The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday January 31st

White House town hall at UNC 'tightly scripted'

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President Barack Obama’s chief housing and urban development official paid a tightly scripted visit to UNC on Thursday, continuing a recent trend of intense White House attention on the state as the president seeks to repeat his surprise 2008 N.C. victory in the upcoming November election.

Shaun Donovan, the U.S. secretary for housing and urban development, joined a small group of students, administrators and campus community members in an informal town hall gathering in the Morehead-Cain Foundation’s east wing.

The secretary offered his candid assessments on a slew of the Obama administration’s new plans to help college students, homeowners and the unemployed, often repeating lines from the president’s recent State of the Union address in a dry and often awkward hour-long discussion.

“There’s an eroding sense about the realities of the American promise,” Donovan said. “We all have the responsibility to make sure that we can restore that fundamental path to success.”

The event, which the Department of Housing and Urban Development planned within the last week, was billed as an “open town hall” on college access and affordability, but Donovan only answered pre-submitted questions as filtered through Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston Crisp.

“We’re nice people here in North Carolina, so we’ll give you an easy one first,” Crisp said, before asking Donovan what he considered to be the president’s best quality.

In emails obtained by The Daily Tar Heel between Student Body President Mary Cooper and Donovan’s office, the hastily coordinated nature of the event is clear.

Donovan’s office contacted Cooper late last week, and seemed to be mostly concerned with the size and appearance of the available meeting space.

“Our biggest concern is that we’ll have a very large room and not be able to fill it — or at least make it look full,” Melissa Bruns, the secretary’s director of scheduling, wrote in a Jan. 31 email to Cooper.

Cooper’s administration offered several campus locations for the event, eventually settling on the Morehead-Cain Foundation as late as Tuesday afternoon. The talk was one of many staged by the president and his officials in the last week.

Paying close attention to the loyalties of his crowd, Donovan finished his town hall with a bit of local color.

“I always pick Carolina in the office Final Four pool,” he said. “I’d be lying if I told you I’d ever pick Duke to win.”

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