ALBANY – “Hillary’s family” has come together for a reunion. It is not her blood family, but the loyal cadre of aides and workers who helped her win two statewide contests in New York.
And that family means the former senator has a distinct advantage in the Democratic presidential primary this week.
The family members are spread out across the state and have an understanding about New York politics far deeper than her national campaign staff.
The family, a few dozen or so, have been “activated’’ over the past month to work on every facet of her New York campaign. Their resumes have two things in common: ties to Hillary Clinton and Democratic campaign know-how.
One jokingly described the group as the “Hillary cult.’’
In the compressed, two-week timetable that is the New York primary campaign, these people have put their professional and personal lives on hold to work out of Clinton’s Brooklyn campaign headquarters or to run on-the-ground efforts in a state that has been carved up into different political regions.
“No matter how much time has passed, like any true friendship, when Hillary said ‘I’m running again,’ we all just said, ‘OK. What can we do to help?’ We don’t want anything out of this other than Hillary Clinton to be our president,’’ said Cathy Calhoun, who last week took a leave of absence from her job as chief of staff at the state Department of Transportation.
“She didn’t need to ask,’’ added Calhoun, who for eight years was Clinton’s Central New York regional director out of Syracuse when Clinton was a senator.
Clinton has paid attention to this group over the years. She has stayed in touch with them through cards and notes. She’s been to annual Christmas parties in Washington for her former staffers. She’s taken time to meet their children, even to press a colleague when she served in the Senate for federal health research dollars after meeting with one of her upstate political operatives and his young daughter, who has a rare neurological disorder.
A group Clinton trusts
The Clinton family both guides and follows the campaign strategy because they’ve done it before.
Beyond their abilities and insights into specific communities, it is a group she trusts because they long ago proved their reliability and dedication to her.
Over the years, they’ve been with her in U.S. Senate runs. They volunteered in her failed Democratic presidential primary run eight years ago. Some in 2014 helped run events when Clinton was on a tour promoting her memoir, “Hard Choices.”
Now, they are looking to help Clinton score a big enough victory on Tuesday to put an end to Bernie Sanders’ campaign.
These former staff and political insiders have stayed in touch with each other, going to weddings or chatting up politics via email. This team does not include big name former insiders – such as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who served as her 2000 Senate campaign manager. But they are insiders who work hard and stay largely in the shadows.
Several of these Clinton insiders said they knew this day would come, when Clinton would call upon them to get back onto her political operation. A couple months ago, the team wasn’t envisioning New York being much of a factor, But the team quickly restarted once New York came into play.
At the top of the Clinton’s New York family tree is Resi Cooper, a political consultant who once ran her Long Island regional office during her Senate days. Clinton recently brought her on board to run her New York campaign.
Other volunteers are helping to coordinate phone banks with unions and other key allies, assisting with targeted ad campaigns and getting people into the field to knock on doors.
Ed Draves is a lobbyist at a politically potent Albany firm, but the past two weeks he has been called on to offer an array of Clinton help.
He started with Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in New York 1992, and then was Hillary Clinton’s deputy campaign manager responsible for upstate her 2000 U.S. Senate race.
“It’s like that scene from the Blues Brothers where they just start driving around picking up the band members. It’s like we’ve got the Clinton band back. We’re just getting in the car and we just go,” Draves said.
The team Clinton put together in 2000 has only grown more experienced, Draves said, whether in politics or expanding connections with new and old players in a community.
“You had folks working on the 2000 campaign who were New Yorkers, had New York political resumes and most of them stayed within New York and continue to be involved in public service or government or politics,’’ Draves said.
The group “brings a lot of real New York information and skills. There’s no other candidate that can come into New York and have that,’’ he said.
The ‘Clintonland’ members
Some learned politics from Clinton herself.
“She took a chance on me,’’ said Calhoun, who joined Clinton’s Syracuse political operation with no previous campaign experience and then was hired for her Senate staff.
Laura Krolczyk started working for Clinton in her Buffalo regional office in 2002 when she was just 22, and she headed the Western New York regional office for the senator until Clinton left to become secretary of state.
Now married and with an 8-month old child, Krolyczyk has taken time off from her full-time job in leading a state government affairs unit at Roswell Park Cancer Institute to put miles on her car helping coordinate Clinton’s Western New York campaign. The work includes energizing supporters and coordinating with local party leaders. She got two hours of sleep in advance of organizing Clinton’s recent Buffalo campaign appearance.
“Clintonland is family. There is no leaving. It was an honor to be asked to help. At the same time, we all knew this day was coming,’’ Krolczyk said.
Krolcyzk volunteered on Clinton’s presidential primary run eight years ago. That loss to President Obama “was a hard loss for us,’’ she said.
After Clinton became secretary of state, she kept in touch with her former New York staff, even inviting them to events at the State Department.
“She certainly never has forgotten about us,’’ Krolcyzk said of Clinton.
Still, the team went largely dormant.
Now, the New York team is hoping to help Clinton “finish the story” begun with that 2008 run with a White House victory this year, Krolczyk said.
One longtime Democratic insider said Clinton has largely been away from New York political life since she left the Senate in January 2009 to join the Obama administration.
“It’s a wise move,’’ Hank Sheikopf, a Democratic consultant who is not involved in the Clinton or Sanders campaigns, said of Clinton reactivating her old team. “You can’t just fly people in from the outside who don’t know New York and have them wander around in the dark.’’
Sheinkopf said Clinton needs to do well upstate to offset gains Sanders is making with younger voters.
“She needs every Democrat she can get her hands on and what better way than to have local folks saying to people ‘It’s time to help Hillary again?’’ he said.