Following the inauguration of Donald J. Trump on Friday, former Vice President Joe Biden returned to Delaware via Amtrak. Hundreds gathered at the Chase Center on the Riverfront to greet him.
Biden’s choice of transportation was unsurprising; as a Senator, he earned the nickname “Amtrak Joe” for his daily commutes to and from Washington.
Gov. John Carney told the crowd that when Biden came through the station, “everybody knew his name—and Joe knew all of their names.” On their ride to Wilmington, he said, Biden shared stories from past journeys, recalling the way he often gazed out his window at the houses lit up along the way and wondered what people at their kitchen tables were worried about.
“That train ride wasn’t about Joe Biden,” Carney said. “It was about us.”
Attendees awaiting Biden’s arrival earlier in the day echoed that sentiment.
“Even though we don’t know him personally, he’s one of ours,” said Emily Cassidy of Hockessin. “He’s our guy who’s been representing us for so many years.” Cassidy brought her two sons, 10 and 7, for whom she said Biden is a role model. Attending the event was less about politics than it was about celebrating “someone who has spent his whole life providing service,” she said.
Parents expressed a desire for their children—many of them picked up early from school, and clad in red, white and blue—to witness what they described as a historic event.
Tisha Griffith of Claymont hoped her sons, 8 and 9, would “feel the effects” of attendees’ adoration and appreciation.
Brian Selander brought his eight-year-old daughter, who was born the day before then-Sen. Barack Obama held a campaign rally in Wilmington’s Rodney Square in February 2008.
“I really wanted her to […] know how much the Bidens mean to America, not just Delaware,” said Selander, who has worked for Gov. Jack Markell and Sen. Tom Carper, and often rode the Amtrak with the Bidens in the early 2000s.
Colorful signs lined the walls of the Chase Center.
Pride in Biden’s beginnings was palpable among supporters.
Marcella Brainard of Stanton remembered that Biden helped her mother carry in groceries when he was campaigning for a spot on the New Castle County Council over four decades ago. “We’ve been supporting him since,” Brainard said.
Fourth-generation Delawarean James Hyde of Smyrna worked for Biden’s first Senate campaign in 1972 while studying politics at the University of Delaware. Attending Friday’s ceremony “seemed like a good bookend to the other end of the story,” she said. “We sent him to Washington in ’72, and now we’re bringing him home.”
In remarks after Biden’s arrival, Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki shared memories of their time as UD students in the early ‘60s, living in Harter Hall and playing football.“Who would have ever guessed,” he mused, “ […] that one of those kids would become mayor of the city of Wilmington, and have the opportunity to welcome back the vice president of the United States […]?”
Purzycki went on to praise Biden’s “heralded career” in the Senate and congratulated him for recently receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, calling him “one of the great statesmen of this century.”
U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester deemed Biden a down-to-earth storyteller, a “consummate legislator” and a “civil rights champion.”
“I am standing here on your shoulders today,” Blunt Rochester—Delaware’s first woman and first black representative in Congress—told Biden.
The emotional return
Biden fought back tears as he addressed the crowd.
“My character, my value, my view of the world—it all comes from this state and all of you,” he said.
He reminisced about standing at the Wilmington station eight years before, abruptly flashing back to the despair he’d felt decades earlier in the aftermath of the 1968 race riots.
“I stood here 40 years ago to the day, almost, the city in tatters, occupied by the National Guard, and I wondered whether it would ever get better,” he remembered thinking on the platform in 2008, as he waited for the train that would take him to the inauguration of the first black president in U.S. history.
“No matter how you feel right now, there is hope, man,” he promised.
Biden shares a moment with supporter Patricia Toth.
An unforgettable embrace
After Biden’s speech, Patricia Toth, a 71-year-old nurse from Phoenixville Pa., waited patiently as he moved slowly through the throngs of fans clamoring for handshakes, hugs and pictures. Her daughter, Susan Toth, explained that her mother supported him “even before everyone else got on the Joe bandwagon.”
Patricia describes Biden as a “kindred spirit” whose folksy speech and style bear an “uncanny” resemblance to those of her parents. “He speaks to me because I know what’s he saying,” she explains, citing his oft-uttered “malarkey” maxims. “[We’re] Irish, Catholic—the mothers said the same thing.”
“We’re gonna miss him,” she sighs, referring to Biden’s White House tenure, and clasps the hand of a good-natured Secret Service agent who assures her that, despite the crowd, Biden will come her way.
And he does. “I’ve been waiting since 1972 to meet you,” she informs him.
“You weren’t even alive!” Biden teases her, then kisses her cheek. Her lower lip quivers as her daughter snaps a photo. She tells him she’s been praying for him since the night in 1972 she found out his first wife, Neilia, and daughter, Naomi, had been killed in a car crash. He is visibly moved, and embraces her tightly for several seconds. (“Did I make a scene?” she worries afterward.)
Eventually Biden moves on to the next supporter, and then the next. Approaching the end of the long, winding line, he spots a familiar face.
“Great to see ya, pal!” he exclaims heartily, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a Delawarean who isn’t thinking the very same thing.