rancor that is present in several of the other campaigns for president. His emphasis on bipartisan solutions in an age of intense polarization was refreshing.”
Student government president Lily DiPaola, a sociology major in the elementary education masters program who kicked off the session, said welcoming Kasich to SHU was a humbling experience.
“I’ve spoken in front of large crowds before, but this was very unique and by far the most important group of people I’ve spoken in front of,” DiPaola said. “It was also an important person that I was welcoming to the University, which was quite an honor.
“I think the students enjoyed being a part of the presidential race and, therefore, being a part of history,” DiPaola said. “I also know it was an experience that very few students have ever had before, so it was something that was very educational for many students as well. Overall, this entire experience for me personally was very educational, intriguing and awe-inspiring. I was honored to be a very small part of the very big picture that is the presidential race of 2016.”