Whenever Hillary Clinton campaigns in Chicago -- as she will likely be doing again soon, when she runs for president again -- she mentions that she was born here.
Not only was Hillary born here, she has deep roots in Chicago politics, that go back even before her birth.
While Hillary was still in the womb, her father, Hugh Rodham decided to run for alderman of the 49th Ward. The Rodhams lived in Edgewater, in an apartment at 5722 N. Winthrop Ave. Hugh, a draper who had migrated to the city from Pennsylvania, was an outsider to Chicago, so his campaign was crushed by the ward’s political machine machine. The Democratic committeeman, Frank Keenan, won the election easily, with 65 percent of the vote. Hugh finished fifth, tallying 382 votes -- a measly 1.5 percent of the vote. That was the end of his career in electoral politics -- and the beginning of his enmity toward Chicago’s Democratic machine.
Eight months after the election, Hillary was born in Edgewater Hospital. When Hillary was 3, the family moved to Park Ridge. Hugh took his political grudge with him, and converted to the dominant suburban affiliation of the day: Republicanism.
In 1960, Hugh Rodham supported Richard M. Nixon for president. His 13-year-old daughter went along enthusiastically. The day after John F. Kennedy won the election, Hillary’s social studies teacher came to class bearing bruises, inflicted, he claimed, by Democratic goons who didn’t like the way he was questioning poll watchers in his Chicago precinct.
Outraged, Hillary and her best friend, Betsy Johnson, sneaked downtown to join a group of Republicans investigating the stolen election. The two girls were dropped off on the South Side, where they canvassed apartment houses and taverns, looking for evidence of ghost voters, which they never found.
“We had clipboards. And we had to register whether people lived there,” said Johnson, now Betsy Ebeling. “[What we did] was kind of jaw-dropping.”
Four years later, Hillary was a suburban Goldwater Girl, wearing a 10-gallon hat adorned with the candidate’s catchphrase — AuH2O — and devouring “The Conscience of a Conservative,” the Arizona senator’s campaign biography, the way some young people take to the me-first bromides of Ayn Rand.
When Hillary went off to Wellesley College, she took Park Ridge’s politics with her. As a freshman, she was elected president of the school’s Young Republicans chapter. A young man who went on a double date with Hillary in 1966 remembers the discussion turning to politics -- one of Hillary’s favorite subjects -- with her making “some kind of remark about Daley and Democrats in Chicago, and I bet it was a suburban Republican comment.”
Her Republican identity couldn’t withstand the era’s events, especially the Vietnam War. In the winter of 1968, Hillary spent weekends in New Hampshire working on the presidential campaign of Minnesota’s dovish Sen. Eugene McCarthy.
That summer, Hillary accompanied House Republicans to the party convention in Miami Beach, where she staffed a Rockefeller for President suite. She was appalled by the nomination of her teenage political crush Richard Nixon, who was hustling the votes of Southern conservatives.
“Nixon cemented the ascendance of a conservative over a moderate ideology within the Republican Party,” she wrote in her memoir, “Living History.” “I sometimes think that I didn’t leave the Republican Party as much as it left me.”
Later that month, back home in Park Ridge, Hillary saw news of the riots at the Democratic National Convention. Telling their parents they were going to a movie, she and Betsy Ebeling drove down to Grant Park and walked through clouds of tear gas, past battles between cops and antiwar demonstrators. At one point, they ran into a high school classmate who was providing first aid to the protestors.
The Vietnam War, Ebeling said, “was a huge dividing point for all of us. I think we were all really questioning it. All of that, McCarthy and all of that stuff, had come to a point where we decided we couldn’t support an organization that was for the war.”
When Hillary returned to Wellesley, she told Schechter she wanted to write her senior thesis on Saul Alinsky, the radical Chicago community organizer she had met during a previous summer break. That’s when the professor knew she’d passed a watershed — much as the rest of the country did that year.
Published at 11:21 AM CDT on Jul 11, 2013