With both President Bush and Senator Kerry in Topeka, Kansas today to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, the Los Angeles Times’ John M. Glionna treats us to a behind-the-scenes account of “[T]he biggest day in Topeka history, period,” as Mayor James A. McClinton put it. While VH-1-style pieces like this have a tendency to veer off into the insignificant, Glionna offers a fascinating description of the dueling campaigns’ attempts to outshine each other.

For instance, Glionna digs up the fact that both the Bush and Kerry camps contacted Marty Gies, principal of a Topeka school, to ask the school to send students to their respective speeches. Gies originally planned to divide his students much like a baseball manager dividing his team for a split-squad spring training game, sending his second graders to see Kerry and the rest to see Bush (who made the first request). The school’s administration, however, decided to fill the request with students from two schools.

Like the Mets and the Yankees (or White Sox and Cubs) having a home game on the same day, it’s rare, Glionna notes, for both presidential candidates to appear in the same place on the same day. This is largely because candidates (like baseball teams) don’t want to share the spotlight. Glionna highlights another reason: The dual visit is a logistical nightmare, so much so that if Kerry’s speech had run late, Kerry would be at the mercy of Air Force One, which gets a federally-mandated 30-mile buffer zone, stranding other planes until it lands.

Glionna also talks to a few Topekans who hope the media attention will be a boost for a city that has recently suffered some economic setbacks and a high crime rate.

Perhaps the tastiest morsel in the piece, however, might be the revelation that Kerry’s campaign called the downtown Ramada Inn to ask for “the nicest room in the hotel.” The Ramada complied by posting Kerry to the “Bob Dole Suite,” named for the former Kansas senator and Republican presidential candidate. There’s no word, however, on whether the room came stocked with Pepsi and Viagra.

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.