Boilermaker introduces Obama at Montana rally

Local D239 Sec.-Treas. (and Three Forks Mayor) Gene Townsend introduces Sen. Barack Obama in Bozeman, Mont., May 19. Courtesy of Belgrade News

D239 secretary-treasurer is also local mayor

GENE TOWNSEND, Local D239’s secretary-treasurer and long-time mayor of Three Forks, Mont., got a rare privilege May 19 when he introduced Sen. Barack Obama at a rally held in nearby Bozeman, on the Montana State University campus.

Located in Three Forks, Local D239 is a cement lodge representing workers employed by Holcim and by Rio Tinto Minerals. Townsend, 57, a 35-year Local D239 member, works as a boiler operator at Rio Tinto, which manufactures industrial talc. He is also the longest-running mayor in the state of Montana, with 23 years in office.

Townsend said he still doesn’t know for sure why the Obama campaign tapped him to introduce the senator, although his tenure as mayor may have been a factor. He said he didn’t have time to be nervous. “The Obama campaign called on Friday [May 16], just three days before the rally, and asked if my wife, Pat, and I would attend as VIP guests. Then on Sunday afternoon someone from his staff called and asked if I would introduce the senator. I didn’t even know if I could get off work.”

But with an invitation like that, a coworker gladly traded shifts so Townsend could attend.

Townsend said he has spoken to many groups as mayor of Three Forks and as vice president for the state AFL-CIO federation, but addressing a capacity crowd at the Montana State University campus — and introducing the leading Democratic presidential candidate — was something else. “There was a hell of a lot more people than has ever been at the city council,” he quipped.

Townsend kept his speech short. “I talked about Three Forks, that it had some tough times when the Milwaukee Railroad pulled out, and that the people had hung together and…were probably a little tougher, and that [Obama] is the right man for the job. I also talked about my Boilermaker background.”

The Townsends spent some time backstage with Obama and his campaign staff. “The first thing Obama did was include my wife, asking her to join us. He was just a normal guy. One of his people told me, ‘What you see back here is exactly how [Obama] is all the time.’”

Townsend, who recently became a grandfather, added, “Maybe someday I’ll get to tell her [his granddaughter] I got to introduce the president of the United States.”

Local D239 Pres. Mick McGuire said his local, although small in number (a little over 100 members), has a history of political activism. “At times, our local has donated more money to the state AFL-CIO legislative fund than any other local in the state.” He added that another member, Tom Hyndman, is a mayor, too, in nearby Twin Bridges.

Regarding Townsend’s speech in Bozeman, McGuire said, “Our members were real proud of the job Gene did. He represented our local and our community very well.”

Elements of this story provided, with permission, by Andy Malby, managing editor, Belgrade News.

Paid for by the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Campaign Assistance Fund, [phone: (703) 560-1493] and is not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.