Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Scene: Obama and McCain at Columbia University

NEW YORK, Sept. 11 — Columbia University's campus is locked down as tight as — or maybe even more tightly than — it was a year ago for the Iranian president's visit to campus, and the Low Plaza (Columbia's quad) is packed with students awaiting the simulcast of the ServiceNation forum where presidential candidates Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama will appear tonight.

Security is tight, with campus police and NYPD having shut down all but two gates to campus — one each at 116th Street and Broadway, 116th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Near Lerner Hall, the building housing the auditorium where the candidates are to speak, West 114th Street is closed entirely to vehicular traffic between Broadway and Amsterdam, and foot traffic is limited to the south sidewalk.

Heavily armed NYPD convoys are patrolling the neighborhood in motorcade like formation. As one rolled by me headed south on Amsterdam Avenue, windows down, instead of seeing the candidates, I spotted two officers in body armor, carrying automatic rifles.

Welcome back to Columbia, Senators.

Also spotted strolling on Amsterdam Avenue: pundit David Gergen, looking quite tall and distinguished himself in his dark suit.

The walks and steps surrounding Low Plaza are packed wall-to-wall with students awaiting New York Gov. David Paterson to warm up the crowd before the main event. The plaza itself is full of lounging students, cheering randomly every few minutes, perhaps out of boredom, perhaps because they've spotted themselves on the jumbotron slide show.

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