Clinton makes history with top Democratic fete - The Buffalo News

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Clinton makes history with top Democratic fete

In all the years that Democratic presidential candidates have stumped through “blue turf” Buffalo, never has any proven better at campaign fundraising than Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday.

The former first lady, senator from New York and secretary of state raised about $350,000 during an appearance at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo that drew more than 200 supporters.

“This should be the biggest Democratic, presidential fundraiser in the history of Buffalo,” said an ebullient Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner, who added that veteran fundraisers such as former Chairman Joseph F. Crangle, Frank J. McGuire and former Mayor Anthony M. Masiello all expressed amazement at the results.

“When I talked to him earlier today Joe Crangle couldn’t believe how much we had pulled in,” Zellner said. “Same with Frank McGuire and Mayor Masiello.

“If I were only a Republican, we’d do a million tonight,” he quipped.

Clinton arrived around 7:30 p.m. at the Hyatt. She greeted hotel staff and told several onlookers how glad she was to visit Buffalo for the first time since 2013.

“I loved coming here all those years,” she told one well-wisher.

She also scored a major hit with those attending the event, who, after all, were big enough fans to pay either $1,000 or $2,700 to be admitted.

“I can’t say enough about her warmth, sincerity and genuineness,” said Donna McGuire, who was leaving with her husband, Frank, the fundraiser.

“As a woman, I couldn’t be prouder that she is running for president of the United States.”

Masiello and his wife, Kate, posed for pictures with Clinton.

“She relates so well to people of all walks of life, and that’s why she resonates with the public,” the former mayor said. “And she’s never forgotten her roots.”

The origins of Tuesday’s event extend to last May, when Zellner and Erie County Democratic Elections Commissioner Leonard R. Lenihan – his predecessor as party chairman – attended the launch of Clinton’s campaign in New York City. Following additional meetings with the candidate’s financial team in her Brooklyn headquarters, Lenihan said Clinton’s staff quickly embraced the concept of a Buffalo fundraiser.

“It took a few months to put it all together, but it was always just a matter of where and when,” Lenihan said, adding that Zellner proved adept at coordinating the various local Democratic constituencies to participate.

Lenihan said he and Zellner earlier this year agreed to become members of “Hillstarters,” the group pledging to sign up at least 10 donors willing to contribute the $2,700 individual maximum allowed by law. That established their credentials as major fundraisers and admitted them to “the team,” he said.

Lenihan, who served as chairman from 2002 to 2012 and has been politically active for more than 40 years, rattled off a list of successful fundraisers of recent years featuring Clinton or her husband, former President Bill Clinton. But he could not recall any other Buffalo event that raised more money for either the party or a presidential campaign.

“I would say that of all the ones I can remember, this is the one to break the record,” he said. “This is a huge event.”

In the late summer of 2007, Hillary Clinton also raised funds in Buffalo for her unsuccessful 2008 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

It featured Bill Clinton at one event for high-end donors at the Soldiers Place home of attorney Herbert M. Siegel as well as a $50 event at the Church on Delaware Avenue. Together, local organizers raised about $200,000.

Buffalo Republicans have generally proven more effective in raising money for presidential campaigns. Anthony H. Gioia, a businessman and former ambassador to Malta, teamed with others in 2012 to raise about $1.25 million for the Mitt Romney presidential campaign. That continues to rank as the local record.

Gioia this year co-hosted an August fundraiser for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio that took in about $250,000, while other local GOP types raised about $200,000 in late June for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

As in just about every other high-profile fundraiser taking place locally, however, no reporters or other members of the public were allowed inside.

Former Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, said that such procedures have become standard in recent years. An experienced political fundraiser on the local, statewide and national levels, Reynolds said candidates usually approach such events with a single purpose: get in, raise the money, and get out.

“She’ll want to stay on some aspect of her current message,” said Reynolds, former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “They don’t want to have to defend their fundraising or get asked about some local piece that’s different from their message. It’s ... pretty much the norm.”

Other GOP sources indicate that their candidates generally avoid association with fundraising or hobnobbing with “fat cat” contributors.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, stayed for only a few hours in Buffalo after a day of campaigning in New Hampshire, site of the first presidential primary in February.

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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