With Hillary Upstate

Where the Wild Things Are

While Mayor Giuliani remains ensconced in City Hall, Hillary Clinton has opened an aggressive two-front campaign that carries her to outlying areas of New York State as she keeps tabs on her own bailiwick in the city. As a result, her upstate negatives are falling, while normally rock-ribbed Republicans are growing disenchanted with Giuliani for ignoring them.

Political professionals think the race will be about even downstate, and that it will be decided in the string of cities running along the old Erie Canal: Albany, Utica, Syracuse, and Buffalo. As a result, strategists are rethinking the situation upstate. John Zogby, who runs a bustling polling operation out of Utica, says Hillary is reducing her negatives, while Giuliani’s negatives are climbing. This vast area is hardly the outback, and if the denizens are staunchly Republican, many seem liberal compared to the conservative right-wingers in Congress.

Despite the decline of the family farm, the region remains an agricultural center. But in recent years service enterprises such as back offices for financial institutions, as well as printing companies and telemarketing concerns, have sprung up. In Verona, the Oneida Indian Turning Stone Casino, complete with golf course and hotel, is the biggest employer around. Zogby points out that upstate is now prochoice, pro-gun control, and pro-gay. For decades, it has been thought of as Rockefeller Republican, but Republican registration is declining, and cities like Buffalo and Syracuse still contain the residue of ethnic Democratic machines. In addition, there are a handful of large, relatively inexpensive media markets. Thus, campaigning is easy, at least in terms of covering a large area, and Hillary has wasted little time in establishing herself here as a presence to be reckoned with.

On a rainy day last week, the First Lady visited the Hand in Hand Early Childhood Center in Lowville, a small farming community about an hour’s drive north of Utica on the edge of the Adirondacks. Kids and parents waited expectantly, the children singing, many parents fiddling with cameras. Suddenly, amid a phalanx of Secret Service agents, there were cries of “Here she comes!” and Hillary, smiling but clearly ready for business, entered. After being introduced, she sat down among the children, who ranged in age from three to six, and began to read from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

As parents craned their necks to get a look and cameras whirred, Hillary read how Max went “in and out of weeks” to meet the wild things “who roared their terrible roars.” She was into the kids, who were into the story. All was still, except for some muffled shouting outside. Eventually, the noise drew the attention of reporters — and sure enough, across the street, standing in the rain, was a young man hoarsely bellowing, “Hillary Is a Baby Killer!” Next to him was a woman screaming, “She likes to kill children!”

“Oh my,” said a father, peering out the window, “It’s the Christians.”

When Hillary finished reading, she asked the youngsters a few questions, posed for pictures, chatted with the parents, and left. As her van departed, the furious fundamentalists exploded in a sputtering chorus of “Go home, baby killer!” and “How many abortions have you had, Hillary?” On the sidewalk, a handful of women sympathetic to Hillary applauded and waved. In the middle of the street stood a rough-looking sheriff’s deputy, ready to still the commotion, which he had clearly had enough of, along with his trusty German shepherd, who was taking a nap in the drizzle.

A few hours later, up a winding road with snowbanks still visible through the trees, Hillary made a second appearance, on the shores of Big Moose Lake. Here, in the cold, damp hall of Covewood Lodge, a small group of invited environmentalists and area residents stood waiting. At this event, Hillary was to speak in support of the Adirondack Council’s campaign against acid rain, which is destroying the 3000 lakes that dot this huge park system. The pollutants also have an acidic effect on water pipes in the area, eating into the copper and old lead soldering so that, as one local put it, residents end up literally “eating” the plumbing. The acid rain is dumped by winds carrying pollutants such as sulphur and nitrogen, which have floated in from the smokestacks of electric utilities in the Ohio River Valley.

Ironically, because these utilities have bought “pollution credits” from LILCO and other utilities near big cities, they are legally polluting the park. Under legislation sponsored by retiring senator Pat Moynihan and supported by the entire New York congressional delegation, as well as the governor, the practice of allowing pollution credits would be curbed, and a new system aimed at controlling nitrogen would be established. However, this bill is languishing in the Senate Environmental and Public Works committee, where the new chairman, the ultra-right Bob Smith of New Hampshire, has yet to get his hooks into it. Since Republicans as well as Democrats support the thrust of Moynihan’s legislation, it makes a crossover issue for Hillary, especially as Giuliani has refused to take a stand on the measure.

The main hall of the lodge was sparsely filled as Hillary’s appearance began, but the local grapevine, fed by police radio, soon turned out a respectable showing. Not knowing how to handle the uninvited guests, the Secret Service first kept them on the porch, then let them into a back room, and finally allowed them into the hall where Hillary was speaking. When the session was thrown open to questions, one man jumped up and said that a friend of his had once taught with Hillary in Arkansas. “Oh, my gosh,” the First Lady replied, “whatever happened to him? He was a really good instructor.” Next, a woman announced that although she was a Republican, she wanted Hillary to know that she liked her a lot. Other Republicans voiced similar sentiments.

And so it went, as one at a time in the dank cold of the polluted Adirondacks Hillary was winning votes, while Giuliani stayed home and sank in the polls in his besieged city.

Kickoff in Congress

Elián Football

Little Elián González ought to have been promptly returned to his father after he was rescued off Florida last November. Instead, every politician from Clinton on down has used the boy as a political football, and now — almost too perfectly — here come the congressional Republicans.

Despite polls showing that the U.S. public overwhelmingly approves of the boy being returned to his father, the GOP contingent on Capitol Hill, led by Tom DeLay and Orrin Hatch, seems to have latched onto the cause as a successor crusade to Monicagate. Suitably out front among the right-wing wackos practically frothing at the mouth over the issue has been New Hampshire’s Bob Smith, who quickly became the Miami relations’ Capitol Hill escort and seems to have involved himself almost as a family member, along with the rescuing fisherman and houseguest Donato Dalrymple.

Not to be outdone were Al Gore and George Bush, both of whom have celebrated the virtues of “family values” ad nauseam. “As I have said, I believe this… should have been handled through a family court,” declared Beta Man, surfacing from a press retreat following his abject flip-flop to attract key Florida votes. “I commend the people of Miami,” he quickly added. The compassionate conservative was, of course, “profoundly saddened… that the administration… decided to use force to take a little boy from the place he calls home in the middle of the night.”

Cheapskate Nation

Fortress America

Although Americans like to think of themselves as a caring nation, nothing could be further from the truth. A study out this week shows how cheap the U.S. really is: While protesters have recently focused on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for loansharking third world development projects, the U.S. gives only a pittance of its largesse in foreign aid, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. U.S. aid now stands at $11.1 billion a year, a mere 0.6 percent of federal expenditures — and it’s slated to drop even further. When ranked among the top 20 industrialized nations, the U.S. is at the bottom. (Although Japan’s economy is less than half the size of the U.S.’s, it has the largest foreign-aid program in the world.)

According to the study, the average U.S. resident “receives 56 times the annual income of residents of the world’s low-income countries.” Although the U.S. has only 5 percent of the world’s population, its economy comprises 27 percent of the world economy.

Plantation Prison

The District of Columbia, under court order to improve its prisons, has contracted with Wackenhut Corp. to build a 1200-inmate facility on the site of one of North Carolina’s largest slave plantations. Outraged, Harmon Wray, a D.C. minister, told the Washington City Paper that this means “the mostly working-class, poor black descendants of slaves will be making low wages to keep their poor, almost all black brothers and sisters from the ghettos of D.C. locked up in cages.”

Additional reporting: Kate Cortesi