Groundwork

03.21.14

The Weirdest Pro-Hillary Party Yet

There were $18 pantsuit-themed cocktails and a soft, early sell to the diehards—for a non-candidate who wasn’t actually in attendance.

The views from the Top of the Standard, the penthouse bar at the $300-a-night hotel that straddles the High Line on the west side of Manhattan, are, in a word, spectacular. On one side, the Hudson River floats by before the New Jersey hills; on the other the New York City skyline stretches east, lit by the first orange fires of a setting sun.

It was what a middle-aged couple at the bar said they had come for early Thursday evening, as they sipped $14 Japanese ales and munched on dried seaweed snacks. The bar opened a year and half ago, and they still had not gone.

Which is to say they were not there for Hillary Clinton, for Ready for Hillary, the independent super PAC set up to collect money and the names and email addresses of supporters in advance of a 2016 presidential run. Sure, they got an invite, and paid the $20.16 required to get past the doorman, but Hillary Clinton? For president?

“Yea, sure, why not I guess,” said the man, who asked that his name not be used. “I mean, who else am I supposed to be ready for?”

His wife, a lawyer in Manhattan, expressed surprise first that she was at a fundraiser for some kind of Hillary Clinton-related effort, and then further surprise at the news that Madame Secretary herself would not attend or, for that matter, the peculiar election rules that forbid just such an appearance.

“Have you seen the bathrooms?” she asked, referring the commodes that are perched just so in front of floor-to-ceiling windows to afford the user one of the city’s best views. “You haaavve to.”

Rather, the only physical manifestation of the former first lady is a cardboard cut-out from at least three hairstyles ago, stuck in a corner of the room, a “Ready for Hillary” sticker stuck unwittingly on the lapel of her black pantsuit.

***

In an hour, the Top of the Standard is filled with a mostly young, fashionable crowd while waitresses in skimpy metallic cocktail dresses struggle to take drink orders. There is talk of real-estate, and apps, and work, and where everyone is going next, and a lot less of, say, how Hillary will put together a coalition to beat back a Republican onslaught in 2016, or even whether or not she will run.

In fact, most of the mentions of the reason for the gathering occur when the partygoers occur at the bar. This is compulsory, however. The drink menu is all in tribute to the non-candidate. There is the Madame President, a mix of vodka, lime, and ginger syrup; The Pantsuit Aficionado, which is the same as the Madame President but swaps in two kinds of rum for the vodka; and the Ultimate Ceiling Breaker—a gin and lime cordial concoction. All are priced at the decidedly ungrassroots price of $18 a pop.

Eventually, one of the hosts of the evening gets up to speak. She thanks everyone for coming. She thanks the band—a neo-folk Flamenco outfit—calling out each member by name. She thanked the people that set up the sound system. The guy that ordered the microphones. The Standard Hotel. But other than a quick “Go Hillary,” the would-be candidate, or the work ahead, goes unmentioned.

All of this is just fine for Ready for Hillary. Enthusiasm about a non-candidate would be premature. Instead, the idea is to collect whatever money can be collected, and more importantly gather email addresses and contact info for people who down the road can serve as a volunteer base for a campaign. This being New York, these aren’t even voters that will be useful in the end, but perhaps the kind of people that will go to Pennsylvania or New Hampshire or some other swing state where they can be persuaded to knock on doors.

And there certainly were some people there who were Hillary diehards. Jan Mundo, “a transformative healing artist,” worked on the 2008 campaign, and could never quite reconcile herself to the fact her candidate lost to the young upstart Barack Obama.

“She is like Rocky Balboa. She has taken every hit in life. But you knock Hillary out, it is not over. It is never over.”

“If she were president right now, we would have a stronger economy. She was so proactive and outspoken. And a really good negotiator with both sides. She is a really sincere person—she is the ultimate politician. She knows how to bring people together.”

But even she is not pushing Hillary to run.

“She and I are the same age, so I am not pushing her to run or holding out all hope. Whatever she does is fine with me, but if she does run, I will definitely be pushing that out on all my social media.”

She was standing beside Adam Darr, a 23-year-old Macaulay Culkin clone.

“There is Afghan proverb which says that if women ran the world, there would be no more war. And I really believe that. The importance of Ready for Hillary is that they are laying the groundwork for her so that she can make a very comfortable decision about whether or not she is going to make a contribution. At this point, it is not about whether or not Hillary is going to run for president. It is about whether or not she is going to make a contribution. And Hillary Clinton—and I know her—if she feels like she can make a contribution, she will do it.”

Darr too worked on the’08 campaign, although he was only a teenager, leaving his home in a conservative part of Ohio to knock on doors. He paused to hug someone he knew from another volunteer effort—someone from Anthony Weiner’s 2013 mayoral campaign. (“Huma is a good friend, and I thought Huma would appreciate that.”)

He pulls his waistband down slightly to reveal a tattoo of Hillary Clinton’s name in script over his hipbone.

“Hillary is a mover. Hillary is a doer. She is a shaker. And when she gets knocked down she just goes right on fighting. She is like Rocky Balboa,” he says, ducking and weaving to the Flamenco beat. “She has taken every hit in life. But you knock Hillary out, it is not over. It is never over. She taught me that if you have tough times, you just brush yourself off and fight right back.”

And then he quoted the Afghan proverb. Again.

***

Later, the sun set, and the Top of the Standard’s views with it. Partiers posed for pictures with the Hillary cut-out, sending them immediately to social-media accounts. Carolyn Maloney, a congresswoman from the east side of the Manhattan, waded through the crowd to speak. She could barely be heard above the din, but she did rally the faithful to be ready for Hillary.

“We need you and you and you and you to conduct a grassroots effort to elect Hillary Rodham Clinton” she shouted. “She has an extraordinary record! She was president of her class in college!”

“We are going to win! Hillary is going to be a great president”

She returned the microphone, almost apologetically.

“Ok, continue to have a good time.”