Ferriero endorses Clinton at Bergen rally

In her first public campaign stop in New Jersey since September, Hillary Clinton made an appearance tonight at Bergen County Academies in Hackensack to accept the endorsements of Bergen County Chairman Joe Ferriero and a host of other elected officials from the powerhouse.

The appearance came immediately after Clinton attended a $2,300 per head fundraiser at the Stony Hill Inn across town, and afterwards she was off to another rally to appeal to the Hispanic vote in North Bergen. Earlier today, she was in Pennsylvania to accept the endorsement of Gov. Ed Rendell.

The Hackensack crowd, which Clinton campaign officials estimated at 700 to hear Clinton speak at the school's gymnasium with 1,000 more overflowing into its auditorium, had to wait. Clinton arrived about an hour and a half late, leaving Bergen County Sheriff Leo McGuire to keep the crowd entertained, adlibbing jokes and poking fun at other elected officials.

"I don't think Gerry Cardinale snuck in here. He snuck into our party in Atlantic City. I had a little problem with that," said McGuire, referring to the Bergen County Democratic Organization's party in Atlantic City during the League of Municipalities meeting, where Cardinale was photographed in jovial conversation with Ferriero.

When Clinton finally took the stage along with Ferriero and U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, she delivered a speech focused primarily on the economy and health care, pushing her plan for universal health coverage. Clinton also said that she supports a 90 day moratorium on home foreclosures and a five year freeze on adjustable rate mortgages.

"Since when did America become the ‘can't do' nation?" said Clinton. "We are the people who are always on the front line of change and we are going to be again.

Clinton made a few references to the Bush administration, saying that the last seven years amounted to a "detour from America's destiny." Absent were any references to her chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Barack Obama.

Clinton also said that, if elected, she will begin withdrawing troops from Iraq within 60 days, and that the Iraqi government would feel pressure to get its act together knowing that the United States was not committed indefinitely.

In criticizing the Bush administration, Clinton said one line that could have been mistaken as criticism often heard from Ferriero's critics.

"Let's reform the government so it ends the no-bid contracts and the cronyism and the incompetence," she said.

In addition to Ferriero, other elected officials who attended included all of the Bergen County Freeholders, state Sen. Bob Gordon, Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, Assemblywoman and Ferriero foe Valerie Vainieri Huttle, and County Executive Dennis McNerney.

Having the support of Bergen County's powerful Democratic Party could boost Clinton; the county has the fourth highest number of Democratic primary voters in the state and a machine capable of turning them out.

Sheriff McGuire said that he's been a Clinton supporter for about six months, but held off on his endorsement not because of any wish of Ferriero's, but because he thought that the county's politicians would have a greater impact by announcing at once.

Freeholder Director Tomas Padilla noted that Bergen County's population of 900,000 makes it larger than six other states (if it was its own state, Bergen would rank between Montana and Delaware).

"One of the benefits of doing it together is combined you have much more exposure," he said.

According to a Quinnipiac poll released this morning, Clinton has a 17 point lead over Obama in New Jersey. Ferriero endorses Clinton at Bergen rally