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Grape Pie Could Be The Local Pesidential Attraction

By JESSICA PIERCE, KATRINA M. RANDALL and RACHEL DEWEY / Messenger Post staff CANANDAIGUA – We know the who (President Bush). We know the where (Canandaigua). And we know the when (Tuesday). The big question now is why? What is it that put the Chosen Spot on the presidential map? President Bush is expected to visit Canandaigua on Tuesday – a trip hailed by Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-Clarence, as another chance to pitch seniors on the savings in a new federal prescription drug benefit. The president is to hold a town hall-style meeting at Canandaigua Academy and may also speak at the Ferris Hills at West Lake senior living center. Ferris Hills officials were staying mum today, however, directed by the White House, as are many who have been contacted, not to spill too many beans before the president’s itinerary is formally announced on Friday. But as the community prepares to roll out the red carpet and school officials are no doubt rolling up their sleeves to prepare for the big day, one question is rolling off tongues throughout town: How’d we get so lucky? Maybe it’s political. Maybe he’s heard about the fishing. Or maybe he just has a thing for Jane Gentner’s pies. Gentner has a home-based baking business in Naples and rose to local fame in November when she got word that one of her grape pies had made its way to the White House. U.S. Rep. Randy Kuhl, R-Hammondsport, is a fan of Gentner’s grape pies, “with the crumbly top crust,” and had brought one of them to the president. It wasn’t long after that she received a hand-signed letter of thanks from White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. Card, as it turns out, shared the pie with the president, Kuhl said. Gentner said she got a phone call from a Kuhl representative Wednesday, requesting a grape pie for “a special occasion on Tuesday.” While the aide didn’t tell Gentner that the pie was specifically for the presidential visit, she is pretty confident there’s a connection. But as it turns out, the president won’t be able to have his pie and eat it, too. At least not this time. Gentner and husband, David, are leaving in their RV today, bound for Georgia, where they are going to watch a NASCAR race. Though she would love to make a pie for the president, she said she “really needs” that vacation. “I have tickets bought and everything,” she sighed. “It’s not something I can put off.” And getting the president a pie second-hand, days after it’s been baked, is simply out of the question. “I pride myself on baking fresh,” Gentner said, matter-of-factly. Motives, and a mouthful Speaking of Kuhl, who stands to gain politically from being seen in his district with the leader of the free world, he’s staying mum. A Kuhl spokesperson Wednesday said he could not comment on the visit and the freshman representative at the last minute cancelled his weekly Thursday-morning press conference call today. Kuhl’s Democratic opponent, Eric Massa, said he “can’t read the president’s mind,” regarding reasons for the visit, but added, “We need to talk about issues here in the district, not issues in the District of Columbia.” Massa, a retired Navy veteran from Corning, said he’s “delighted” Bush is visiting the area. )In fact, Massa himself enjoyed breakfast today at Polimeni’s Restaurant on Lakeshore Drive.) But he’s hoping that area residents will get a chance to pose some pointed questions. “I hope that the local residents have the opportunity to ask him about why the prescription drug benefit has failed; about why our Veterans Administration is unfunded; about why our neighbors’ jobs are going to China; about why our children are going to Iraq; and our port security is going to Dubai,” he said. But Massa said he fears the visit will be another “scripted public relations tour.” Scripted or not, news of the visit was, of course, the buzz downtown. “(People) will be talking about him and less about the war,” said Gino Stevens owner of the Blue Dahlia Coffee & Tea on Main Street. Stevens suggested Bush was visiting the city because, “he probably looked at the charts, there’s more republicans here and it’s a safe place.” A few people Stevens encountered while working Wednesday, were excited about the prospect of the president visiting the city and the publicity it would bring. But some people didn’t care he said. Canandaigua National Bank President George Hamlin IV is “a few months from being 65” he said, and counts himself among those confused by the new Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit program. “It’s indeed quite accommodative of the president of the United States to come to the Chosen Spot to explain this personally to me ä that’s certainly beyond the call,” Hamlin said, adding that he’d be happy to hear a clear explanation of the program “from the top.” Beyond that, and the fact that, in all likelihood, Bush’s staffers chose the Chosen Spot, Hamlin said, the president could have another reason for the visit. “Certainly, I think it shows a great amount of spirit for him to come to Canandaigua because that will certainly require him to say ‘Canandaigua’ and that will be a real test,” Hamlin said, explaining, “Like so many, he (Bush) does a have a certain reputation for mispronouncing words, but this will be a way that he can redeem himself, by pronouncing Canandaigua correctly.” “Certainly you’re going to remember a name like ‘Canandaigua’ because it’s so unusual,” Hamlin said. Veteran supporters Sue Wierzbowski, owner of Phoenix Coffee on North Main Street, suggested Wednesday that perhaps there “must be a lot of people that give to his campaign and so there must be a lot of contributors or Republicans” in the area for Bush to visit Canandaigua so soon on the heels of his appearance in Greece last spring. Whatever the case, Jean Landes, administrative assistant at the Granger Homestead said she expects Main Street to be chaos on Tuesday. She believes the president’s visit may have something to do with the growing population of the town. “It’s a small town, at the same time I think it’s a progressive town,” she said. “It seems like a place where a lot of people are retiring.” Patrons couldn’t help but talk about it at the Canandaigua Brew Company on Phoenix Street. “We couldn’t figure out why he’s going up to the high school to talk about Medicaid,” said bartender Richard Egan. “Those kids aren’t old enough to get it.” Egan said he’s not much of a Bush fan, but he can’t help but be a bit excited about the whole thing. “I think it’s nice that he’s coming and that we can say he has been to Canandaigua,” he said during a break from serving drinks. “I hope he does something good when he’s here.” Egan is a Vietnam veteran, and he’s hoping the president will make a stop at the Canandaigua VA Medical Center, and lend his support to its continued operations. “I use the VA quite a bit, I would like to have it stay open,” he said. The Department of Veterans Affairs announced plans to close the facility back in 2003, but a huge grassroots effort saved the facility and its operations, although a final plan for the 72-acre campus has not been unveiled. Like Egan, William Carlton would like to see the VA stay open. Carlton, manager of Garlock’s Office Centre on Main Street thinks it’s great that Bush will be in town and is encouraging other business owners to fly the American flag. In fact, Garlock’s is having flags shipped overnight for anyone who wants them, he said. “I think the community really needs to pull it together this week,” he said. He believes that if Bush sees the flags and signs for support within the community for the VA center, it will have more of a chance of staying open. Clark Street resident and veterans activist Ralph Calabrese had just returned from a visit to the VA Medical Center Wednesday and was, in his own words, “ecstatic” about the potential presidential visit. Calabrese said that Kuhl told him Tuesday afternoon at a town meeting that “someone very important” was coming to the area and that Calabrese would be one of the invitees. “I was kind of surprised and awed today when I heard it was the president,” Calabrese said. Asked why George W. Bush would choose Canandaigua to visit, Calabrese responded quickly: “That’s an easy question.” “My answer is that the Finger Lakes Region and the people in our area stood tall,” he said. Thanks to the “big guns” of state and federal representatives like former Rep. Amo Houghton, other congressional representatives, and Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the “ammunition” – Finger Lakes residents – the VA was dubbed a federal Center of Excellence, he noted. “I believe – like (former) Congressman Houghton said when we were fighting for the VA – they learned to spell ‘Canandaigua’ in Washington,” Calabrese said. “For President Bush to come down here is just the topping,” he added. “It’s a blessing to have people like that fighting for all concerned, not as Democrats or Republicans but as Americans,” Calabrese said. “Both Washington and Albany are fighting hard for us, this is why we’re getting recognition, and this is why the (VA) hospital is going to stay open ä This is why I believe he’s coming to Canandaigua – because we have been heard.” Past experience Ed Varno, executive director of the Ontario County Historical Society, worked closely with the Secret Service with the vice president’s wife, Lynne Cheney, visited in December 2002 to promote her book and celebrate the society’s 100th anniversary. “They’re professional, they’re no nonsense,” he said, adding that they went through the museum with a fine-toothed comb. “I enjoyed working with them. You learn one thing: You do it their way.” Varno said there’s always more than one factor that goes into a presidential visit. “There’s always a number of reasons – both political and tactical – that are employed when making a decision on whether and where someone like the president of the United States is going to visit,” he said. “Presidents choose locations to give messages. Why was the Gettysburg Address delivered at Gettysburg? Why is health care being addressed in Canandaigua? I think you can draw some parallels.” Varno speculated that Bush might be pushing health care. He thinks Bush chose Canandaigua because “we have a phenomenal health care system in this community.” In any case, Varno said museum visitors all day Wednesday couldn’t stop talking about the big visit. “It’s interesting to have that as part of the history of the community,” he said. “It’s wonderful – whether you like the guy or don’t like the guy. The president of the United States is coming to the area.” Jessica Pierce can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 250, or at jpierce@mpnewspapers.com.

 

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