Clinton leans on Park Ridge roots, but is it Hillary territory?

 
 
Updated 6/9/2016 9:23 AM
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  • Daily Herald file photo, 1992Hillary Clinton visits Maine South High School on March 12, 1992.

    Daily Herald file photo, 1992Hillary Clinton visits Maine South High School on March 12, 1992.

Park Ridge's newest park opened last month, just days before one of the city's most famous former residents all but clinched the Democratic nomination for president.

Hillary Rodham Clinton Park would be the perfect name for the site, then-parks official Mary Wynn Ryan had argued back when the former U.S. secretary of state was in the early stages of her second campaign for president.

Instead, in a city split relatively evenly among Republicans and Democrats, the park board settled on Prospect Park, naming the site after the street where it's located.

Clinton has at times leaned on her Park Ridge roots during her bid for president, telling voters about her mother Dorothy Rodham, making a book-tour stop in Chicago during an early campaign warm-up two years ago this week, and holding a high-profile fundraiser in the suburb just last month.

Yet, it's unclear what Clinton's likely nomination or possible election for president will mean for this politically divided city, where Ryan hopes local businesses and others beyond the already-excited supporters' circles will promote ties to the candidate -- but where a lot of Republicans won't be fans of the idea of a President Clinton.

"Let's fluff this thing up," Ryan said.

On Wednesday, there were no congratulatory or campaign signs to be found in Park Ridge for the native daughter who had just claimed the Democratic nomination for president.

State Sen. Laura Murphy, the Democratic committeewoman for Maine Township, which includes Park Ridge, said while there hasn't been a "party in the street" yet, local supporters have talked with the Clinton campaign about the possibility of a local rally.

Some supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders want to at least delay that party in the street until the party's convention next month. And Republican Donald Trump will aim to target Clinton as he works to harness the support that led to his arena-filling rallies and primary victories on the way to Election Day in November.

"I understand the responsibility of carrying the mantle and I will never, ever let you down -- too much work, too many people, blood, sweat and tears," Trump said in a victory speech Tuesday. "I'm never going to let you down. I will make you proud of your party and our movement, and that's what it is, is a movement."

Clinton, in a speech Tuesday night, referenced her mother in a criticism of Trump.

"I wish she could see her daughter become the Democratic nominee," she said. "She taught me never to back down from a bully, which it turns out was pretty good advice."

Clinton moved away from Park Ridge to attend Wellesley College after graduating in 1965 from Maine South High School. Her parents left in 1987, moving to Little Rock, Arkansas, to be near their daughter's family while Bill Clinton was governor there.

Dan Johnson of Wilmette, a leader of Sanders' campaign in Illinois, compared Clinton's local roots to that friend in high school who accomplishes something later in life. Clinton's time in Park Ridge was a long time ago, especially compared to President Barack Obama's move directly from Chicago to the White House.

"It isn't quite the same white-hot excitement," Johnson said.

Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan

Clinton perhaps has something in common with Illinois-born President Ronald Reagan, who left Dixon as a young adult but returned once during each campaign, according to the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home and Visitor Center in Dixon. The Republican former president's major presidential library is in California, where he served two terms as governor.

Another Illinois candidate, 1952 and 1956 Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson II of Libertyville, struggled for votes in his home county, then a Republican stronghold.

Maine Township High School District 207, where Clinton graduated, has received more requests lately from national media for old yearbook photos, a spokesman said, but with school out for the summer, no Clinton-related events are planned.

Among Clinton's earliest friends, many of them living in the suburbs, excitement is growing as Clinton moves closer to being the first woman nominated for president by a major political party.

"I'm elated. And I cried," Bonnie Ward Klehr, a Libertyville-based jewelry artist and a high school friend of Clinton, said of Clinton's Tuesday speech. "I cried when she started talking about her mom, and what a hard life she had had and how she wished she was there. She was gracious and grateful. She was amazing."

Longtime friend Betsy Ebeling of Arlington Heights, who has long been a top local Clinton supporter, is set to go to the convention in Philadelphia next month as a delegate to vote for her. "These next five months will be challenging, to say the least," Ebeling wrote in an email. "But she is up to the challenge and raring to work!"

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