Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Hillary Homecoming

Con Edison Building, formerly CONSOLIDATED GAS COMPANY on 14th and Irving Place. 4:48 PM. Photo: JH.
A beautiful August day in New York. Warm but not humid, bright blue skies; massive puffy cumulonimbus clouds floating over the bridges, the river and the Manhattan towers.

I had read a couple of days ago that Mayor Bloomberg was giving a “homecoming” party for Hillary Clinton at Gracie Mansion last night. It was one of those rare moments when I wished I had been invited. I hadn’t been. No reason why I should be, is how I look at it. But. Anyway that was that until this morning when the assistant of a very generous friend of mine emailed me to ask if I wanted to go with her to the “homecoming.”

I wanted to go because I wanted to see Hillary up close. I don’t know her at all although I’ve met her several times over the years. She always appears to remember me, my face, however she does it. As a person who meets literally thousands of people without end, I find it extremely difficult to remember (sometimes) almost everybody’s face and name. That is not the reason to vote for someone, but I am nevertheless astonished by her ability. As I’ve written here before, I like Hillary. I have always liked Hillary. I admire her for many reasons, not the least of which is her pluck. And her brain. But I am admirer of pluck and brains. (Sounds almost like a fancy dinner down on the farm.)
Guests waiting to speak with Senator Clinton while she chats with Robbie Browne.
The reception was from 6 to 8. Gracie Mansion is three blocks up the avenue from me. It was a beautiful night to walk to my destination. I had a sweet moment’s recollection of the town I grew up in on a night like this when we’d go for a walk after dinner.

I got there about 6:30 and ran into several people I knew. One would tend to think of it as a Democratic party event except Mayor Bloomberg was giving it. You go through a security gate and put your metals in the plastic tray.

The reception was being held under a white open tent at the foot the mansion’s front porch overlooking Hellgate, the East River and the Triborough Bridge. It was nearing sunset. Across the water the burnished sandy colors of the roads and bridges were glowing against the blue-black and shining river and the thick, luminescent blue of the sky.

It was one of those New York moments -- the view of the rivers and the bridges from the lawn of the mansion on a perfect August night. I’m reminded of my good fortune just to be able to take it in. I feel almost like a kid. My colleague JH suggested when I told him about it that was a “humbling” experience. That may be it. It’s like viewing a Master’s canvas. All of the aforementioned elements and nostalgia come together to see.
Hillary amongst her many friends and supporters.
There was a crowd of a couple hundred or more. Senator Clinton had just emerged from the mansion with the mayor and Mayor Koch and several other officials. She was wearing a bright turquoise jacket and black pants. She got to the foot of the stairs where people were waiting to speak to her and began greeting. I could see that was the only way I’d get the chance to shake her hand.

There were dozens of us standing around watching (I was taking pictures) as she greeted one person after the next, exchanging hugs, exchanging kisses, smiles, hellos, a quick quiet word.

She doesn’t look worse for the wear but the past year has added some new lines to that face. Her hair is streaked more than one color so that up close it is not so blonde but several shades. I would guess some very canny colorist figured out how it would play in the light of crowds and under lights of a camera.

The Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and his wife Veronica were waiting in the crowd next to me. I moved aside for them since I knew she knew them. She greeted them like old friends and neighbors. When she saw me, again she recognized me (that face, how do I know that face?).
More Hillary fans.
I don’t know why I was waiting. I’d done it a dozen times before. Why am I doing this? A kid waiting to gawk dumbly at his favorite movie star. It was something like that. I say that fully aware of the anathema she is to many. But last night at Gracie Mansion looking like she was just really happy to be home, and everyone was happy to see her.

Or, to put it more succinctly, everybody was happy to be there to see her. Because after all, this is politics and not everybody is ever really happy. Somebody always wins and somebody always loses.

It was a big cross section of New York politicos,
some media a lot of Wall Street and social/philanthropists. Governor Paterson was there. And Mayors Dinkins and Koch and Senator Schumer and Andy Stein and Aggie Gund and Tina Brown, Barbara Walters, Liz Smith, Alan and Susan Patricof, Shirley Rosenthal, Alexandra Lebenthal, Shirley Lord and Mort Zuckerman and Jerry Speyer and Oscar de la Renta and Felix Rohatyn and Catie Marron and Jerry Speyer, Lisa Phillips, Jay Snyder, Robbie Brown, Diane Coffey, Michael Kramer, Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel and on and on.
Erana Stennett and Susan Patricof Billy Jean King with Oscar de la Renta behind Liz Smith
Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel and Michael Kramer Oscar de la Renta and Felix Rohatyn Governor David Paterson talking to Jerry Speyer
I am just a kid again. I look in wonder and sometimes with awe. Essentially it is just people. Yet many are remarkable in their individual ways. Many are brilliant and savvy, and talented. While others are not any of those things. Then amidst all this there is this woman, this object of adoration, scorn, suspicion, admiration, derision, scandal-mongering and let's not forget umbrage. So familiar a face, like someone in your family. And there she is, home from defeat, now up and bright and warm and friendly. It may be that she is, as some have said, faking it. Maybe. We should all fake it so well.

After about twenty minutes of her meeting and greeting, she and everyone else moved into the tent for the “show.” Which began before we knew it with the cast from “Hair” singing “America!” Then Chevy Chase opened the evening with some funny remarks about himself, his age, his hair, Hillary’s hair, and just that snappy, surprise-I’m-a-wiseass patter of his. He laughs along with us. He’s funny.
The cast from HAIR singing "America."
He introduced Mayor Bloomberg. The mayor is looking very summer fit as if he’s been out on the links or on his yacht. With his sunkissed complexion he really does look like a multi-billlionaire tycoon who is in charge of the city. He was also in a very jolly acerbic mood. He told us how he got the idea for this “homecoming” for Senator Clinton one night very late when he was lying in bed doing city budget figures in his head (more effective than counting sheep), when he got the bright idea of having this party.

Mayor Mike introducing Hillary
He picked up the phone (about three a.m.) and called her. And, he added, she picked up the phone and answered. True or not, hard to say. Funny though. Then he introduced Governor Paterson and Chuck Schumer. Then he introduced Barbara Walters who recalled the first time she interviewed Hillary in the White House in 1995 on the snowiest day of the year.

Then came a young woman who went to work at Cantor Fitzgerald on September 11, 2001. She was in the first building to be hit. She survived but only after more than six months in the hospital. Hillary had come to visit her there. She was told that she would do everything she could to help her situation. She has, this woman assured us last night. She also has seen her many times since, always hears from her on birthdays and anniversaries and holidays, and is eternally grateful for her friendship Then the woman’s husband spoke, reiterating his wife’s story and adding his thanks.

Then came Hillary. She jested with Mayor Bloomberg about his possible political future (a thumbs up).

She spoke about traveling across America, of people’s impression of New York and New Yorkers. She said how happy she was to be back home, to be back working. “I’m open for business,” said the Senator. But this recent experience has added another dimension to this woman’s presence. It is the dimension of independence. It looks like she won that for herself in this last foray. She thanked everyone for coming, got an ovation, and with her head high, she exited the platform and the night began moving on. New York, New York.
Hillary at the podium.

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