Posted on Monday, January 28 2008 by Heather Brandon
New York Senator Hillary Clinton visited Hartford and Springfield this morning, arriving about an hour late at Springfield College’s Blake Arena (pictured). A small crowd waited just to catch a glimpse of her motorcade before she slipped inside the front doors accompanied by ample protective security.
Reports have begun to appear over the wires, including a post on Colin McEnroe’s Courant blog, To Wit, as well as a post on the New Haven Independent by Leonard Honeyman, both about the Hartford visit. McEnroe called the Hartford crowd the “teachers pets,” writing of her town hall-style meeting:
In this seminar mode, Clinton seems at least modestly comfortable, even as audience members trickle out because they don’t really have time for an event of this duration. She knows the answers. … We could have stayed a long time in the gymnasium playing Stump the Valedictorian with her, and she would have effortlessly shuffled through all those White Papers in her head and poured out more Answers.
The Capitol Watch blog also has a short piece up about the event, reporting that Clinton left Hartford at 12:05 pm for the noon event in Springfield. Honeyman called the Hartford crowd largely “young, white and enthusiastic,” seeming to come more from adjacent Trinity College than the nearby Frog Hollow neighborhood itself.
That was my impression as well of the long line (pictured) waiting to get inside Springfield College‘s Blake Arena around 11:00 this morning, when I arrived to try my luck. I estimated about 4,000 to 5,000 people were vying to get in today. Somewhere over 2,000 people could be accommodated in the Springfield College arena; the Republican estimated that about 2,000 people were turned away.
In contrast, Hartford’s crowd was estimated by Honeyman as merely around 1,000, which is fewer than the gymnasium at the Learning Corridor can accommodate. His photos make the event appear all homey, too, which is what was surely sought for these town hall-style gigs.
Kristen Beam at MassLive.com’s the Fray blog has photos and audio of the proceedings inside Blake Arena, where the crowd was apparently kept manageably small to maintain this feeling of “intimacy.” Rather than find a sense of fellowship inside, I had to find it in line, talking with my fellow lingerers as we slowly made our way down Alden Street on campus.
A mother-daughter pair just in front of me had arrived from Agawam, having learned about the event last night on the 11:00 news. Standing in front of them was a Springfield College student hailing from an area near Cape Canaveral, Florida. He professed himself to be a Ron Paul supporter, but had decided to come when he learned about Clinton’s visit on campus only 30 minutes prior, after a fellow student told him he would be skipping class for the event.
The student asked the mother-daughter pair who they were supporting for president. “I don’t know yet,” the mother said. To pass the time, and maybe have some interesting discussion beyond small talk, I asked the student to sell us on Ron Paul. He spent maybe five minutes making the pitch, which was themed something along the lines of, “I simply agree with everything he says.”
Behind me in line I also met Springfield residents Lisa Sotak and Scott Chaffee (pictured), who live in the McKnight neighborhood.
Sotak told me she works at the Smith College library, and was among the few hundred Springfield municipal employees who were laid off in 2002. “I used to be able to walk to work,” she said wistfully. Now she has to drive and dislikes it, wishing there were high-speed rail to Northampton from Springfield. Chaffee said he has a fairly new job in Chicopee, what he called a good commute on back roads.
Overall we reflected on how jobs are needed in Springfield to keep people in the city, and how my husband’s layoff from a job located there is what led to him searching for work which he eventually found closer to Hartford, which likewise led to our move. Sotak and Chaffee said they aren’t leaving, no matter how strong the draw of jobs in other locales. They enjoy their sense of community in McKnight a great deal, including tea at neighbors’ homes on Sunday mornings. So there you go, we had our own version of a town hall-style meeting on the economy.
By this time, we had nearly arrived at the entrance to Blake Arena, only to overhear one of the nearby police officers announce to the crowd that the arena was at capacity, although the motorcade would be passing through if anyone wanted to wait. A huge crowd behind us was assuredly very disappointed. People began to scatter about, uncertain whether to try for the door longer, or get a good spot near the curb, or give up. It would be another hour before Clinton would arrive in her enormous black Ford Explorer.
Congressman Richard Neal came out briefly onto the sunny front steps of the arena to talk with an officer and survey the crowd left standing outside. I was briefly reminded of scenes outside castle walls, when someone significant comes out onto the ramparts to see just how bad it is. Neal nodded and went back inside.
Mike Tuckey, a downtown Springfield resident, was a little ways behind me in line. He joked that he thought if he tailed me, surely he would get in. “No luck,” I teased back. I don’t have a press pass or VIP blogger access. I eyed Clinton’s press bus jealously when it pulled in after her Explorer and about six other assorted vehicles. Bedraggled press made their way out of the bus and into the building, lugging tripods and half-open laptops and camera and bags of equipment. What a life.
A while later, while a throng of people near the entrance hoped to get into an overflow room (pictured), several unhappy college students emerged, fighting their way upstream, going in what seemed to be the wrong direction. “What’s it like in there?” I asked.
One student was particularly disgusted, saying that the crowd was told not to stand up, and yet there was no place to sit. She cited a shortage of bleachers. She advised, “Don’t go in there, it’s awful.” It sounded as though it was terribly overcrowded, or something.
Still later, another student who had given up waiting for Clinton passed by muttering to herself in frustration. She reported that it was terribly uncomfortable inside. “Are there people standing up, or do you have to have a seat?” I asked. She responded that there were plenty of people standing, but that it was also impossible to see anything because people were standing on chairs in front of other people standing on the floor.
Meanwhile, the rest of us were simply standing around outside freezing. Perhaps it was even preferable. A woman (pictured) eventually emerged from within the building to distribute signs to people standing around waiting. Since we couldn’t come in, the thinking seemed to go, we may as well be put to use. She breezed by several people, whose voices could be heard trailing after her, “Ma’am, could I please have a sign?” In the end, it appeared that anyone who, in the slightest way, wanted a sign, got one, right along with plenty of Ron Paul leaflets and some other progressive materials that were being passed out to the captive line-waiters earlier.
One student told me that Clinton had been taking RSVPs to the event on her Web site. “I guess those don’t matter,” she said, disappointed. “What was the point of doing that?” she asked.
When the motorcade finally rolled up, the small crowd gave a few half-hearted cheers and waved to Clinton, who waved back from the steps. Then she went inside and for us, the show was over.
I enjoyed running into fellow blogger and Springfield resident Victor Davila (pictured), who kindly helped me get a better vantage point for taking photos and later drove me to the spot where I parked my car. (Parking was a bad situation.) He was also a great person for making friendly conversation about politics and all things controversial not making it to print in the Republican. Davila’s warm, polite and friendly manner melts the snow he stands on.
While trying to figure out how to navigate around the area, we also encountered Springfield City Councilor Kateri Walsh and her husband as they were leaving the event, heading to a VIP parking area behind the arena. They did not realize Clinton had just arrived, and were giving up. When Davila and I noted for them that Clinton’s motorcade had just pulled in, they sort of shrugged—most people didn’t have all day to wait.