In Biden’s hometown, election win brings some hope amid COVID-19

Residents of Wilmington, Delaware say they hope Joe Biden’s presidential victory will spur much-needed help.

President-elect Joe Biden has turned a theatre in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware into his transition headquarters [File: Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

Wilmington, Delaware – Used electric guitars line the walls and old cameras, laptops and gold jewellery fill the display cases of Tony Farrace’s dusty second-hand shop on Market Street.

Facing economic woes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more residents have come to the store in Wilmington’s central business district to turn in valuables in exchange for cash, Farrace said.

In recent weeks, though, another scene has developed across the street from the shop’s doors.

Secret Service officers, donning suits and ear-pieces, are standing guard at The Queen theatre, a music venue that has been converted into Joe Biden’s temporary headquarters as he prepares to enter the White House.

With COVID-19 continuing to hit communities across the United States hard, people in Wilmington – widely considered Biden’s hometown – are hoping the US president-elect will be able to both stem the pandemic and give them the support they need.

“I tell them (politicians) what they ought to do is spend the day in here and see the people and how they live,” Farrace, 75, told Al Jazeera.

‘Mi casa es su casa’

While he was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Biden grew up in Wilmington and later attended the University of Delaware.

After studying law at Syracuse University, he returned to Wilmington, where he got involved in politics – and in 1972, Biden became one of the youngest people ever elected to the US Senate at the age of 29.

For more than 35 years as a US senator, Biden commuted by train almost daily from the city to Washington, DC, retaining a local presence even as his stature in national politics grew. After he became vice president in 2008, the city’s train station was named for him.

In the presidential election, Biden won the state with 58.7 percent support, compared with 39.8 percent for President Donald Trump.

Joe Biden departs the church in a suburb of Wilmington, Delaware, where his son Beau is buried [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

Many residents, including Farrace, have personal stories about Biden – and that connection spurs some of the support he still enjoys in Wilmington.

In the shop owner’s case, his father, John, knew the next US president personally.

“When Joe’s mom passed away, he had a limousine pick my father up and bring him to the church for the service,” Farrace recalled, referring to Biden by his first name.

Nowadays, Biden and US Vice President-elect Kamala Harris use Wilmington’s historic theatre to host virtual meetings with national security officials, public health experts and others in preparation for their entry into the White House.

“Mi casa es su casa,” Biden joked recently – “My house is your house” – as he welcomed top Democratic congressional leaders to The Queen for a face-to-face meeting.

US President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have held meetings in their transition headquarters in Wilmington [File: Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

On a blustery autumn day, Biden met virtually leaders of the US Conference of Mayors and promised the federal government would be a partner in meeting the needs of American cities that, like Wilmington, face enormous challenges.

Promises to be tested

During the course of his career, the loss and resilience Biden experienced in his personal life – he lost his wife and daughter in a car crash in 1972 and his son, Beau, died in 2015 of brain cancer – informed his public work for Delaware, and later, the country.

Biden is widely known as one of the most accessible politicians on the national scene.

This sense of empathy became an important part of his campaign for the presidency, offering Americans struggling with losses from the pandemic empathy and a promise that “we will get through this.”

Health workers in the US are facing rising numbers of COVID-19 patients as infections continue to mount [File: Daniel Acker/Reuters]

But when Biden takes office in January, those promises will be immediately put to the test.

The virus has surged across the country in recent weeks, with record daily numbers of new cases recorded amid an uptick in deaths and hospitalisations.

Some states have reimposed tough restrictions on their economies in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19, but negotiations in Congress about a new economic relief package have made little progress.

Delaware has reported over 34,000 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began – the positive test rate is 363.1 per 10,000 people – and a total of 763 people have died from the virus so far.

This week, Governor John Carney extended a state of emergency that limits non-essential businesses and orders all residents to shelter in place, among other measures. “We are in a resurgence, and we need to stay vigilant to limit the spread of this virus,” Carney said.

‘We need help’

Tim Pawliczek, the owner of Cavanaugh’s Restaurant, a block from The Queen theatre, said his business was down 70 percent due to the pandemic.

He said he has kept the restaurant open thanks to a grant from the state and a skeleton crew of four, including himself. With the election, there’s been a little bit of business from the foreign press covering Biden and some take-out traffic.

“We are just fighting to survive,” the 53-year-old told Al Jazeera, adding that he hoped US politicians “would stop fighting with each other and come up with a programme” to help people who are struggling.

Pawliczek said he Biden to take the bipartisan approach he promised in the campaign. “I hope he does a great job. I am pulling for him,” he said.

Supporters of President-elect Joe Biden celebrated his victory in  Wilmington on November 7 [Paul Sancya/AP]

On the Saturday night that Biden claimed victory in the US election, the Chelsea Tavern, a bar on Market Street in downtown Wilmington, was packed.

“We had a line out the door. We got crushed,” said Joe Van Horn, 57, who noted state restrictions on crowds limited the bar’s patrons to 50 people, however. The venue has been operating at a third of its usual capacity, he said.

Van Horn is a member at St Joseph’s on the Brandywine, a historic Catholic church where Beau Biden is buried and where the US president-elect often attends Sunday mass.

Van Horn has a picture of Biden with his wife and daughter taken 16 years ago and said he remembers the day well. Jill Biden was hosting a fundraiser at a restaurant he was managing and Biden, then a US senator, showed up.

I tell them (politicians) what they ought to do is spend the day in here and see the people and how they live

Tony Farrace, Wilmington shop owner

A drunken patron stumbled out the back door, bumped into Biden and said, “Oh my mom loves you”, before putting him on the phone with her. Biden talked to the woman enthusiastically for about 10 minutes, Van Horn said.

When Biden won the election, “everybody in Delaware started posting pictures of themselves and Joe Biden on Facebook,” he said. “Literally, everyone has a picture with Joe Biden. He’s very accessible.”

Like others here, Van Horn said he welcomed the news of Biden’s impending presidency. “Hopefully, we’ll get some perks out of it,” he said. “We need help.”

Source: Al Jazeera

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