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McCain's choice puts Wasilla in spotlight

Rindi White

WASILLA -- Residents from Gov. Sarah Palin's hometown and surrounding area were bowled over by the news Friday that she will be Republican presidential candidate John McCain's running mate.

"This is a momentous event," said Palmer city councilman Michael Chmielewski. "This is Alaska on the national stage -- the international stage. This is just about as big as it gets."

"It's a great day to be an Alaskan. It's an even better day to be a Wasillan -- and a woman," said Wasilla Mayor Dianne Keller, who replaced Palin on the local city council 12 years ago.

Friday afternoon Keller was planning to drive to an Anchorage television studio for a remote interview with talk show legend Larry King, followed by a Fox News interview at a nearby hotel.

Wasilla High School Principal Dwight Probasco said the school telephone started ringing about 7 a.m. with calls from Newsweek, Entertainment Tonight, Time magazine and other big-name news companies.

"They didn't want to talk to me," he said. "They wanted pictures."

Probasco posted photos of Palin from the 1982 Wasilla High School yearbook on the school Web site.

Wasilla city councilwoman Dianne Woodruff, like several others interviewed Friday, said she thought Palin was a brilliant choice for the McCain campaign.

"She's young, she's pretty," and she appeals to the right-wing conservative Christians, something McCain lacks, Woodruff said.

But Woodruff said she's recently doubted some of Palin's decisions, like firing former Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, hiring Chuck Kopp to take his place and, after a sexual harassment scandal sullied Kopp's name, paying him a $10,000 severance.

"She really doesn't have the experience for this job," she said.

Roy Wallis, owner of Chimo Guns in downtown Wasilla, said he was a McCain supporter from the start but called the announcement "icing on the cake."

"Go, Sarah. We're pumped over here. We're really, really excited. My kids went to school with her. Todd buys his guns here," he said.

Outside the Palmer post office, many -- even those who said they were not necessarily going to vote for McCain -- said they couldn't help but cheer on the hometown girl.

Billie Hahn of Palmer called McCain's pick "awesome." It's exciting to be at the center of the national news, she said. But she's concerned about where Palin's decision to run with McCain leaves Alaskans.

"I'd prefer her to stay," she said.

Daily News reporter T.C. Mitchell contributed to this story. Find Rindi White at or call her in Wasilla at 907-352-6709.