Hillary Clinton returned home to Lower Manhattan on Tuesday night, basking in the love of organized labor at a union hall that helped launch her political career a decade and a half ago.
“This is like a homecoming!” Clinton exclaimed at the headquarters of the United Federation of Teachers.
The event that brought the former of secretary of state back to the city was a fundraiser for a group pushing to expand a law that provided health benefits for aid workers who assisted in the cleanup of the World Trade Center after 9/11. Those attacks occurred in Clinton’s first year as a United States senator from New York, just as she was emerging as a political figure in her own right. She spent the next six years working to pass a bill that would eventually become the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which provided $4.2 billion for first responders to the attacks suffering from the effects of toxic dust.
The law is set to expire in 2016, just as Clinton is likely to be in the heat of a presidential campaign—a date advocates for the bill pushed for, hoping that it would mean more attention to their cause.
Her appearance at UFT headquarters, according to John Feal, a demolition supervisor at ground zero who had his foot amputated when a piece of steel fell on him during the cleanup and who led the effort to get federal benefits to the workers there, is a sign that Clinton, “owns this now.”
“I am going to hold her to what she says here tonight,” he said.
Mostly, though, Clinton praised the forces of organized labor that pushed for the bill—and which would likely motor any potential presidential campaign she may mount.
“It is absolutely imperative to recognize the key role that organized labor played in the very beginning. It was your members, your lost janitors and security guards and workers,” she said. “It was organized labor that came to the forefront.”
“Organized labor was my principal ally,” Clinton added.
And labor, or New York labor at least, signaled that it would be ready for Clinton, too, should she decide to mount another presidential campaign.
“In Mrs. Clinton, we have someone who will stand with us and will fight with us,” said Mario Cilento, president of the New York chapter of the AFL-CIO.
Clinton recognized several of her former constituents among the couple of hundred people in the audience and said that as a globe-trotting secretary of state she longed to return to New York.
On the nearly million miles worth of plane rides she took in those four years, she said she would occasionally shut her eyes “and dream about being home.”
Clinton’s speech was marred at its conclusion by a handful of protesters who disrupted the proceedings to call attention to President Obama’s policy on deportations of illegal immigrants.
Shouting, “Unafraid! Undocumented” they were quickly shuffled out. Out in the lobby, one of the protesters explained that they staged the demonstration to ask the former secretary, “Is she going to continue the policy of Obama and continue to deport our families? Our communities cannot wait any longer.”
Clinton, meanwhile, spent several minutes greeting audience members along the rope line and posing for cellphone selfies. (“This is going to be on Instagram in 30 seconds,” said one young woman after securing her cheek-to-cheek shot alongside the possible next president of the United States.)
Several of the well-wishers were recognized with a “Great to see you again!” from the former senator, and they responded meekly with a “Great to see you, as well.”
Clinton was asked about the protesters, who at least waited until she was finished speaking to make their case. The former secretary of state ignored the question.