Elections

Supporters pack Edison High in Fresno to see Hillary Clinton

By the time Democratic presidential frontrunner candidate Hillary Clinton hit the stage at Edison High School on Saturday evening, the crowd already had been fired up by a congressman and a retired Superior Court judge, urging support for her candidacy, and by the triple-digit temperatures that baked the city.

The 105-degree heat did little to slow the resolve of more than 1,500 people who clamored to hear from Clinton. They had waited patiently in long lines to make sure they got inside the Edison gym to hear her, after she was introduced by U.S. Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and retired Judge Armando Rodriguez, a graduate of Edison High.

The time marker on the scoreboard of the Edison gym was set to 20:16. Both the away and home scores were set to 45, presumably because this election will decide the 45th president of the United States.

Locals voice support

Dolores Torres, 63, of Fresno, was the first to line up at 8 a.m. “I thought people were going to be camping but they weren’t,” she said.

Jennifer Ramirez, 14, was among the first 100 or so to enter with her mom, Laura Ramirez. Though she can’t vote, Jennifer persuaded her mom to attend the Clinton rally. She wore pins that read, “Madam President” and “Suffragettes for Hillary.”

“I think we should have a woman as our president,” she said. “It can’t be Trump.”

Dorie Sexton, 45, came with two of her three sons. All three took advantage of the shade and were eating ice cream from a cart.

“We are die-hard Hillary supporters,” Sexton said. “We want someone who knows what in the heck they’re doing, someone who is respectable. And, having the first woman being president is a bonus.”

Her 14-year-old son, Michael, came to show Clinton support and appease his mom. It was his first rally.

But while standing in the long line, he mostly was focused on the heat, he said, while eating a Neapolitan ice cream sandwich.

At least one person inside Edison was affected by the warm conditions.

Clare Wall sat against the railing of the media area after fainting because of the hot conditions.

Wall said she was OK. She just didn’t drink enough water. Three police officers and four paramedics rushed to her side as she fell around 6:30 p.m.

“I’ve been watching her career for 25 years,” Wall said of Clinton. “I’m like her – we’ve both been through the (mud) and made it out the other side.”

She added: “She’s always worked for women. I really want to see her – as long as I don’t faint again.”

Drs. Sonia and Shailesh Shah attended the rally with their children Neil and Aari. The parents immigrated from India 16 years ago and became citizens just after President Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012.

Sonia Shah said she is excited to vote in the United States for the first time.

“I think we are witnessing history in some way,” she said. “To have a first woman president, to be a part of that, it says a lot about how far we’ve come.”

Before the event, Edison assistant basketball coach Jerome Johnson was selling water for $1: “Hillary is for the people, so we priced for the people.”

Stephanie Garrigus stood in the intense heat with her mother, husband, 8-year-old daughter and mother-in-law at Edison High School, waiting for the rally.

Only two weeks earlier, Garrigus watched as former President Bill Clinton campaigned at Fresno State for his wife, and she was excited to learn that Hillary Clinton was coming to Fresno.

Garrigus, 45, says she’s confident that Hillary Clinton will be elected.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear the first woman president speak before she becomes president,” she said.

Jesse Hernandez, 53, a volunteer with the Clinton campaign, revved up the crowd as they waited in line in the sweltering heat.

Hernandez has been a Clinton fan for years. “I came today just hoping to get a glimpse of Hillary,” he said.

Hernandez said he was a Republican years ago but liked Bill Clinton as president. He said the world needs compassion, and Hillary is the most qualified to be president.

“Her résumé is phenomenal,” he said. “I love Bernie, but I think we gotta stick to reality. Hillary is center – not too far left, not too far right.”

Hernandez said he brought his kids up to be interested in politics. His daughter, son and son-in-law were with him at the rally. His other daughter wasn’t – she’s a Sanders supporter.

About 30 people were turned away from the rally because the gym was full. They included Tate Hill, president and CEO of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce.

Hill, who said he plans to vote for Clinton and was disappointed he couldn’t hear her speak, heard Bill Clinton speak in Fresno two weeks ago.

The Edison High graduate said he appreciated that Clinton chose to speak at his alma mater. He hopes that, if elected, she remembers Fresno and Edison fondly.

“I think some other candidates would have said, ‘I don’t want to go there,’ ” he said, though Edison is one of the best high schools in the Valley.

But Hill said it’s significant that Clinton chose not to be afraid of addressing a challenged community, albeit one where Fresno’s history is rooted. “She could have picked a whole lot of other places.”

He said it shows him that Clinton is committed to addressing poverty, and values diversity and education.

Some not convinced

However, not everyone at the rally was there to support Clinton.

“She hasn’t earned my vote,” said Zachary Potter, a Fresno City College student wearing a Bernie Sanders button. “At this point, if Hillary got the nomination, I’d write in Bernie Sanders.”

Potter said he started out as a Clinton supporter but was drawn to Sanders’ stance on campaign reform. He attended Sanders’ Fresno rally on May 29 and said Clinton’s event was much smaller and far less energized.

Potter said he would vote for Clinton if she put Sanders or Elizabeth Warren on her ticket, but it seemed unlikely that she would win him over another way.

“I’m not gonna buy the whole ‘You need to unite the party’ thing,” he said. “It’s a big turnoff to voters to tell them their voice doesn’t count.”

Kathy Vitali, 64, and Molly Knuffke, 65, were among the few protesters present. Their signs clearly stated their stance: “Democratic party is pro choice. Pro-choice = abortion. Not for me! Catholic and pro-life.”

Knuffke, a teacher, said she believes firmly that children are the greatest resource and is staunchly against abortion.

“Thou shall not kill is the fifth commandment,” she said. “If you vote for Democrats, you’re voting for abortion.”

Julius Rasmussen Jr., 73, held a sign reading, “Chelsea Manning for president. Hitler-y Clinton for dog catcher.”

Rasmussen, who owns a junk removal company, said he is a working-class liberal, and Clinton has become too conservative.

He said it especially irks him that Clinton hates whistleblowers, including Manning and Edward Snowden.

“She doesn’t want to see the truth,” he said. “We’ve got the wrong people running for president. It should be the people with the courage to speak up.”

A transmasculine person whose name is Mr. Love attended the Clinton rally but said he plans to vote for Sanders. He said he supports her stance on women’s healthcare and appreciated that she mentioned mental health in her speech, which he said Sanders didn’t do.

But Love said both candidates only made reference to LGBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) issues in terms of marriage equality. Neither mentioned the transgender community.

“They’re not talking about the issues at hand,” he said.

59 to go

The speech capped off a political whirlwind that swept through Fresno over the last two weeks.

Former President Bill Clinton campaigned on behalf of his wife on May 23 at Fresno State. Presumptive Republican Party nominee Donald Trump came to Fresno on May 27. Clinton’s opponent, Sanders, stopped in Fresno on May 29.

Clinton is 59 delegates short of the nomination. She has 2,323 to Sanders’ 1,547. California has 546 delegates – 475 pledged, the rest superdelegates – up for grabs on Tuesday.

Staff writers Ashleigh Panoo, JoAnna Kroeker and Sydney Maki contributed to this story. Rory Appleton: 559-441-6015, @RoryDoesPhonics Andrea Castillo: acastillo@fresnobee.com, 559-441-6279, @andreamcastillo

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