Cuckoo for Clinton

Rochester, N.Y. — When it comes to the possibility of another Clinton presidency, opinions veer from rapturous to rabid. Hate her or love her, Rochester natives are on a first-name basis with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), and everyone’s an analyst — psycho or otherwise — of her life and chances at winning the White House.

Clinton is no stranger to the community of South Wedge, a historic area that is home to young families living in huge 19th-century houses, the working poor and the just plain poor. It’s a neighborhood in transition. A recent lead story in a local eight-page newspaper, The Wedge, featured a photo of Clinton next to state Assemblywoman Susan John. She’s there to announce a $750,000 grant for street improvements.

A sub-zero wind whips past the steamed-up windows of Pat’s Coffee Mug on South Clinton Avenue in the South Wedge. Inside, workers hunker down over plates of meatloaf and mashed potatoes and slices of imperfectly shaped and frosted homemade cake.

Chuck, 39, works in heating, and didn’t want to give his last name or have his photo taken. “I don’t trust politicians,” Chuck said. “Who knows what they’ll do? They may steal my identity.” In the last election, Chuck said he didn’t vote “for someone, but against someone.”

Chuck said he especially doesn’t trust Clinton — “she seems two-faced” — and recounted a story he heard from a friend who heard it from a “Canadian police officer who heard it from a Secret Serviceman who worked in the White House.”

“She was a real bitch to the Secret Service. She looked down on them,” Chuck said. “She’s not for the common man.”

A co-worker of Chuck’s, Dan, wouldn’t comment. He hasn’t forgiven Clinton for coming to New York to run for Senate.

At the counter, under a poster of Zorro, Cindy Campbell, 43, happily endorsed Hillary for president. Campbell works in a small business in the Wedge and her five coworkers are all pro-Clinton.

“I like her,” Campbell said. “She has a lot of experience, personally and politically. I like how she’s really for the average person. She’s trying to help the middle class. She’s favorable on gay issues.”

Campbell glanced across the room at Chuck and Dan and chuckled. “America is not used to women heads of state,” she said. “It’s such a joke. Only in our country do we see it as a novelty. Who are we and what do we stand for if people won’t vote for a woman?”

Marlin Smith, 73, chatted with a man at another table who didn’t want to “upset his lunch” by talking about Clinton. Smith was eager to give his opinion. A former junior-high science teacher, he was joined for lunch by his 45-year-old son Marlin T. Smith.

“She talks about standing by her man. Her man was a perjurer while he was in the White House. She’s OK with that?” Smith asked. “You’ve heard birds of a feather? Cardinals hang out with cardinals, robins with robins. It’s [also] true for people.”
“Would I vote for her? Is there an election for the person that cleans up after the sheriff’s horse? I’d vote for her for that job.”
Son Marlin sits emotionless as his father talks, but added, “Hillary’s more accountable than the other candidates. She has more integrity. I like her. I respect her views. She’ll get control of government spending. I’d vote for her.”

“He’s entitled to his opinion,” the elder Marlin said. “Even if he’s wrong.”

On my way out, Ferd Corey, “82 next July,” said he wouldn’t have a problem voting for a woman, just with Clinton. “I just don’t find her down-to-earth,” Corey said. “I’d vote for that girl from New York,” he added, referring to Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter.

At Boulder Café, a block away, Emily Queenan, 30, found a minute to talk about Clinton before heading back to the local hospital where she is a third-year family-medicine doctor.

“I admire [Clinton]. She’s a strong woman who raised a family in the public eye,” said Queenan, who is married and the mother of a 3-month-old. “She’s for universal healthcare, something I obviously care about.”

As for her former marital woes? “It’s not my business. Their relationship is their relationship. I’m no one to judge.”

On South Avenue, the next street over, Clinton made a few stops, including one at the Little Venice pizza parlor, where she announced the grant.

Owner David Freedman’s husky voice is straight out of “The Sopranos.” Freedman said he almost got to meet Clinton. He was out running errands when a hysterical worker called him to say that the senator had walked in, called out his name and told him to “get out of the kitchen.” Freedman said he was “mortified” that he wasn’t there when she stopped in. His brother Jeff managed to get a photo taken with her.

“The country is ready for a female president,” Freedman, 52, said. “I’m going to be crucified for saying this. You’re going to get me audited.

“She can do it. She ran her whole husband’s presidency,” Freedman went on. “Don’t tell me she didn’t, she did.”
 When Freedman got serious, he said he trusts Clinton to “get us out of the war” and to deal with “the whole school system and healthcare.”

“I would like to see her for our next president, but people are intimidated by her; she’s brilliant,” he said.

Next door at Equal Grounds Coffee and The Pride Connection Gift Shoppe, Nancy Sawyer-Molina, executive director of the Coffee Connection, a “fair-trade, shade-grown, sustainable” coffee shop farther down South Avenue, was taking a break. Her café helps women recovering from drug and alcohol addiction by providing on-the-job training.

“I think [Clinton] will make an excellent president, especially when it comes to foreign policy. She’s a negotiator, a listener. She’ll seriously look at the trade deficit.”

On the local level, Sawyer-Molina is most impressed with Clinton. “She supports business, housing and economic development. They’re all important pieces of a community. You can’t support only one corner of a house.”

Sawyer-Molina plans to campaign for Clinton, but admitted it would be difficult. “Hillary’s problem is that it’s love or hate, black or white. People are afraid of a powerful, empowered woman. A man is powerful; a woman is a bitch,” she said.

Equal Grounds owner John White, much less skeptical, is cuckoo for Clinton.

“I’d leave my boyfriend if she asked,” he said. “She’s incredible, brilliant, level-headed, liberal, worldly, the best person to represent my country. She’s so smart, so wise, and down-to-earth.”

When he heard that she’d be touring the avenue, he stood outside with his father and held a sign that invited her in for a cup of coffee. “When she came in she was very humble, almost affectionate. For such a powerful person to come in …”

Across from the coffee shop, Danny Vail, owner of Vail Auto Repair, was lunching with an employee, Cathy O’Conner.

 “Call me John LaRocka,” Vail said, explaining he doesn’t want his name or photo in the paper even if it’s three states over. “They might be looking for me there.”

O’Conner said Hillary doesn’t stand a chance: “This country is sexist. They cannot elect a female. Americans are more sexist than they think they are.”

Right on cue, Danny Vail looks at the photo of Clinton on the cover of The Wedge.

“She’s hot. She has a pretty face,” Vail said.

Like O’Conner, he doesn’t think Clinton has a chance. Not because she’s a woman, but because of rival candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). “I don’t believe she’ll win,” he said. “Obama will whup her ass. He’s another John F. Kennedy.”

At the final stop, the Coffee Connection, Dave Halter, a 50-something real estate developer, thinks Hillary’s low self-esteem would prevent her from being a good president.

 “She put up with [Bill’s] peccadilloes. She was aware of all his infidelities, his different schemes. Why didn’t she leave? If a man’s unfaithful, leave him. Get rid of him. If she stays with him, what does it say about her personal self-worth?”

Nancy Molina-Sawyer, back at her post roasting coffee beans, sums up Clinton like this: “When people have problems with Hillary, they’re projecting their own stuff on her.”

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