Bill Keitel introduces Biden at Rochester event
ROCHESTER -- Several days ago, when Bill Keitel gave a brief tour of his downtown Worthington business to some of out-of-towners, he thought little of it.
He'll likely think of what transpired Tuesday for the rest of his life.
Keitel, who owns The Cows Outside and Buffalo Billfold Co. on 10th Street, introduced U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday in Rochester. On his way back to Worthington Tuesday night, Keitel marveled at the unlikeliness of what had taken place.
"When the Mars lander landed on Mars -- that's what happened to me," Keitel said. "Some people stopped at the store one day, and then all of a sudden I landed in Rochester with Al Franken, Tim Walz and others."
Keitel recalled having some visitors in his store about a week ago who were representing Minnesota labor issues and "were looking for local business support." He knew in advance they wanted to see his business, so when he was called at home during lunch, he returned to the store to offer a tour.
A Facebook friend request followed about two days later, and then came a more unusual contact shortly afterward.
"I got a phone call from the Obama campaign asking me if I would be interested in speaking in Rochester," Keitel said.
"I'm not interested in being a politician, but I do think everybody should form some sort of political philosophy," he continued. "I have very good friends that are Democrats, very good friends that are Republicans and very good friends that are Independents, and that's what you should have.
"The reason I agreed to do it is as a small businessman, we struggle with health care costs. It's a pretty important issue. My own personal view is that health care is one of the single biggest things that cause small businesses to go out of business. The good news is, we're excited to be able to pay for it ... but everybody should have health care."
Keitel learned Sunday afternoon that he'd be introducing Biden at the Rochester event. He had two key tasks at that point; to prepare his remarks, and keep his opportunity of a lifetime to himself. He originally was going to speak for about one or two minutes, but after getting his speech reviewed was encouraged to talk longer.
Encountering security Tuesday was "a little daunting," but Keitel added that the crowd was significant in size and energy.
"It was a very cool venue," he said. "It was in one of the fair buildings in Rochester ... and it has a perimeter balcony, also. The people were double-packed in two layers. ... It was a beyond-capacity crowd, and that was a concern that the fire marshal had. It was a pretty exciting crowd."
While Keitel has public oratory experience -- he may be most recognized from speaking each year at Worthington's Windsurfing Regatta and Unvarnished Music Festival, which he co-founded -- this was something new entirely. Yet, it was something he felt he had to do.
"Most small businessmen that live in small communities can't afford to lose any of their patronage and, so many times, people don't speak up," Keitel said. "I have friends on every side of the aisle ... and I just think it's an important enough issue that people should step forward and recognize that small businesses are under siege with health care costs.
"I didn't go up there as a professor of economics and health care issues, and I surely didn't intend this to be me stepping forward into the political arena. It's duty, really. ... If you're called upon to say something good for the party, good for the president and good for the country, you do it."
Daily Globe Managing Editor
Ryan McGaughey may be reached