Why I Can’t Vote For Hillary: A Deeply Personal Story

A few days ago, I posted an essay about Columbia County, New York.  What I didn’t mention was that for seven years, Columbia County was the scene of a huge, grassroots battle against St. Lawrence Cement and plans to construct an enormous cement plant in Columbia County on the Hudson River. The citizens group, Friends of Hudson, believe it or not won the battle.  There is no new cement plant today.

Today the founder of Friends of Hudson, Sam Pratt, posted the following diary at dKos about the Friends of Hudson and Hillary Clinton.  This is an important story, which I am posting here with Sam’s permission without further comment:

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 area where I live, New York’s Hudson Valley, Clinton was less than honest with her constituents, and all too eager to take credit where none was due.

For nearly 7 years, Hudson Valley communities were riven with controversy about a vast, coal-burning facility proposed by St. Lawrence Cement here in the Hudson Valley.

The company, a subsidiary of what was then the largest cement manufacturer in the world, had a horrendous track record of both environmental destruction and anti-competitive behavior, with millions of dollars of fines on the books.

The project would have burned some 500 million pounds of coal annually, with a 40-story smokestack, a 1,200-acre mine, and a huge barge facility on the Hudson, an American Heritage River. The controversy was covered everywhere from CNN to Swiss television, and every major Northeast newspapers (The New York Times, Hartford Courant, Boston Globe, et al.) opposed it editorially. The nearly seven-year battle was the subject of a PBS documentary, Two Square Miles.

Given the harsh health, scenic, noise, traffic, economic and other negative potential impacts of the project — 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. The company spent $60 million, and yet the citizens managed to stave off the largest cement company in the world — no thanks to Hillary.

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.

Now, some friends say, “Come now — all politicians are the same. They tell you what you want to hear, and then do the opposite. Get over it!” Others say, “Well, Hillary dropped the ball on that one, but I still trust her on health care, education, abortion, the economy, et cetera.”

To these excuses I say: Other politicians from five states had the guts to take a stand on an issue affecting hundreds of thousands of downwind residents; why couldn’t Clinton?

Why should we expect her to act differently the next time a major regional controversy hits? If she won’t stand up for the health of our local children and the elderly, and won’t expend any political capital to save a broad swath of her own adopted State as its Senator, why should we expect her to behave differently as President?

And why shouldn’t I get behind another candidate who is just as strong on core Democratic issues, such as Barack Obama — whose campaign overtly rejects this cynical brand of politics?

The whole experience brings to mind that phrase famously mangled by our current President: Fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice, shame on Hillary.

And that’s why Senator Clinton doesn’t have my vote on Super Tuesday. She will almost certainly carry this State, but our votes can help ensure that at least a portion of New York’s delegates to the Democratic convention are awarded to a more deserving candidate.


———

UPDATE #1: In the comments, Joynow dug up a quote from 2006 which makes an appropriate coda to this diary:

“I’d like to make it clear to the people who run the Democratic Party that I will not support Hillary Clinton for president. Enough. Enough triangulation, calculation and equivocation. Enough clever straddling, enough not offending anyone.” — Molly Ivins

UPDATE #2: In response to some mistaken or even malicious comments below (in the dKos diary) which led to some thread-hijacking, let me just briefly note here that:

  1. The project in question did require Federal permits (EPA, U.S. Army Corps, FAA, Coast Guard) and thus Clinton had a legitimate role to play on the issue, beyond lending her clout to the citizens fighting a pitched grassroots battle.

  2. I am not a “Blogger for Obama” and never heard of the site before today; at the same time, I do not object to anyone reprinting the text of this diary, preferably with a link to Kos.

  3. I am actually a longtime Edwards supporter, who very recently has switched to Obama for obvious reasons. However, this opinion of Clinton was formed long before the Presidential campaign began.

  4. Before accusing anyone of Hillary-hating and before trying to refute the story with personal attacks, please re-read the first few paragraphs of the intro and investigate the links. More info about my background can be found in a two-part interview at Grist.org

Thanks, everyone, for all your input…

UPDATE #3, a smoking gun: I’ve managed to find the original documents showing how Clinton handled the Preservation Magazine interview, once it was publicized to a wider audience:

   

PRESERVATION MAGAZINE, MARCH/APRIL 2004 ISSUE, INTERVIEW WITH CLINTON:

   Q: A large cement factory is to be built nearby [Olana State Historic Site]. Should such a thing be allowed?

   A: It would be a big step backward from what has been a return to cultural and historic preservation as an engine of economic development.

THE REGISTER-STAR [HUDSON], 1 MARCH 2004:

   Sara Griffen, president of The Olana Partnership, said, “We are of course very pleased to have her come out and state publicly her opposition to the St. Lawrence Cement plant proposal.”

   “Obviously, we’re thrilled to hear such words from a New York senator and major international figure,” said Sam Pratt, director of Friends of Hudson. Both Friends of Hudson and The Olana Partnership are fighting against St. Lawrence’s proposal through the state’s environmental review and permitting process.

   While Griffen’s and Pratt’s reactions are understandable considering the published comment they read, Clinton’s press secretary, Jennifer Hanley, stressed that “the senator hasn’t come out for or against the cement factory.”

9 comments

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    • davidseth on February 2, 2008 at 11:57 pm
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    I put this up with Sam’s permission.  I do hope it’s ok to have done that.  If there is a problem with this, I know you will tell me.

    Thanks for reading.

  1. will be directly west of me, yay, I did some promotion for Friends of the Hudson a few years back.  I’m wondering what the Spitzer administration will do if anything about that one.

    Most politicians only have “jobs” in their scopes not “environment” and “quality of life”.  The unions are so week right now it does not pay the politicians to cater to them so they cater to the CEO’s instead.

    A nasty chain that only gets worse as the income divide worsens.

    • Edger on February 3, 2008 at 4:45 am

    didn’t deliver on … promises, and then … took credit for a victory achieved without … help

    In his final state of the union, President Bush once again defended the Iraq invasion and claimed the so-called troop surge a success.

    • Temmoku on February 3, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    Yesterday and missed it…This is important to know and to read about. We can all expect more of the same since there are always requests for Breeder Reactors, garbage Dumps, incinerators and cement factories (and other factories) to be build in poor communities or in ecologically sensitive locals and just anywhere where they could create havoc with people’s health.

  2. in San Diego with Babbitt and the Clinton administration was similar.

    • ctrenta on February 4, 2008 at 2:36 am

    Thanks for the story davidseth. I guess the million dollar question now is…. why doesn’t this upset RFK Jr., especially since he is a “friend of the Hudson River?” That baffles the mind. She musta promised him something if she gets elected president. I just can’t fathom why he would support her.  

  3. from our state Dem Party talking about the Clinton event in the Twin Cities today. Interesting that Obama was in town yesterday and I got no email about that event. This happens a day and a half before our state caucuses…interesting. I sent back a reply saying I didn’t appreciate the state party taking sides.

    Oh, and the size of crowds at the events:

    Clinton – 4,000

    Obama – 20,000.

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