Democrats make Hillary legit

New York's party convention officially nominates the first lady for the U.S. Senate while a certain mayor goes unmentioned.

Published May 17, 2000 12:28PM (EDT)

At a time when New York's political world is intensely focused on whether Mayor Rudy Giuliani will continue his Senate run, the state Democratic Party -- yawn! -- formally nominated Hillary Rodham Clinton as its Senate candidate Tuesday night.

It was a peculiar day and evening, since much of the buzz on the floor of the Pepsi Arena in Albany remained centered on whether Rudy Giuliani would stay in the race. However, despite roughly five hours of Democratic speeches and several attacks on Republicans -- Newt Gingrich, George W. Bush, Dan Quayle, Alfonse D'Amato -- Giuliani's name was not mentioned a single time by the state's leading Democrats.

The evening's biggest surprise came when Hillary Clinton, wearing a bright yellow outfit and a pearl necklace, finally took the stage after 9 p.m. -- accompanied by her husband.

Indeed, midway through her speech, the first lady seemed to delight in the presence of the president, perhaps providing a subtle reminder of the personal difficulties currently plaguing the mayor. After crediting New York's Democrats with giving rise to the labor, civil rights and gay rights movements, she eagerly pointed to the improved economy and declining crime rates of the past eight years.

"Thanks must go to Vice President Al Gore and President Bill Clinton," she declared to applause. At that, her husband stood up and waved to the roughly 11,000 delegates in the crowd, many toting "New York Loves [with that little heart] Hillary" signs. "I would not be standing here tonight were it not for Bill and were it not for all he has done for me. And I could not be prouder as an American and as a New Yorker."

She added: "We are a better country than we were in 1992."

At one point, she went out of her way to issue a disclaimer about not mentioning you-know-who: "Make no mistake about it, this election is not about me or about any Republican opponent. It is about the people of New York, and the common mission that we are pledged to."

With the exception of a few mentions of the balanced federal budget, her address seemed in many ways a throwback to New York's history of progressive politics. Although not focused on any single theme, her speech was peppered with an attack on HMOs, an assertion of the need for women to receive equal pay, calls for a state hate-crimes bill and better coverage of mental health care and an assurance that there would be no more "forgotten New Yorkers."

At the end of her speech, confetti and balloons rained down on the crowd, and a recording of the theme from "Chariots of Fire" started playing. It was a glittering end to hours of mostly soporific speechifying by the state's leading Democrats.

The evening was punctuated by some memorable moments: A farewell to retiring Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan featured a clip reel of his appearances over the years on "Meet the Press"; Bronx Democratic boss Roberto Ramirez pumped up parts of the crowd by calling for an end to test bombing in Vieques, Puerto Rico ("Roberto's in the House!" the Bronx delegation chanted); somnolent Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver twice quoted Brooklyn native Jackie Gleason ("How sweet it is!"); model Christie Brinkley bizarrely recounted "trudging through the snow of the New York winters to spread Al Gore's vision" (she is running on Wednesday to be a delegate at large for Gore at the Democratic Convention); and there was a video address from the predictably wooden Gore.

The most intriguing subplot at the convention was the jostling between the two leading contenders for New York's gubernatorial Democratic nomination in 2002. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo and State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, the state's highest-ranking African-American elected official (and recipient of the evening's loudest applause directed at anyone not named Clinton), both gave rousing speeches attacking Republicans (though not each other) while hinting at the 2002 contest.

President Clinton didn't decide to attend the event until the last minute, so his presence on the stage was a surprise. As late as Monday, his aides said he wasn't coming. "I just decided I ought to be there," he said before leaving Washington. "It's a big deal for her, a big night for her, and I want to be there with her. I just want to be there to support her."

The convention came on the same day that a new poll showed the Clinton-Giuliani race deadlocked. Despite the seeming insanity surrounding Giuliani's personal life in the past week, a Quinnipiac College Polling Institute survey showed Clinton leading the mayor by a statistically even 44 to 43 percent.

The Republican State Convention in Buffalo, N.Y., is in two weeks, and Giuliani is expected to announce by the end of this week whether he plans to remain a Senate candidate. On Monday night he said he was "very much inclined" to stay in the race, but still had to determine his course of medical treatment for his prostate cancer before deciding.

Despite the agreement among Democrats not to attack Giuliani, the Republican mayor's campaign didn't return the favor: Shortly after 5 p.m., just as the Dems began their convention, the Giuliani campaign e-mailed a statement to reporters:

"No matter how hard Mrs. Clinton tries to reinvent herself, there is still only one candidate in this race with the record of success and follow-through that has improved the lives of New York families," wrote campaign spokeswoman Juleanna Glover Weiss. "When New Yorkers think about their futures, about lower taxes, new and better jobs, health and education reform, safer neighborhoods, and a better quality of life, they think about Rudy Giuliani."

By Jesse Drucker

Jesse Drucker covers politics for Salon from New York.

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Bill Clinton Democratic Party Hillary Rodham Clinton Rudy Giuliani