The theatergoers at Radio City Music Hall last night had paid between $125 and $2,300 to hear the Clintons talk and Elton John sing, and several more dollars to drink fluorescent purple cocktails illuminated by glowing straws. Hillary promised them it was not a night for “political speeches.” Then she gave a political speech. “We’re going to work to make sure that the voters of Florida and Michigan should have their votes counted.” Before her, Bill had appealed to the audience members to call their friends in Pennsylvania for support and more money, and told them Hillary could still win the nomination.
“You did not come here in vain, you did not come here in vain,” he said, adding, “Don’t kid yourself.” Before him, the Clinton campaign’s chairman, and the couple’s longtime warm-up act, Terry McAuliffe, downplayed Barack Obama’s advantage. “Of 3,100 delegates chosen today,” he said, “the difference is only 131 delegates right now.”
The event topped off a busy day for the Clintons in New York, featuring his-and-her Irish events and a number of sniping engagements with reporters.
At an Irish-American forum on Madison Avenue, Hillary Clinton commended British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for his promise to boycott the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in Beijing, and pressed her presidential opponents to do the same. She also pledged to bring St. Patrick’s Day parties back to the White House. And she recounted, more modestly than before, her role in the Irish peace process.
Further west, the former president, speaking at Gallagher’s steakhouse in Midtown, reminisced about the players in Northern Ireland’s peace process. Later, at the same event, he deflected questions from reporters about the $800,000 he had accepted in speaking fees from the Colombian government, in part to advocate for a Colombia free trade agreement that his wife opposes. (On Sunday, the Clinton campaign had demoted now-former chief strategist Mark Penn for receiving $300,000 from the Colombian government for similar advocacy.)
Before the president arrived, men and women with white hair sipped wine and beer and nibbled on cheese. Brian O’Dwyer, an Irish-American political activist who helped organize the event, praised Hillary Clinton’s role in the Good Friday peace process to a few reporters.
“I don’t think it would have been possible without her,” he said, holding a drink and wearing a striped green tie. When asked to respond to the remarks of unionist former First Minister of Northern Ireland David Trimble that the candidate’s claims of playing a key role in the process were “silly,” O’Dwyer said, “David Trimble was rewriting history.”
Downstairs, former President Clinton finished up taking pictures in a small, curtained room next to wood shelves full of aging beef. Press aides to the Clinton Foundation—it was not an official campaign event—attempted to herd reporters into a tiny space in the back of the room where television cameras blocked any view of the stage.
When one British television journalist tried to leave the holding pen, by asking, “I’d like to go to the bathroom, is that possible?” her request was denied.
Clinton sat and listened to O’Dwyer talking about “our man from Hope” before taking the microphone himself. In front of a dark wood wall decorated with black-and-white pictures of old-time baseball players, Clinton, dressed in a dark suit and pink tie, gave an engaging account of the work that lead to the peace agreements. He also testified to his wife’s role in the outcome, and defended her against what he called “revisionist history.” He nevertheless praised “the sack of guts it took for David Trimble to take that first step.”
Reporters slipped out of the holding pen to ask the president about his Colombia work as he made his way down the rope line, signing autographs and accepting emerald pins. The former president said that his wife and her campaign had already issued a statement on the subject and tried to move on. “I’m here for the Irish,” he said.
When asked by a reporter whether he regretted accepting the speaking fee from the Colombian government, Clinton bristled. “Nice try,” he said, and walked through a door.
(Same went for the dining room downstairs, where reporters asked him again after he shook hands with people eating early evening steaks. And again, and out on the street, where he climbed into a black SUV.)
After the event, President Clinton drove a few blocks south to Radio City Music Hall to join his wife and daughter at the Elton John concert. In the audience were numerous Hillraisers, at least some of whom had turned out more from of a sense of duty than a genuine interest in the entertainment. (“He’s not even my demographic!” said gallery owner and Clinton bundler Tom Healy.)
But judging from the size and enthusiasm of the crowd, the combination of “Elton and Hillary” was an effective draw for genuine fans of both.
“Men in politics just seem to be a problem,” said Bruce Bastian to explain his support for Clinton.
Bastian, the 60-year-old inventor of the computer program Word Perfect, sat next to his guest, Phillip Buckland, 27, of Washington, D.C., in seats given to them for free by the Clinton campaign, as thanks for his having already donated the maximum amount allowed. “I’m a big Elton John fan,” he added.
A few rows back, Stuart Strutin, 57, from New Rochelle, sat with his wife and a friend and showed off his silk shirt, once worn by Elton John. It bore a groovy orange and red and blue pattern of intersecting lines. He also had one of John’s jackets, which said “La Medusa” and “Versace” on the back. The three tickets had cost $250 a piece.
“I think she needs help now,” he said, explaining the purchase. “There are some people who are deserting her and jumping ship and it’s too early for that.”
A few minutes later, the lights darkened. The Clintons walked out in a tight row, first Bill, then Hillary, then Chelsea, all dressed in New York black. After Bill made his remarks, Hillary took the microphone. Standing in a bright circle on a stage otherwise bathed in blue light, she talked about how John had moved her by playing “Candle in the Wind” at Princess Diana’s funeral, and, referencing another one of his songs, told the enthusiastic audience, “I’m still standing.” People screamed to Hillary from the balcony and theater floor that they loved her. She responded with another Elton reference: “I think all of us will conclude that the answer to the following question is yes. Can you feel the love tonight?”
The candidate received a kiss on both cheeks from Elton John. The former president gave the singer a big hug.
Wearing a black jacket with sequined sleeves, a red silk shirt, rose-tinted sunglasses and a blond-highlighted toupee that mirrored Clinton’s own feathered haircut, John announced, “I love you, Hillary, I’ll always be there for you.” And then, “I never cease to be amazed by the misogynistic attitudes of some people in this country. I say to hell with them.”
Then he played “Your Song,” which he followed with “Border Song.” Then he blasted Ronald Reagan as a “historical disgrace” for his lack of action against AIDS and testified, again, to his loyalty to the Clintons. He played more hits.
Several ushers, their backs to the stage, leaned against the theater’s walls and checked their watches.