By Aaron Warnick/ Pittsburgh City Paper
A young person wrote “Feminism. DUH.” on a wall-sized poster headed with the prompt “I’m with her because …” The walls were covered from floor to to ceiling with that infamous ‘H’ logo in a seemingly endless combination of colors.
“Wow. What a crowd we have here tonight. What a cross-section of Pittsburgh. Young people. Middle-aged people. People as old as me,” County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said to a laughing crowd of Hillary Clinton supporters. “We know that this is Hillary Clinton country.”
On Thursday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opened her first Pennsylvania campaign office in East Liberty. Both Clinton and her opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, opened campaign offices in Pittsburgh this week in advance of the March 28 deadline to register for the primary vote.
The new offices seemed to match the candidates. Clinton’s new office is neat, organized, covered in campaign memorabilia — in-line with what one might expect from a campaign office. Unlike at the grassroots, rustic setting of the Sanders campaign office, there were no reggae songs singing of revolution at the Clinton event.
However, the biggest, most noticeable difference in the opening of these offices was not the decoration or the tone of the speakers, but the turnout. An estimated 50 people attended the Sanders’ office opening on Tuesday. While those numbers aren’t exact, very much like the oft-misunderstood caucus system, the exact numbers don’t matter all that much. There was a very significant difference in attendance.
Clinton supporters outnumbered those at the Sanders event seemingly five-to-one. The event was attended by an estimated 250 supporters and by many local Democratic Party leaders including Fitzgerald, U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, state Rep. Ed Gainey, Pittsburgh City Councilor Natalia Rudiak and other party officials. Mayor Bill Peduto also attended the event, albeit somewhat later than advertized.
“Like many of us, she has Pittsburgh values,” Fitzgerald yelled to the crowd (because the microphone stopped working). “Values where hard-work pays, where hard-work is rewarded, where people who play by the rules are going to get ahead.”
The organizers pushed for the supporters to sign-up up for various volunteer activities. And while those giving stump speeches often talked about a general election, they cautioned against looking past the primary in April.
“We’re committed to making sure that every person in Pittsburgh knows about the primary and that local Democrats are aware of her positions,” Andrew Whitely, the Clinton campaign’s local organizing director, said before the speeches began. Over the coming weeks, the campaign office will serve as headquarters for phone banking, door knocking and community outreach efforts.
East Liberty is popular with Democratic candidates. In 2008, President Barack Obama opened a campaign office in the neighborhood, followed by Mayor Peduto in 2013. In 2014, Gov. Wolf campaigned from an East Liberty office as well. While the neighborhood is at the center of Pittsburgh’s identity crisis, campaign organizers cited the Democratic party’s long-standing relationship with the neighborhood as the reason for its location.
“I think Sen. Sanders will do well here, but I don’t think he’ll carry Allegheny County … Hillary has a lot of support in Allegheny County,” Nancy Patton Mills, chair of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, said. “When we see statewide races, Allegheny County is key to winning the state.”