President Bush arrived at Madison Square Garden shortly after 12:15 this afternoon after attending an ecumenical prayer service at a midtown church.
His motorcade, which included almost 50 emergency service vehicles as well as a helicopter escort, rolled swiftly through the security perimeters on 34th and 33rd Street.
He went on to joke with members of the media, "especially the cameraman. Tax relief is on the way. Don't spend it all in one place. Save it."
Bush largely escaped the hundreds of onlookers and media who were gathered outside of the Roman Catholic Church of Our Savior at 59 Park Avenue this morning, entering and exiting via a side entrance covered by a newly constructed white tent.
The church service which last roughly an hour included prayers from its pastor, the Rev. George Rutler, as well as a Protestant minister, a rabbi and an imam and was attended by 250 invited guests.
Others in attendance included First Lady Laura Bush, former President George Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush, former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-PA) and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Bush was the last to arrive and did not speak as Rutler, Rabbi David Lincoln of Park Avenue synagogue, Rev. Doctor Glen Missick, of the Reformed Church in America and Iman Icak EL Pasha, Chaplain for the New York City Police Department addressed those in attendance.
"It is electrifying when he comes in the room," church organist Duncan Anderson said. "It was very exciting."
Many Bush supporters were assembled in the crowd of media and spectators awaiting Bush's arrival outside the church. Trevor Dick, a retired insurance manager from Murray Hill, was there with his son and three-year-old grandson who was sporting a W '04 sticker on his overalls.
"We were thrilled, we strongly support Bush," Dick, 70, said. "When I go to be at night I'm glad he's the president."
A lone protester--a senior from the University of Calif. at Berkeley--stood outside the church waving an anti-Bush poster.
Joseph Mellin, 22, of San Anselmo, Calif. said he spontaneously decided to protest after learning of Bush's visit earlier today on a Jet Blue flight to JFK. A business major, he said that he cut a thermal dynamics class to come to New York to protest.
"I would much rather be here than in a lecture," Mellin said. "It's a way of learning about American culture."
Mellin said that he is most upset with Bush's post-9/11 foreign policy, the hatred toward which he experienced first hand while studying abroad in Spain.
"Two years later [after Sept. 11], I'm in Spain and no one will talk to me," he said. "It made cultural integration totally impossible." He added that it took him nine or ten months to find natives who would talk to him.
Rutler, Our Saviour's pastor, said he expects the media will be banned from the service, which the president wants to keep prayerful as he prepares for his nomination acceptance speech tonight.
Such visits typically are secretive affairs, with groups or organizations not clued in until shortly before the event.
Bush is a born-again Methodist who has time and again cited his faith as a cornerstone of his political philosophy.
Rutler was taking the presidential visit in stride last night. "Our church is rather in the middle of the universe, as a New Yorker would think of Manhattan, so we have quite a lot of these things," he said.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times