By now you may have heard that a coalition of Hillary Clinton die-hards has created a Super PAC called Ready for Hillary. This fundraising behemoth is prohibited from coordinating with Madam Secretary’s presidential campaign, which is not actually an issue considering we’re 700 days away from the New Hampshire primary and no such campaign exists. No matter: Ready for Hillary planted itself in Philly last night, where a father-son tag team hosted two separate tree-shaking events.
The first, co-emceed by Duane Morris partner/Clintonworld mega-donor Alan Kessler and Ballard Spahr partner/Ed Rendell fundraiser Ken Jarin, takes place at the Morris Café, which you may know better as the random Starr-catered urban food court off 17th Street. Unless you are VIP or the odd member of the fourth estate, the cost of your ticket ranges from $1,000 to $5,000.
I catch up with Ed Rendell over by the buffet table as he’s popping a “petite tomato tarte.” He tells me he liked President Obama’s State of the Union address, delivered earlier this week. “It didn’t demonize Republicans, but it said quite definitely what he was going to do in the areas he could,” he says. “The tone was great, and of course the goals were less lofty than before, but it was realistic.” So… kind of Clintonesque.
Nearby was City Commissioner Stephanie Singer. I ask if she’s ready for Hillary. “In 2008, I backed Barack Obama — but it was very close. I always felt it was like, have you ever seen the movie Amadeus?” Her point: Hillary was Salieri, Obama was Mozart. Salieri’s not bad, but come on, how can you snub Mozart? (Not said: In Amadeus, Salieri plots to ruin Mozart’s career and ends up in an insane asylum.)
Other bold-faced politicos in attendance: Attorney General Kathleen Kane, mayoral frontrunner Anthony Hardy Williams, State Sen. Vincent Hughes, PA-13 congressional candidate Val Arkoosh, City Councilmen Bobby Henon and Kenyatta Johnson, plus assorted law/business poobahs. Forgive me if I missed anyone, but just as I’m beginning a conversation with Kane (observation: teeth, positively luminescent) I’m ushered out of the room. Kessler had told me I could stay until people started speaking into microphones, at which point I was to leave the grown-up table and head across the street to G Lounge, where his 24-year-old son Dan was hosting a Millenial-centric Ready for Hillary fundraiser of his own.
Earlier in the day, Kessler père tried to convince me that the young folks’ party was the more interesting one. Despite the VIP quotient at his own bash, he had a point. In the last decade — in Philly and elsewhere — the presidential candidates associated with the youth movement have been Howard Dean and Barack Obama. (In 2008, Hillary won Pennsylvania, but Obama took Philly handily.) So the very idea of a large collection of young people getting jazzed for an ultra-establishment, center-left candidate who would be 69 on Inauguration Day is on its face puzzling.
But there are a couple factors that help explain the presence of around 350 guests who packed G Lounge last night (besides the $20.16 entry fee — see what they did there?). First, at some point during her tenure as Secretary of State, Clinton basically turned into an Internet meme. Articles like “How to Deal with a Mansplainer Starring Hillary Clinton in GIFs” began to appear on websites like Feministing. Clinton got in on the fun too: Her Twitter profile boasts her status as a “Pantsuit aficionado” and features a picture of her in shades, checking her phone. Much of her time in Foggy Bottom was spent advocating for women’s rights abroad, floating above the partisan fray that damaged her political brand six years ago. Now, she’s not simply a larger-than-life feminist icon, but a mascot of sorts, a real-life Rosie the Riveter for the Lean In era.
The other factor that explains the popularity of the Hillary-themed networking event is the makeup of the crowd. There is lot of wing tip and paisley and pinstripe — pocket squares, not so much, but they aren’t far off. These are the ur-yuppies, the scrubbed and polished, civically engaged Center City types who have the poise of their parents and probably wouldn’t mind being them too. “I prefer experience to speeches,” says ubiquitous 25-year-old United Way staffer Ben Stango, a rabid Hillary supporter who helped organize the event. “She’s the most qualified presidential candidate we’ve ever had. Maybe John Quincy Adams.”
As guests trickle in, I find Dan Kessler, who has been running around trying to do damage control on a coat-check situation. He rattles off his resume. Internships: Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Goldman Sachs, White House. First jobs: Private equity and real estate investment analysis, which is what he does now at Brandywine Trust. “I’ve liked President Obama,” he says. “I don’t like how he… got out the message about health care,” pausing for a long time to choose his words carefully. (After all, he interned for the man.)
Eventually, finished with the other fundraiser, Rendell arrives and poses for pictures with a cardboard cutout of Hillary. Kessler addresses the crowd. This is not only a fundraiser for Hillary, he tells us, but the start of a movement — the kind of movement that can mobilize young people the way JFK mobilized the baby boomers. And if there’s anyone else who believes Hillary Clinton has the potential to excite the youth of today more than Obama did, it’s Rendell, who takes the floor next.
He tells a cute story about Bill and Hillary during the night of the Pennsylvania primary in ’08, declares that it’s these sorts of events that will help convince Clinton to run, and reveals that the Morris Café fundraiser hauled in somewhere in the neighborhood of $200,000. And then, because he’s Ed Rendell: “For those of you, by the way, that think that I am infallible … I was talking across the street to the older people and I said, ‘You’re all welcome to join us, to join the young people’s fundraiser across the street at the G Spot.’”
It’s not clear if any other young Hillaryites are much more familiar with the venue, where sticky floors and “Get Lucky” remixes typically hinder Power Crowd aspirants from smoothly exchanging business cards. By the entrance, 30-something political consultant Mike Bronstein is talking with 30-something State Representative Kevin Boyle. Both are ready for Hillary. For the charms of G Lounge, maybe not. “I haven’t been to this place since I was a teenager,” Bronstein says.
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