Last week, I covered the Expedite Expo, a class-act event that annually brings in thousands of people from across the country to the Roberts Centre in Wilmington for the two-day show.
This is at least my third year covering the expo. When I was writing the preview story for it and learned that a U.S. Department of Transportation administrator was going to be doing a question and answer forum, I knew this would be the event to highlight.
The administrator was Anne S. Ferro, who headed up the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration under the USDOT. Once beloved by the trucking industry, she had come under fire recently for new federal regulations which limit the number of hours truck drivers can spend on the road.
Toward the end of the Q&A, she said she wished she could stay longer, but she really had to get back to D.C.
Politicians never wish they could stay longer.
After she got off stage, I introduced myself to her and tried to shake her hand. She accepted it, but it was one of those weak handshakes that I loathe, and then it turned into an awkward handhold as she started leading me in the direction she was walking.
What, am I her child?
I politely disengaged, and started asking her a question about her visit here.
We were then interrupted by someone who wanted to say hello to her. After that exchange, she said, “Walk with me,” which I did, and I had my recorder close to her ready to continue. Sure. I can ask a question while you walk. No problem. You get to still be in a hurry and I get to make an inquiry.
Someone else interrupted as I started to speak, and before I could get in my question, Ferro introduced me to her press secretary and walked away.
Crap. Not the press secretary.
I said, “Look, I don’t need her diary, I just want a quick comment.”
“We really, really are in a hurry,” she said, walking away from me.
I kept walking with her and pressed.
“I understand. This will take 30 seconds,” I said.
I kept following the entourage, trying to get past this “minder” and back to the administrator.
Ferro was soon being rushed out by the entourage. I could have started yelling for her, but frankly, it wasn’t that important that I get a comment from her. I had enough content from her speech for my article.
It’s not the first time I’ve been blown off by a politician. It won’t be the last, but the exchange simply gave me red flags and the creeps.
I went back to the News Journal to write my story. I had two-thirds of it composed when I received, this time, a welcome interruption: a phone call with hot news.
“Anne Ferro just resigned,” the person on the other end of the phone said.
“You’re kidding!” I gasped. “Wow!”
Now, the awkwardness and the blow off made sense, especially since I’d been hearing how nice she is.
Though I had to re-write my lead, it was great to have some national breaking news that happened here locally. I put the story online, sent it to the AP and threw it on our social media sites.
I later posted on my Facebook page, saying, “A couple hours after I tried to interview an Obama administrator this morning, she resigned.”
After reading that post, one of my right-leaning friends soon asked me if I could please try and interview President Obama. Funny.
I doubt I’ll be interviewing the president anytime soon, but if I do, and he quickly hands me off to a press secretary, it might be a clue that a really big story is about to break.
Lora Abernathy is the editor of the Wilmington News Journal. She can be reached at 937-382-2574 or on Twitter @AbernathyLora.