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South Floridians React To Obama Speech With Anxiety, Hope

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Location: Washington, DC

President Barack Obama's prime-time speech was greeted with a wait-and-see attitude in South Florida, where the economy has been battered by the housing crisis and growing unemployment.

From the man on the street to members of Congress, South Floridians were cautiously optimistic about the Obama administration's plan to lift the economy out of its current malaise.

At the Riverside Hotel on Fort Lauderdale's Las Olas Boulevard, Rocco Norman watched Obama address the nation on television and said he was pleased to hear the president say he would fight corporate greed.

''I'm a worker. Most everyone I know is a worker. And we're scared for our jobs, while the CEOs keep getting bonuses? That isn't right,'' said Norman, 42, a law office assistant.

Others watching Obama said they were anxious to see the effects of the $787 billion stimulus package that was recently approved by Congress.

''I'm glad he mentioned that website,'' Sharon Tomes said about the recovery.gov site where Americans can track how stimulus dollars are being spent.

"I'm going to be checking that every day.''

Obama's remarks about the economy drew the attention of several Barry University students, who took time off from their studies to watch the address.

''It rejuvenated the hope for me that our education system will be able to compete with the Chinese,'' said Michael Whorley, an 18-year old freshman.

''Usually, in economic turmoil, education is the first thing to go,'' he said.

South Florida lawmakers in Congress shared similar feelings but were mostly divided along party lines.

Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, whose district stretches from Miami Beach and Key Biscayne to Monroe County and Key West, said she remains concerned about the billions of dollars being appropriated to boost the nation's economy.

''I look forward to working with President Obama on positive solutions to our nation's economic difficulties, but we cannot continue to borrow and spend our way out of this hole,'' she said.

Like her House Republican colleagues, Ros-Lehtinen voted against the stimulus legislation, saying it would "sadly saddle future generations with massive debt.''

Despite her reservations, she struck a bipartisan tone. ''South Floridians are bipartisan pragmatists,'' she said. "We want solutions, not arguments. And I think Obama feels the same way.''

Democratic Rep. Ron Klein, whose district runs along the coastline of Palm Beach and Broward counties, said Obama's message and his administration's plans to fix the country's ailing economy were on target.

''President Obama was right to point out tonight that the economic challenges we face as a nation are interrelated, and that we cannot solve any one of them without a comprehensive approach,'' he said.

He also shared Obama's view about America's "fundamental optimism.''

''There is no doubt that as Americans, we have risen time and time again to meet and exceed every challenge presented by history, and I have no doubt that we will do so once again,'' he added.

Miami Herald Washington correspondent Lesley Clark contributed to this report.


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