Behind the scenes of Clinton’s visit

Former President Bill Clinton strolls along the First Avenue Loop on his way to the community center on April 11. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Former President Bill Clinton strolls along the First Avenue Loop on his way to the community center on April 11. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Last month’s surprise visit from former President Bill Clinton to Stuyvesant Town, while kept a closely guarded secret at the time, was surprisingly easily thrown together.

Just ask Council Member Dan Garodnick, who sponsored the event on behalf of the Clinton campaign, and pitched the idea.

This week, Garodnick told Town & Village that he’d suggested to the campaign that “Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village would be a very exciting visit for either Hillary or one of her top surrogates.”

This was a reference to the former leader of the free world, with Garodnick also telling team Clinton that the community hadn’t had a president visit since then Senator John F. Kennedy. He’d campaigned for his presidential run in 1960 at a rally on First Avenue that was attended by thousands. In response, Garodnick said, “They saw the wisdom in that and thought that it would be a fun event to get the former president over there.”

However, the campaign thought it best not to have a big rally on First Avenue (which Garodnick had also suggested), and instead do something smaller. “Perhaps it was related to security to do something smaller and more contained,” he said.

So despite going on many highly publicized campaign trail stops, including one the following week at an Avenue A ice cream shop a couple of blocks south of Stuy Town, at this event no press was invited. Full disclosure: Town & Village was no exception; our reporter heard about the event and proceeded to crash it. Others in attendance at the community center were politically connected residents who’d heard about the president’s visit through the grapevine and a number of seniors who had just come to play bridge.

Ultimately, Clinton made his way around the room to do the grip-and-grin with everyone there and pose for dozens of selfies, too.

“People were very excited and recognized the historic nature of the visit,” said Garodnick. He added that when the former president was told about JFK’s rally over half a century earlier, the response was, “I hope we have the same good fortune in the election.”

Garodnick also shared some history about Stuyvesant Town with Clinton, like the efforts of prior owners to oust lower-rent paying tenants and the recent deal that preserves 5,000 affordable apartments.

Former President Clinton, with Council Member Dan Garodnick and Congresswoman Maloney, greets residents at the community center. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Former President Clinton, with Council Member Dan Garodnick and Congresswoman Maloney, greets residents at the community center. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

“I told him what we were able to achieve here and he said, ‘These guys think they can push out all the middle class people. Where are they gonna go?’” recalled Garodnick.

He also pointed out that in 2006, Hillary Clinton, then a senator, had endorsed the ultimately unsuccessful bid for the property led by Garodnick and the ST-PCV Tenants Association. “So he appreciated the context that he was in,” said Garodnick.

In related news, when asked for his thoughts on management’s policy forbidding campaign volunteers from knocking on doors in ST/PCV, Garodnick said he was always aware that there was a no-soliciting rule. However, he admitted to breaking it a decade ago when he first ran for City Council. At that time, the candidate knocked on every door in the 11,232-unit complex to pitch his platform. The task was done over a period of six months, ending with parents’ apartment. And, he recalled, “I only got thrown out once.” However, he said he wasn’t sure if this was because someone complained or because he happened to be caught one of the times by a security officer. As for the recent enforcement of the policy, as noticed by longtime resident and Bernie Sanders volunteer Ken Chanko, Garodnick said, “You could argue that there’s no prohibition against knocking on your neighbor’s door.” He added that he wanted to get clarity from management on how the policy would be enforced.

Stuy Town General Manager Rick Hayduk has said the no soliciting rule was to protect tenant safety and quality of life. He also said if a candidate wants access to tenants he or she needs a tenant to sponsor an event by renting either the community center or another onsite space that’s used for private events.

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