Hillary Rodham Clinton returned to Buffalo on Wednesday night and cited the city as an example for the nation and the world: a city that’s investing for the future and succeeding as a result.
“Buffalo, Niagara Falls and New York are positioned to succeed in a world that is increasingly interconnected and interdependent,” Clinton said.
In a half-hour speech on the University at Buffalo’s North Campus, the former secretary of state and New York senator never even hinted at whether she will make a second run for president in 2016.
Instead, after entering UB’s Alumni Arena to a standing ovation from a crowd of 6,500, she paced the stage, ignored the podium and delivered a low-key, folksy speech that contrasted with the more formal – and more strident – speeches of her failed 2008 presidential campaign.
What’s more, she centered her talk on Buffalo and its progress, and only occasionally referred to the Washington gridlock that she has criticized in other recent speeches.
Noting that she worked with Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and other lawmakers to secure $30 million in federal funding for the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, Clinton said the campus is now “bringing all sorts of life and good jobs to downtown Buffalo.”
Similarly, the work of Higgins and his allies have led to a healthy revival of the Buffalo waterfront, said Clinton, who served as a Democratic senator from New York from 2001 through early 2009.
“The seeds that were sown years ago are starting to bear fruit,” she said. “I have to say it’s really looking good.”
That kind of in-depth planning and infrastructure investment is important for the entire nation to succeed as well, Clinton said.
“That is exactly what we need to be in Buffalo, New York and in America,” she said.
One thing stands in the way, though, on the national level, Clinton added.
“In Washington we’ve seen what happens when politicians choose scorched earth over ground,” she said.
Without mentioning the tea party Republicans who prompted the recent government shutdown, she then lamented “an evidence-free zone, with ideology trumping everything else,” in the nation’s capital.
Not long afterward, a heckler tried to interrupt Clinton, screaming about the terrorist murders of American diplomats in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012.
Clinton simply talked over him, and then took him down, saying solving problems “doesn’t involve yelling, it includes sitting down and talking.”
And that’s just what Clinton did after her speech, pulling up a chair with Dennis R. Black, vice president for university life and services at UB, who spent the next half-hour asking her questions from the audience and those following the event – part of the university’s Distinguished Speakers Series – online.
Most of the questions were hanging curve balls in the middle of the plate, allowing Clinton to score with the audience with homespun tales about her experiences as a woman secretary of state and her desire to become a grandmother.
But the last question was a clever new take on the query that Clinton often hears and always dodges.
“Perhaps you could describe for us what the ideal candidate for the president would look like,” Black asked.
Clinton smiled and clapped – and then spun a long, impersonal answer.
“That is a new way of phrasing it,” said Clinton, who has said she won’t even to begin to think about a presidential run until next year. “I have to give you lot of credit.”
From there, Clinton said: “I have to say, I’m not as interested as to what the candidate looks like as what the candidate stands for – what the candidate really believes America needs to be for the future, particularly for young people.”
The ideal president would not just reset the nation’s agenda, but would also have a very specific set of plans for implementing that agenda, she said.
In addition, she said it’s important for the next president to “kind of isolate the extreme voices and allow the vast majority of American voices to be heard.”
Before the speech, diners spotted Clinton having dinner at Tabree in Snyder with M&T Bank Chairman Robert Wilmers; his wife, Elisabeth; and former Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, a Buffalo Democrat who now works at the bank.
From there, Clinton traveled to a private reception at the UB Center for the Arts attended by Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown, former Mayor Anthony Masiello, former Reps. Hochul and John J. LaFalce, Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples Stokes and other local luminaries.
“She said she was very impressed with all the development, very impressed with the changes in Buffalo,” Brown said.
What’s more, “she remembered all of us,” said Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner. “We did a lot of work for her” when Clinton ran for president in 2008.
But another race – the coming campaign of 2016 – was on the mind of many.
“There was a question, I think, that everyone was whispering in her ear,” said Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, who attended the reception.
No, she didn’t answer it, said sources who were at the reception.