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The News Journal from Wilmington, Delaware • Page 10

The News Journali
Wilmington, Delaware
Issue Date:
Extracted Article Text (OCR) MONDAY, SEPT. 1,2008 A10 THE NEWS JOURNAL Biden: Hometown friends say senator Scranton roots are authentic ITS vd? pjn Kt js til i- i I I tit 4 I "ten The News JournalFRED COMEGYS Many of Sen. Joe Biden's childhood friends in Scranton gather at Tom Bell's house last week to watch Biden accept the Democratic Party's nomination for vice president Bell attended grade school with Biden and is still close to him. the same for our kids." In Delaware, Biden planted roots of his own, raising three children in Claymont as he launched his political career. An unlikely candidate for the U.S.

Senate at age 29, Biden won the seat. Building his reputation, he gained the confidence of Delaware voters, who have elected him six times in a row. From across the Pennsylvania state line, his Scranton friends watched, making trips to Wilmington for rallies and elections, cheering him on. Always, the friends Bell and Kennedy, Larry Orr and especially Charlie Roth, who died of cancer eight years ago picked up where they left off. "I know Joe has a lot of political friends, but I feel like we're really close," said Orr, 65, another of the Green Ridge gang.

When Biden's father died, Orr, Bell and Kennedy traveled to Wilmington for the funeral. When Roth died, Biden returned to Scranton to deliver the eulogy. "Loyalty," said Bell, who threw a party Wednesday night for about 60 of Biden's hometown friends so everyone could hear his acceptance speech. "If there's one word to describe Joe Biden, that's it. He's extremely loyal." The senator now vice presidential candidate remains loyal to Delaware, too.

Last week, while thanking Delaware delegates for their support over the years, Biden had to pause for tears. "The Delaware Democratic Party has been my family," he said. Earlier, during his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night, he called Delaware "my state," and referred to his roots several times as being in "Scranton and Wilmington." A consummate politician, Biden seems to have genuine attachments to both states. Contact Kristin Hany at 324-2792 or khartydelawareonline.wm. friends, tossed some balls around and took photos with Kroptovich's children.

Working values in Scranton At Hank's Hoagies, the corner store where Biden and his friends used to buy penny candy, the senator signed a photograph that sits framed on the counter: "You make me feel at home again," he wrote. "We're all Irish-Catholic Democrats," said Tommy Owens, who grew up in the Green Ridge neighborhood and bought Hank's 11 years ago. The size of someone's living room, and unadorned with the fixtures of modern convenience stores, it's known as a place to talk politics, where customers grab a cup of coffee and a stool. A sign hanging behind the counter defines the Irish Way: "Now don't be talkin' about yourself when you're here. We'll surely be doin' that after you leave." A generation younger than Sen.

Biden, Owens is a fan, of course. "We have a lot of politicians here," Owens said, mentioning former Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey and his son, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a contemporary of Biden's, who grew up a few blocks away.

A town of about 125,000 in 1950 when Biden lived there, Scranton was a good place to be a middle-class kid. Though its population has shrunk to about 74,000 as jobs dried up, not much else has changed, some residents said. "The values haven't changed much over the last 150 years," said Jim Cadden, 49, a Scranton native who lives in the house behind Biden's former home. He stopped to visit with Kearns one afternoon last week while walking with his 6-year-old daughter, who rode a bike. "Hard work.

Honesty. Integrity," Cadden said. "Respect," Kearns said. "I want to say, fear of the Lord," Cadden said. "It worked out well for our parents.

It works iHi for both of them. Biden was "Bi-Bi-Blackbird" because of his stutter; Bell was "sleepy-eyed Bell" because he had trouble staying awake. After the Bidens moved, Bell remembers Biden coming back to Scranton on weekends and summers as the boys grew up. Biden opens his 2007 book, "Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics," by recalling the frequent visits to the town of his birth. "The first principle of politics, the foundational principle, I learned in the 1950s in my grand-pop's kitchen when I was about 12 or 13 years old," Biden wrote.

"My parents had recently moved us to Delaware, but most Friday nights Mom and Dad would load me, my sister Val, my brother Jimmy and the baby, Frankie, into our car and drive up to Scranton, to spend the weekend at grandpop Finnegan's house." Transfers Welcome i i i i 7f7 ft I Anne Kearns holds an autographed photo with Sen. Joe Biden that was taken when he visited her house in Scranton, which was his family's before they moved to Delaware. One time, when Biden was a teenager, he pulled up to his friend's house in a new Plymouth Fury which belonged to his father, a car salesman in Wilmington. Then Biden took them on a rather wild ride, according to his friends, who omitted details for propriety's sake. "The stork retired after he delivered Biden," said Kennedy, 68, who lived directly behind Biden and, in 1951, played on Green Ridge's first Little League team with his friend.

"He had a lot of adventure in his heart." Those were formative years. On a visit to Scranton a couple of years ago, Biden showed up at the Green Ridge Little League field after dark, just to look around and remember. "It was at least 10 o'clock because we'd already turned all the lights out," said Ron Krop-tovich, coach. They quickly flipped the lights back on, and Biden, who was with old 5 OS31 AM 0000305202 UrvJ fROM PAGE Al in the First State. BEven Scrantonians, who revere Biden as a native son, understand that political strategy is at play in the "I love Scranton" plug.

To get to the Oval Office, pundits say, the Democrats must win Pennsylvania. In the primaries, Obama lost to Hillary Rodham Clinton 3-to-l. "Joe's presence is supposed to help Obama immeasurably up here in the Northeast," said Jim Kennedy, a magistrate judge in Scranton and Biden's childhood friend. Anne Kearns, who's lived for 46 years in the house where Biden spent his early childhood, put it more bluntly: "They need this area," she said. But a visit to Biden's old neighborhood suggests there's something authentic behind the rhetoric, an attachment that goes beyond an effort to garner votes.

Lined with middle-class homes and shade trees, Green Ridge is one of Scranton's most desirable neighborhoods, where most residents are Catholic and of Irish descent. The Irish-Catholic Biden family lived there until 1952, when Biden's father moved the family to Delaware to find work. "I'm just going to say the names," said Kearns, identifying the residents of the neighborhood when she and her husband bought the house in 1962, after Biden's grandfather died. "Gradys, McGees, Conleys, Clarks, Orrs, Culligans, Kearns, Kennedys. Every name I looked at was Irish, so I thought I was in the right neighborhood." Kearns fell in love with the Biden house, a five-bedroom vernacular colonial built in 1929.

When young Joe Biden lived there from 1942 to 1952, he stayed in an attic bedroom that overlooked North Washington Street, which stretches two miles through downtown Scranton, past shuttered factories and aging mansions of erstwhile coal barons before reaching Green Ridge's modest homes. As a child, struggling to overcome a severe stutter, the future senator wrote "Joe Biden was here" on the wall. "I told him if I'd have known he was going to be famous, I would never have painted over it," said Kearns, a retired art teacher and grandmother, who displays in her living room a photograph of herself with Biden from when he visited last year unannounced. "I was on my way to the grocery store and up pulls this big SUV, and Sen. Biden starts walking up," Kearns said, still breathless at the thought.

it. rt Sells Kl MiWe Tff urni twcK i nil i in MILLERS CARPET ONE FLOOR HOME Family Owned Operated Since 1900! momm "I said, 'Sen. "He said, 'You know "I said, 'Of course I know "I think everybody in Scranton knows about Joe Biden," Kearns said. He never stopped coming home Though his father, the late Joe Biden was born and raised in Delaware, his mother's family lived in Scranton for generations. His great-great-grandfather was an engineer who laid out many of the city's early streets.

"The Finnegans were here for 100 years," said Tom Bell, 65, another of Biden's close childhood friends, who still lives in Scranton. Jean Finnegan, Biden's mother, joined him onstage Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention in Denver after he accepted the nomination for vice president of the United States. Now 91, she lives with him in Delaware. "The Finnegans were a very close-knit family who treasured good relationships and friendships," said Bell, an insurance agent who raised four children Scranton. "They were just a tight family and a good family.

And that was how they raised their children." That could be why Biden never stopped coming home. "You didn't know he left," said Bell, who attended St. Paul Catholic School with Biden and sat next to him in first and second grades. Sister Eunice had nicknames mm rmrrvx 1 ftWJ mSsEfi a ONLINE' lftf r-acM A I MLf 5 Year BSMaster Degree Program NCAA Division II Athletics Comprehensive Career Placement Program Scholarship Opportunities Classes Begin Eight Times a Year Goldey-Beacom College 4701 Limestone Wilmington, DE CALL 302-225-6248 WWW.GBC.EDU SUPPLEMENT YOUR INCOME LEARN TO PREPARE INCOME TAXES! Call today for information on our Tbition Free Tax Course Work just three months of the year. Flexible Part Time or Full Time Hours.

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