President Barack Obama in Bellevue, WA February 17, 2012: Long Live the ARPA-E!

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President Barack Obama in Bellevue, WA, February 17, 2012: Long Live the ARPA-E

Today was a really exciting day for me.  I was invited to a lunch with President Barack Obama at the Bellevue Westin, in Bellevue, WA outside of Seattle, WA.  There were only about  400 people present.

Barack Obama in Bellevue

 I used to be CEO of cleantech company named Bio Architecture Lab (BAL).  BAL is a spin out from the University of Washington that has developed technology to convert seaweed or macroalgae into low cost biofuels and renewable chemicals.  In 2009, BAL was selected for a prestigious ARPA-E grant with DuPont from the Department of Energy.  The ARPA-E stands for the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy and is geared at funding game-changing risky energy projects.  It is led by Arun Majumdar who is the former Associate Laboratory Director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories.  We received the largest grant in the country to convert seaweed into bio-butanol.  It was a big deal for our company and for DuPont as well which was cool to see.

A friend of mine from Harvard Business School shot be an email a couple of weeks ago, letting me know that President Obama was coming to Bellevue to raise money for his reelection campaign.  Though I am financially conservative, I grew up in blue collar Massachusetts and I am about as liberal and liberal can be.  I figured this was a once in lifetime chance to be the same room as the first black President of the United States.  After getting the okay from my CFO my wife, I responded happily that I would be there with bells on.  

Today February 17, 2012, I arrived at the Bellevue Westin about 30 minutes before the doors opened to wait in line for my chance to see President Barack Obama.   There was an interesting mix of supporters and protesters outside.  Majority of the protesters were from Occupy Wall Street movement.  Majority of the supporters were promoting Planned Parenthood or Equal Rights for All.  There were a number of petitions asking for further campaign finance reform to take corporations out of the election process.  Probably a good idea.

Protests in Bellevue when President Obama is in town Protests in Bellevue when President Obama is in townWestin Bellevue WA

It took us about an hour to get into the Westin.  We were seated by 1:30pm.  I am not sure what I did to deserve special treatment (Thank You Steve & Autumn!) but I was in the front row right as the President would enter the room near the stage.  I swear I was like 20 feet away from the President or at least where the President would be.  I also got the privilege of sitting next to three GREAT families - the Griffin's, Ringnesses, and the Gerberding's.  The Griffin's were a large family with four children.  Ed Ringness was a Harvard grad and an early employee at Microsoft and Bill Gerberding was the former President of the University of Washington.  I soon learned that Bill was the longest serving President at the University of Washington in history having served 16 years.    

The Head and the Heart started playing at about 2pm.  What a GREAT show!  Unfortunately, the President ran about 3 hours late :(  Luckily we had great conversations.  When the President did arrive, he first took pictures with the largest donors first prior to speaking.  I think that took another hour.  

FINALLY, the owner of Elliot Bay Book Store Peter Aaron introduced President Barack Obama.  It was an interesting choice in that Peter is relatively unknown in Seattle, but Peter spoke of the economic hardships of running a small business with 30 employees and being unable to get a loan in 2008.  The Elliot Bay Book Store is a cornerstone here in Seattle from a city flavor perspective.

President Barack Obama came on the stage right after.  I hope the video does justice to how close I was to the President.  It was amazing.  No matter what you think about his effectiveness or his politics, he is an amazing speaker and an inspirational person.   His speech was all about building an America "Built to Last" and investing in the people of America.  He held Detroit and the car industry as a great example of the revival of American industry.  GM has returned to its stature as the world's largest car company.  He talked about the need to invest in education, training and clean energy (my heart grew a couple of sizes larger).  He spoke passionately about the need to raise taxes on the rich, because it is the right thing to do, touting the Buffett Law where the boss should not pay a lower tax rate than the secretary.  

The President actually admitted that he has not been as effective as he would have liked.  He told us that change is hard, but he is committed to representing that American people to do the right thing.  I can related to the change being hard part and that nothing happens as quickly as you want.

President Barack Obama actually complimented the Republican Party starting with Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt for making the investments into the people and infrastructure of the country (clever tactic President Obama).  He did come back to politics attributing the gird lock in Washington Dc to the Republican Party.

Like a good President, he challenged us in the audience to do what we can to rebuild and retrain America into greatness.  A great call to action for all of us.

Prior, I asked the Secret Service where I should go to get the best chance of shaking President Obama's hand post speech.  After hemming and hawing for some time, the Secret Service told me to get to the middle.  Luckily a friend of mine named Adam Tratt was also in the audience at the table right next to me in the front.  

As Obama finished his speech and started to move toward the rope line, we moved rushed to the middle.  Adam took my iPhone and I took his and he tried to take pictures of the hand shake.  All day, I had been sweating over what I would say if I got an opportunity to say something to the President.  

Here was my opportunity.  The President was moving down the rope line, closer and closer.  I totally forgot to take a good picture of Adam.  Then it was my turn to shake the President's hand.  He put out his left hand toward my right hand and then I yelled, "Long live the ARPA-E!"

The President looked startled, like he was thinking, "Why would anyone in his right mind say that?"

The President replied, "That's a great program."

I replied, "Hell yeah it is." (or something like that).

Why did I say that? I have no idea.  But it is kind of funny in retrospect.

We made our way down to the parking garage and then out into the Seattle rain and Bellevue Traffic.

What a cool day.

 President Barack ObamaPresident Barack ObamaNikesh Parekh Shaking Barack Obama's Hand

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Jill Sackler
Charles Rutenberg Realty Inc. 516-575-7500 - Long Beach, NY
LI South Shore Real Estate - Broker Associate

I was tempted to say, "My, you had a long wait," but your tremendous excitement at meeting the President came through in your writing so I'm sure you'd say it was worth every minute.

Your anecdote of what to say to the President reminded me of an episode I once saw on The Golden Girls a long time ago. Bea Arthur is supposed to meet Pres. Clinton (if I remember correctly) and she can't wait to give him a piece of her mind. She has it all rehearsed - everything she's going to tell him about what he's doing wrong in running the country. But as he walks through the door, she's so starstruck, all she can do is stutter something like "a pleasure to meet you." I guess you had to see it to find it funny.

Feb 18, 2012 09:01 AM #21
Fred Griffin presently on Leave of Absence
Fred Griffin Real Estate - Tallahassee, FL
Licensed Florida Real Estate Broker

Niki, I am glad you had a good time.   I will leave it at that.

Feb 18, 2012 10:17 AM #22
David Myre
VIP Realty - Dallas, TX

I'm sure it's exciting being so close to a US president.
What empty promises did the silver tongued devil spew this time?

Feb 18, 2012 01:28 PM #23
Yolanda Hoversten
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Elite Properties - O'Fallon, IL
Broker - O Fallon, IL Real Estate

How nice.

Feb 19, 2012 01:41 AM #24
Lori Cain
eXp Realty - Tulsa, OK
Midtown Tulsa Real Estate Top Producer

How exciting for you!!!!  I know what you mean about what comes out of your mouth. I got to shake Hillary Clinton's hand one time, and I said, "I'm so sorry about the idiots we send from Oklahoma."  :))

Feb 20, 2012 12:04 AM #25
Barbara-Jo Roberts Berberi, MA, PSA, TRC - Greater Clearwater Florida Residential Real Estate Professional
Charles Rutenberg Realty - Clearwater, FL
Palm Harbor, Dunedin, Clearwater, Safety Harbor

Thanks for sharing! I wish I could have been there as well to meet our President! Fantastic!!!!! Thanks for sharing!

Feb 20, 2012 02:13 AM #26
Lana Robbins Realtor ® Licensed Real Estate Broker
Aloha Kai Real Estate - Clearwater, FL
Licensed in Florida and Washington

Hi Nikesh. I am not a fan of Obama at all. After he gave billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars to big banks via TARP2 then further devalued the American dollar through quantitative easing making our work so much more challenging. We are talking about a major devaluation of the American dollar due in part to his leadership and policies which in turn has plundered OUR compensation.  A record high 41.5 million Americans are now on food stamps.

Just recently he cut funding to the Bishop Museum in Hawai'i so now some much-needed librarians who take care of their archives have been laid off. He also signed the payroll tax extension which will add an additional albeit hidden tax to homebuyers as well as those who refinance in the next 10 years. He even misappropriated "I'm from Hawai'i" so now some people mistakenly think that those of us who are really from Hawai'i are callous, uncaring, and selfish. He has done alot of damage to the honor of those of us who are REALLY from Hawai'i. He is not someone some of us celebrate. Some of us are not impressed by or with him AT ALL.

However I am a huge fan of YOUR leadership and of Active Rain. I like how excited you are to have been near him. I especially like the caption "My hand." Very amusing LOL

Feb 20, 2012 10:59 AM #27
Ali Singh
Awesome blog, Nik! I agree with you completely. Obama is an inspirational leader and change takes time despite the best of intentions. I am so happy that you were able to meet him. This was such an amazing opportunity!
Feb 21, 2012 04:19 AM #28
Steven Cook
No Longer Processing Mortgages. - Tacoma, WA

Niki -- it is an exciting thing to get to be in the audience when a national leader (esp. the President) is in attendance.  Glad you got this opportunity to see/hear/and shake hands with him.

Feb 21, 2012 05:13 AM #29
Rene Fabre
First American Title - Seattle, WA
Marketing in the Digital Age

Niki... What a very cool story. Thanks for sharing this. Indeed change is a challenge. I've often thought about Obama this year and the challenges he faces. Thanks too for the photo's and the video!

Feb 22, 2012 05:47 AM #30
Ron Tarvin
Residential, Investment properties, rehab projects, property management, luxury homes, new construction! - Katy, TX
Broker, Katy, Houston, Cypress 77450,77494,77095

Such a small group!  That must have been exciting to be that close to the President!  Regardless of politics, it's still a great experience...I've never been that close to anyone like that before! 

Feb 22, 2012 01:02 PM #31
Bonnie Vaughan
Scranton, PA
CNE SFR - Buyers/Sellers - Lackawanna & Surroundin

I'm glad you had an enjoyable luncheon.  No matter who the President is - it is special to be in the same room with him.

I'd love to be able to meet Bill and Hillary Clinton.  Maybe some day.

Feb 26, 2012 04:56 AM #32
Broker Nick
South Florida Real Estate & Development, Inc. - Coconut Creek, FL
Broker Nick Relocation Broker Service

I don't share your enthusiasm for meeting this President who has thrown our profession under the Obama campaign bus by his regulations and policies, having said that I met President Reagan in New York at Wall Street and it was very exciting for me. President Reagan really changed America for good and brought hope and change back for real, not just the rhetoric that we have heard for the past four years.

I can't see how any real estate broker, mortgage broker, developer or contractor  - or anybody in the real estate industry can enjoy meeting a person who has put hindrances and roadblock after roadblock in the recovery of real estate. 

 No one respects the office of the Presdency more than I, but one of the reasons people voted for Obama is that he promised to help people with short sales, foreclosures and loan modifications - and it has gotten dramatically worse since he took office - more regulations and nothing Obama has done to help has worked. HAFA has failed completely - can anyone deny this?

Gas prices have doubled since Obama has taken office- realtors drive people all around the nation and use more gas than we can possibly explain before we even get paid - so our overall costs are skyrocketing.

People are getting out of real estate because they cannot afford to drive people around anymore - 

As a broker the path has been met with more and more difficulty in explaining the benefits of the real estate industry with such hindrances.

Enough said

Feb 28, 2012 09:59 PM #33
Karen Anne Stone
New Home Hunters of Fort Worth and Tarrant County - Fort Worth, TX
Fort Worth Real Estate

Nick:  It just continues to amaze me that so many people like YOU cannot simply share in Niki's excitement.  How hard would that be?

I know that there are quite a few who have commented on this post who share many of your political ideas... but look at what they have done, here.  They have put that aside, and simply shared in Niki's joy.  But you ?

No... you've just got to get out your shovel, dip it into your bag of you-know-what that you seem to carry with you and hold close to your heart... and heap it onto Niki and what is NOT a political post.

Do you just enjoy being miserable ?

Your last sentence (before you came back and picked up your shovel again) in your comment says it all.  Your problem is that you just "can't see."  Sorry.  My thought is that there are none so blind as those who "will not see."

And this time... you ended with "Enough said."  Is that a promise ?

Feb 28, 2012 10:14 PM #34
Broker Nick
South Florida Real Estate & Development, Inc. - Coconut Creek, FL
Broker Nick Relocation Broker Service

Karen Anne - You are the last person who should be saying anything about opinions because you cannot keep your mouth shut as long as I have known you. Mind your own business and stop trying to apologize for anyone who has differing opinions from yours.

Meeting the President is exciting whomever it is - but this is a real estate site and we who actually sell real estate and practice the profession of real estate today have issues with this President.

And they need to be addressed for the good of our clients and customers who are in deep trouble, period.

So get off your high horse and keep your comments to yourself or address what you want to and don't make this personal as your a famous for.


Feb 28, 2012 10:25 PM #35
Karen Anne Stone
New Home Hunters of Fort Worth and Tarrant County - Fort Worth, TX
Fort Worth Real Estate

Nick:  The point I am trying to make here... is that this is not a political post.  If you were back at your group "Silent Majority," or if you yourself had written this post... of course you could make it as political as you wished.  And occasional, when you yourself write a political post on Silent Majority, I DO join you in light-hearted debate.

But this is not a political post.  Nor is this YOUR post.  I am in no way trying to "quiet" you from stating your religious beliefs.  I am simply trying to say that THIS post... is not the place. 

As far as being on a "high horse..." I at one time earlier in my life owned a Tennessee Walker.  He was very "high."  Eighteen hands high, as I remember.  I have been told by "horse people" that 18 hands is pretty high. 

So... if anyone should be "allowed" by you (LOL)... to be on their "high horse"... I would suspect it would be someone who actually OWNED a "high horse."

You have a lovely day, my friend.  And oh... you are quite welcome.

Feb 29, 2012 01:41 AM #36
Nikesh Parekh
Suplari, Inc. - Seattle, WA
Technology Entrepreneur, Executive, & Investor

Hi Everyone,

Just back from vacation!  My only point with this blog was this:

I just had an INCREDIBLE person experience of meeting the President, which will likely not happen again in my life time.

AND the thing I wanted to do immediately afterwards was share it with the community on ActiveRain!

That's all.   I am coming up on a year with ActiveRain.  I guess I have made some progress.

Thanks for the spirited discussion!  


Feb 29, 2012 01:42 AM #37
Broker Nick
South Florida Real Estate & Development, Inc. - Coconut Creek, FL
Broker Nick Relocation Broker Service

Niki - That is really cool. It is an honor to meet any President and it is one of the experiences which we we ponder for the rest of our lives. I just enjoy the banter and obviously want to express what is happening in real estate.

Feb 29, 2012 07:40 AM #38
Broker Nick
South Florida Real Estate & Development, Inc. - Coconut Creek, FL
Broker Nick Relocation Broker Service

Karen Anne - Always enjoy the discussion no matter where and when, but you made it personal. It doesn't have to be - all is good. Love those Tennessee Walkers - rode them myself and I prefer the Quarter Horse / Thoroughbred for jumping.

Feb 29, 2012 07:42 AM #39
Virginia Cheezum
F. C. Tucker Company - Indianapolis, IN

I think I was washing my hair that day, sorry I missed him!    :)

Feb 29, 2012 11:44 PM #40
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