When it comes to Hillary Clinton, there is no shortage of unfair and unprincipled reasons for disliking her -- and if you listen to AM talk radio for an hour, you'll probably hear them all.
I reject the sexism of those who still think a former First Lady has no place in policy debates, just as I reject the absurd theories of those who think she had a hand in the death of her close friend Vince Foster.
Having volunteered on Clinton's first senate campaign, I get mad when I hear Rush Limbaugh savage her as a liar and an opportunist. I'm also grateful to her for keeping Rudy Guiliani and Rick Lazio out of the Senate.
But you don't have to be a sexist or a conspiracy theorist to oppose Clinton's candidacy.
I don't dislike Hillary; I distrust her. And my reasons are both substantive, and based on direct personal experience. When a major issue hit the Hudson Valley, Clinton was less than honest with her constituents, and all to eager to take credit where none was due.
For nearly 7 years, our communities were riven with controversy about a vast, coal-burning facility proposed by St. Lawrence Cement here in the Hudson Valley.
Given the harsh health, scenic, noise, traffic, economic and other negative potential impacts, opponents naturally wanted to get the ear of Mrs. Clinton -- and we tried everything. She was approached at campaign whistlestops, at private dinners, and public fundraisers. Printed factsheets were pressed into staffers' hands, and handwritten letters beseeched our new Senator to help end this dangerous idea. But she refused to take any public stand.
Finally, as the leader of the grassroots opposition, I tried an old- fashioned political route. A friend identified a celebrity donor in nearby Dutchess County who was opposed to St. Lawrence's plans, and he called in a big favor. Driving to the capitol in his limo, we met with Hillary first in a chamber outside the Armed Services Committee, then took a long walk and tram ride under the Capitol to her offices. Hillary was both charming, and surprisingly well-informed on our issue.
At last, here was my big chance to make a full case for her involvement. But when I launched into a carefully-prepared spiel, the Senator stopped me: "You don't need to do the presentation," she said. "The plant is a terrible idea. Just tell me how I can help." Delighted, I described the various Federal permitting processes in which she could intervene, and the benefits of her taking a public stand.
She called in her chief environmental policy advisor, and gave detailed instructions: Get a memo on her desk right away, listing the necessary action steps and the policy rationales for each, and she'd get right to work on it. Her performance was smart and convincing, and her celebrity backer and I practically floated down the Capitol steps on the way out.
The rest was silence. After promptly delivering the requested memo, I was never able to get her staff (let alone the Senator herself) to discuss the issue again, let alone take action to stop the plant.
About a year later, Clinton was cornered on the SLC issue by an interviewer from The National Trust for Historic Preservation, who finally got her to say that she thought the proposal was "not the right direction for the Hudson Valley." These remarks were published in Preservation Magazine, which Clinton apparently thought no one would read... because when we then alerted local media to her statement, Clinton's staff denied the remarks and claimed she still had not taken a position.
Only after nearly 14,000 residents and 40 groups wrote in opposition to the Republican administration of George Pataki did this terrible project get scrapped -- without any help from either of our Democratic Senators.
But there was one more damning chapter in our Clinton saga.
After we won, the group I co-founded received an award at the Waldorf-Astoria from the Preservation League of New York. During the award ceremony, it was announced that there would be a video tribute from someone who couldn't attend, but who wanted to pay her respects. Up on a giant screen came Hillary Clinton, talking about how we'd all fought such a good fight together.
Those of us who had been in the trenches for years looked at each other in amazement. All the awful things people say about Hillary were horribly validated: She didn't deliver on her promises, and then she took credit for a victory achieved without her help.
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