Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - Stevens Tells Fairbanksans he Needs their Trust and Support
By Rena Delbridge
Sen. Ted Stevens stood before Alaskans in Fairbanks Thursday afternoon, asking them for their trust and support as he seeks a seventh term in Washington, D.C.
"I need your vote next Tuesday," he said. "It's a question of who will carry the Alaskans' voice to the floor of the Senate ... Let's make this a clear victory for Alaska."
Several hundred people packed the lobby of the Westmark Hotel, many carrying signs of support for Stevens.
A jury convicted Stevens, 84, of seven felony counts Monday for his failure to report gifts and home renovations made by former VECO oilfield services company head Bill Allen. Stevens maintained that he believed his reporting was accurate and complete. His attorneys are appealing the verdict.
Some people attended the rally to get a first-hand take on the senator, while others said their support has never wavered.
Erik Kilpela showed up in worn coveralls and winter boots, fresh from cutting firewood outside of Fox.
"I've been loyal to Ted Stevens in the past," he said, adding that he is an undecided voter and the senator's words would help him decide how to mark the ballot Nov. 4.
"I tend to think that Ted Stevens has been around a long time. I'd just like to see what happens next with him. The trial was kind of iffy, but that's the way it is. I want to hear his opinion on it."
Jon Dobbins said he came to hear what Stevens would say about the verdict, and to evaluate whether the senator has the energy to represent Alaska well for another six years.
"He's done so much for the state, it's hard not to like the man," Dobbins said before the rally. "I'd like to see if he's still got the energy and the wherewithal to get through another full term. Six years is a long time for anybody, especially at 84. And I would like to see what he has to say about this trial, personally. What he has to say will weigh heavily."
Stevens walked onto a short platform to waves of applause and cheers.
"I'm here to tell you I am innocent of the charges that were brought against me," he said. "I know I'll be vindicated."
He spoke using notes, saying he had erred in trusting someone he thought was a friend and that he believed the financial disclosure forms to be accurate and complete.
Faces from the crowd watched intently as Stevens pleaded for their vote.
"Working side by side, we Alaskans have built a great state from an impoverished territory," he said. Times are tough, he continued, and Alaskans need someone they can count on to defend their interests.
Some have said Stevens' conviction netted a loss in stature for the once-powerful Republican.
He told the crowd, though, that all he needs to be an effective voice in Washington D.C., is the right to stand on the Senate floor and be heard, just as he did as a newly elected politician years ago.
After the rally, Dobbins said he¹d been heavily swayed to the senator's favor.
"He's a good man," Dobbins said.
Supporters thronged around Stevens following his speech, as he took about a half hour to shake hands, receive words of support and accept hugs.
"Welcome home," Ro Bailey told him, grasping his hand. "I'm with you all the way."
The trial, she said, was a "set-up," and she is confident he'll beat the charges on appeal.
"He's what he has always been, a champion for Alaska," said admirer Esther Hackney, who has lived in Alaska since 1948 and calls herself and husband Glenn Hackney, a former state senator, solid supporters.
Many of those attending said they came after seeing advertisements in local media. The campaign also set volunteers to work on Wednesday, calling Fairbanks residents and encouraging them to show their support. Some also received pre-recorded phone calls asking people to attend the rally.