The Democratic Party of Oak Park's North Ave. headquarters is filled to capacity during an Aug. 7 phone bank event for Hillary Clinton. Enthusiasm for the Democratic nominee is high, local campaign volunteers say. | Micheal Romain/Staff

Barbara Parker, who grew up within walking distance of the old Yankee Stadium in New York, knows more than most people about Donald Trump, whom she talked about with characteristic Bronx bluntness.

“I would not vote for the man. He’s a little off the charts,” she said last Sunday, while taking a break between phone calls at a Hillary Clinton for America phone banking event inside the Democratic Party of Oak Park’s (DPOP) North Avenue headquarters.

Parker had come all the way from Bolingbrook after receiving an email from the campaign about the Oak Park event.

“He says he’s a successful businessman, but he does it on the backs of other people,” she continued. “He doesn’t pay all his bills. His businesses have gone bankrupt. I think, if he’s elected, Donald will take us to the brink.”

Parker was among more than 150 volunteers — most middle-age and older women — who signed up for the Aug. 7 phone bank, which veteran campaign volunteer and Oak Park resident Bob Haisman, 71, said should debunk any notion of an enthusiasm gap among Clinton supporters.

“I don’t know what people are talking about,” said Haisman, as he sat near the entrance greeting and bidding farewell volunteers who darted in and out.

According to Haisman and other seasoned DPOP volunteers, the office hasn’t hummed like this since then-Sen. Barack Obama campaigned in 2008.

“To be honest, back during Obama’s first run, we got spoiled,” said Haisman, who has volunteered on virtually every presidential campaign since John F. Kennedy’s.

He started at 14 years old, when he would follow behind his mother, a precinct captain. The former schoolteacher said he’s been an ardent Hillary supporter for 25 years, even though he campaigned for her opponent and eventual boss, in the 2008 Democratic primaries.

“When Obama was running, we’d hold an event, send out one email seeking 40 people and 80 would turn up,” said Haisman. “In 2012, people got jaded. Nobody would RSVP. We’d have to put out 12 emails. With this campaign, we put out one email and we were flooded.”

Haisman said it was a logistical nightmare. Volunteers had to be split into three separate shifts. Tents and tables were setup in the parking lot in back of DPOP’s facility.

“It’s a great problem to have,” said state Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), who, after scanning the busy room, guessed that at least 80 percent of the people working the phones were unfamiliar faces.

Among them were 16-year-old Oak Park and River Forest High School students Julie Cozette and Graham Wielgos. The two students, who were the youngest volunteers at the phone bank event, said that the event was their first time helping out with any political campaign. 

“I’m excited about the first female nominee for president,” said Cozette. She was invited to attend the phone bank by Wielgos, who noted that many of his peers were Bernie Sanders supporters.

“Last school year, there were a lot of Bernie supporters, but on Facebook, I see more and more people turning to Hillary,” said Wielgos.

Harmon, along with other Oak Park Democratic leaders, said that the enthusiasm could be a mixture of people responding positively to Clinton and reacting in revulsion to the possibility of a President Donald Trump. President Obama’s surging approval ratings may be helping, too, he said.

“Obama plus Donald Trump equals Hillary Clinton,” said Harmon. “There’s a degree of honest enthusiasm for Secretary Clinton, but there’s clearly a degree of apprehension for the alternative, which has turned people from cheerleaders into activists.”

Veteran campaign volunteer and Oak Park resident Marianne Merola said that she thinks “a lot of people are afraid of Donald Trump getting elected. He just doesn’t have the temperament to be president. The other thing is that Hillary has great experience. She’d make a strong president.”

“We’ve got a good candidate we can get behind and the alternative is dismal,” said Karen Fisher, DPOP’s executive director. “I think a lot of us are embracing Hillary. I think the convention did wonders toward introducing her to the world and allowing a lot of us to see what she’s accomplished over the years, which wasn’t necessarily common knowledge.”

Some volunteers said their Clinton support is based less on their reactions to personalities of the candidates than their thoughts on their respective policy platforms. Before she spoke about Trump, Parker said that she supports Clinton because “I think she cares about women’s issues.”

“I’m in favor of Hillary Clinton and the direction she wants to take this country,” said Bob Innocenzi, 69. “I’m not that obsessed with Trump. I’m for overturning Citizens United, making the country better for working-class families and things like that.”

Greg Bales, the executive director of Hillary for Illinois and a former staffer for U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, said DPOP will be critical for ensuring that Illinois, a state that’s already blue, remains that way.

“The Oak Park Democratic Party is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, Democratic organizations in the state,” Bales said. “I think people are excited for Hillary and they’re going to do whatever it takes to get her elected.”


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