On his 75th birthday, the nation's 47th vice president visited Proctors in Schenectady Monday night — one of 19 stops on his "American Promise" book tour. WAMC's Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas was there when Joe Biden walked out on stage .
In a moving introduction, Ashley Biden told the crowd of 2,200 that her dad is "the wind beneath my wings." Democrat Joe Biden emerged from the wings to a standing ovation, audience members then spontaneously singing "Happy Birthday" to the former VP.
No audio recording was permitted.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jonathan Capehart moderated the hour-long chat with Biden, whose many topics included political highlights of his career, life-altering choices he made, and key traits that have helped him persevere through challenges. He shared how the his son Beau’s death from cancer tested his resolve, and how he is finding new purpose in a time of uncertainty. Congressman Paul Tonko, a Democrat from the 20th district, branded it "a tough emotional night." "What we heard and better yet what we saw in a very humanistic way is a loving dad and a great family man who has given his life to public service. And it's so apparent when you listen to his exchanges that he's genuine and his authenticity shines through, and it's what I think states him as such a powerful yet compassionate public servant."
Bidens' memoir, "Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose," documents Biden's grappling with the brain-cancer battle and eventual loss of his son, Beau, while also weighing whether he should seek the presidency in 2016. He told Schenectady he wrote the book so people would know who Beau was and to give people hope. That struck a chord with Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan. "There probably wasn't a dry eye in the place when he was talking about Beau and talking about Beau's struggle and his passing. So I think that really struck me as a human being, right? You know this is a real person who I think had been through things that allow him to truly empathize in a way that impacts people and people in the room could feel it. I think as a public servant, one of the things that really struck me was when he said, 'You shouldn't run for elective office because you need a job. This is about truly serving the public and about being in service to people, and it's not about a job or career.' And that was something that really resonated with me because I think we have too many examples out there and have seen too many examples of people who use public office for their own advancement."
Biden spent 45 years in public service and said he never sought to enrich himself.
Beth Chatnick from Schenectady was in the audience: "I liked when he was talking about how when he says something nice to somebody or compliments them and how it doesn't cost anything but it makes a big difference in his life and in the life of the person that he compliments."
Biden represented Delaware for 36 years in the U.S. Senate before serving as Vice President from 2009 to 2017. He told the crowd he and former President Barack Obama have become best friends.
Jean Jones from Schenectady appreciated the personal glimpse Biden gave into his life. "I wasn't aware of his work that he had done with cancer research, so that surprised me. That seems really incredible that he would take time out from his other responsibilities to work on something like that."
Again, Congressman Tonko: "And I think his, his healing comes by sharing with audiences what he's going through."
Capehart asked if writing was cathartic: Biden responded "yes," adding he would write between 5 and 15 hours every day.
If Biden has ruled out a run for the presidency in 2020, he didn't tip his hand during the Electric City appearance. "I for one hope that he does, you know, come through this ready to serve in some capacity, because I think he's that strong a leader," remarked Tonko.
Biden's daughter Ashley recently told Women's World Daily "If he is in good health, knock on wood, and seeing what the landscape is at the time, yeah, I think he is considering it."