For the first time in a long time New York State matters in the presidential primaries, for both Democratic and Republican parties. All of the presidential candidates are making their way to the second biggest city in the state to show face and lobby for votes in the final weeks before the primary on Tuesday, April 19.
The first signs of the circus came on the edge of town, Tuesday, where former President Bill Clinton appeared at the former Hearthstone Manor on Dick Road in Depew to stump for his wife, Hillary Clinton, supporting her campaign for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States.
The campaign saw its first visit from a presidential candidate Friday afternoon when Hillary Clinton came to remind an audience of how many times she came to Buffalo as Senator of New York (More than 50).
“I ate more chicken wings, and beef on weck, than I can remember. Hope to get some before I leave.”
In the ellipsis, she laughs, almost half acknowledging the stereotype of politicians pandering to localities and ethnicities through food stuffs, and half trying to remember the word “weck.”
The campaign rally was held at Pierce Arrow Transportation Museum on Seneca and Michigan. Hillary Clinton was scheduled to speak there at 2:00 pm. As for the 2:00 pm start time, with doors opening at noon, you’d have to take a solid four hour lunch break to make it to see her speech, if you’re able to get in at all.
I arrived around 12:40, greeted at the gate by a Buffalo Police Officer who didn’t believe my press credentials. Discouraged I wandered over to the queue that snaked south down Michigan and joined the general population waiting to get inside. In front of me was a young woman in a black baseball cap with white letters reading “Feminist” across the front. Behind me, a woman was giving a comprehensive tour of the museum to her daughter before we even got inside. What sounded like a karaoke performance of Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” drifted from the PA, broadcasting the happenings inside. It was followed by a similar rendering of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
The line moved slowly, passing a man with a Class B/5 stray Target Shopping cart full of white t-shirts bearing an ironed-on photo of Hillary Clinton. “Buttons two for five dollars, t-shirts ten,” he barked, engaging in few transactions.
I made it halfway to the door from where I had started with about 100 people in front of me and maybe 80 behind. A State trooper closed the doors and made the announcement that the building was at capacity. Nobody moved. The trooper repeated his statement, and slowly people started to disperse.
At this point, the line had gotten me around the first officer who’d denied my entry, and the press entrance was in sight. At the same time the approximately 180 people who’d been closed out of the rally came to the same realization. A three-stooges-esque-door-way-bottle-neck-situation was inevitable.
I maneuvered my way passed outraged supporters who were distracted pleading their cases to the event organizers. Cries went up of “I took my daughter out of school for this” and “I donated a lot of money to her campaign.” I finally made my way through the vestibule separating the angry mob of big time donors and casual supporters from the audience inside.
It was here that I ran into a high school friend of mine, who’s name I’ll omit to protect his identity. We exchanged salutations and I asked what brought him here, he said “It’s not every day a presidential candidate comes to town.” I said, “this week it is.”
We stood in the crowded vestibule and asked why the organizers chose this venue, why not a bigger venue? Why a museum who’s two biggest attractions are things that aren’t made here anymore, and one thing that never was?
The organizers were slowly letting people in, one-by-one, being searched by the secret service. Beyond the door a series of speakers addresses the crowd, but they could not be heard in the vestibule. There was a sound system inside the building and another outside the building, but the throng in the purgatory of the vestibule were in the dark.
After some time, an organizer entered the vestibule holding a stack of 80 lb. green cards reading “Credentialed Press.” “Who’s with the media?” he says. A half a dozen hands shoot up holding business cards reading “Niagara Gazette,” and “Riverside Review,” among other laminated pieces. As the passes made their way throughout the vestibule my friend asks if he should get one. I say why not. We make it to the doorway where he is quickly cleared by the secret service and disappears into the crowd. I struggle to hold my camera, phone, notebook, and keys while the agent asks to see the backside of my belt buckle. Disheveled, I take my place amongst the other members of the press who got there way too early.
It’s approximately 2:30 pm, and the stage is still a revolving showcase of every regional politician attempting to catch some of Secretary Clinton’s popularity by association.
The first I see is New York State Senator Sean Ryan whose speech highlights included the poignantly false “When I came today and saw the line of people, I thought this building isn’t big enough to hold everybody, but we made it all in” and the pandering classic “Are we ready to elect a president who can find Buffalo on a road map?”
Following him was State Senator Tim Kennedy who managed to work an endorsement for Congressmen Brian Higgins into his endorsement for Hillary Clinton. Next came Erie County Executive Mark Polancarz, followed by City of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, followed by Lieutenant Governor of New York Kathy Hochul.
The parade of politicians seemed to go on in perpetuity. Finally introducing Hillary Clinton was a 19-year-old woman named Camilia Slattery, with a brief speech detailing why, when she votes for the first time, she’ll be voting for Hillary Clinton.
In the shadow of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Filling Station, surrounded by Pierce Arrow broughams, Hillary Clinton picked up the microphone, and the whole image inquired: Why is this here?
Going into the rally I’d thought that the museum was chosen as a symbolic location. A museum showcasing Buffalo’s manufacturing past as a backdrop to a speech about Buffalo’s manufacturing future. Which it nearly was. She says “the same is true about advanced manufacturing. I saw today at the medical campus what is being done there that is being done there that is going to create new medical devices, new tools, to help save people’s lives and make us healthier, and what I’m excited about is with this kind of advanced manufacturing there’s no reason it can’t be done right here in Erie County, or Niagara County, or anywhere in Western New York.”
As Secretary Clinton stopped herself from trying to name every county in the region, her statement resonated. “…there’s no reason it can’t be done right here in Erie County, or Niagara County, or anywhere else in Western New York.” The line seemed to apply to the rally itself and the rest of the circus that is to follow with the rest of the candidates over the next two weeks. There’s no reason it can’t be done in Erie County, Pennsylvania or Erie County, Ohio, or anywhere else in the country. It doesn’t really matter where it’s happening. Which is why the photo accompanying this WKBW post isn’t even from the Pierce Arrow Museum. It doesn’t matter where it’s from. It might be from Florida. It doesn’t matter.
There’s nothing unique about presidential candidates traveling to a town where they need votes equipped with a couple local references they can pepper in between promises of whatever the audiences definition of better is. That’s all that happened here.
The speech ended and part of the crowd left while another moved up to the metal barricades surrounding the stage for a chance to shake the candidate’s hand, get books signed, and take pictures or for members of the press to get a picture of people shaking hands, getting books signed, and taking pictures.
Supporters getting their shot.
The crowd made their way back to their cars. Protesters folded up their “Hillary for Prison” signs and went home. The street merchant had moved his stand and Class B/5 stray to the North side of Seneca where he continued to engage in minimal business. “Buttons two for five dollars, t-shirts ten.”
Making her way out of town, Secretary Clinton kept true to her word. She stopped at Charlie the Butcher’s on Wherle Drive before heading to Prior Aviation and through to Rochester. “I like the beef on weck,” she said.
It’s not unusual for presidential candidates to travel to a town where they need votes just to tell people what they want to hear, but it doesn’t happen every day.