It is rare to have a President (serving or past) in Binghamton, New York. So when we do get such a huge presence, there is an obvious swell of attention. That was the case for former President Bill Clinton tonight. The attention was well deserved.
As early as 5:30pm there was a line spanning at least 75 people waiting to enter the Holiday Inn Arena. By the time the event started there was to be far more people. In fact the event pulled a more than full capacity crowd at least 30 minutes before the event began.
Having the opportunity to speak with those in the line (thanks to Mike Morosi of the Hinchey campaign), the reasons for being at the event were very consistent. When we asked Kimberly Miller why she was at the event she stated,
“It’s not very often important people come to the area. I just wanted to be part of that.”
Bill Tomic answered the same question,
“I’d like to hear the President and see what he has to say.”
It was a theme that rang throughout the crowd. In fact a husband of a counselmember remarked that this was the 4th time seeing President Clinton speak, but it was the first time that he had the opportunity to be so close to the President.
The crowd at the event was a range of ages from parents that brought their young children, to adults well into their 60′s. It was a crowd that included more than a few college students from Binghamton University, and about the same diversity racially that is average for Binghamton. It can also be said that the crowd was very friendly politically for the President.
But a theme that was also apparent was that the crowd was not there for Representative Maurice Hinchey. That is, they wanted to hear a former President speak and not as much who he was speaking for. This theme would be repeated in the most diplomatic and politically advantageous manner by President Bill Clinton.
From our vantage point in the crowd we were able to see that the center row of seats were intially set aside for the elderly. Which was a great idea as the crowd suffered under what felt like no air conditioning for 45 minutes once entrance was allowed. At least one individual was attended to by a medic, 20 minutes before the event began due to the heat of the crowd that numbred in the hundreds (we unofficially estimate 800).
To the left of stage were a set of seats designated for VIP’s, notably several Democrats seeking election including Gary O’Neill (running for Broome County Sheriff) and John Orzel (running for State Senator). These VIP’s were ushered in roughly 20 minutes before the event. Mr. O’Neill mentioned afterwards that at least he was one of those that had the opportunity to meet with President Clinton directly.
To the right of the stage were the high rollers. Campaign contributors (likely for Rep. Hinchey) that paid reportedly $1000 for each seat. Of the 4 rows (8 seats across) designated for the group only half would wind up being filled from our vantage point. Each of these VIP’s also had the opportunity to meet with President Clinton privately. One had a sign-language interpeter just for himself apparently. They entered just as the event started, once the air conditioning was turned on.
Starting the event was a rousing rendition of the national anthem. From our vantage point, there were 4 people out of 3 dozen that crossed their hearts. Then came a quick speech from Mayor Matt Ryan that was to the piont and effective in gathering the energy of the crowd. He was followed by Assemblywoman Lupardo (up for re-election), who also had a similar speech in breath and intensity.
Then enetered the real star, President Clinton alongside Rep. Maurice Hinchey. Rep. Hinchey took the podium while President Clinton stood nearby waiting patiently. Rep Hinchey extolled his virtues to a crowd that was blatantly friendly to the Democrat view of recent policy. He generally avoided mention of the Health Care Reform, the Stimulus, Cap & Trade, Immigration Reform and other controversial issues in favor of emphasizing green energy.
[Video of the speech will be up as soon as possible]
At last came President Bill Clinton. He quickly whipped up the excitement in the room beyond the resounding applause that he recieved stepping up to the podium. He wasted no time in stating his support for Rep. Hinchey. President Clinton then went on for some 20 minutes describing the failures of the Republican Party and the virtues of the Democrats. He cited several issues that were from his Administration that are now proposals or in effect and how they benefitted the public. He made great effort to target those in college, making at least 3 direct calls to them to be involved in the 2010 election.
Throughout the speech President Clinton made it clear that the proposals of Republicans, as he understood them, were to the detriment of the nation. That the only means by which to prevent suffering for the average person was to elect Democrats, and Rep. Maurice Hinchey. The only pause to this theme came when President Clinton was heckled by voices far in the back of the crowd, the comments unclear at such a distance. Perhaps the loudest ovation of the night followed President Clinton strongly emphasizing the successes of his Administration and that those that disagreed should be silent and listen to learn.
Overall the night was a success for Rep. Maurice Hinchey. He got to appear next to President Clinton, and shake his hand for the press (obviously the image on the cover of newspapers in the area). President Clinton made a rousing speech, and definitely garnered the attention and energies of many of the college students in the crowd. Plus the event likely added some $20,000 in donations to the warchest of Rep. Hinchey (or generally Democrats running for election). But there was also no question that the event was largely preaching to the converted.
Outside of the event prior, during, and afterwards, were other voices. The President drew out 9/11 truthers and Primerica. But Rep. Maurice Hinchey drew out the Norwich and Southern Tier Tea Party – who respectfully stood at moderate distance with signs in protest of Hinchey. None of the groups were disrespectful and the Tea Party were more than willing to discuss their views with those that offered challenges such as “We have too many Republicans now” as they walked past.
It was an exciting night. President Clinton was electric. Binghamton is once again on the political map of the nation.
Political commentary, and video of the event, to follow shortly.