After waiting in line for more than two hours, 9-year-old Hazel Crossman found herself face-to-face with her role model: Hillary Clinton.
The confident fourth-grader from South Glens Falls shook hands with the former U.S. secretary of state, who paused from signing roughly 1,175 books to engage the youngster in a quick dialogue.
“Do you like school,” she asked, “because that’s the most important thing.”
The awestruck girl beamed afterward, with Clinton continuing to sign copies of her memoir, “Hard Choices,” on the second floor of the Northshire Bookstore on Tuesday. She didn’t have one of the coveted tickets to meet Clinton until late last week, when the former first lady released a handful of extras to the public.
Hazel’s mother, Bridget, was lucky to get one. And when she brought a copy of the book back to her daughter, the girl instantly knew one of the tickets to see Clinton was inside.
“When I came home with it, she went crazy,” Bridget Crossman recalled.
After all, Clinton’s rise to political prominence — from representing New York in the U.S. Senate to being the presumptive favorite to run for president on the Democratic ticket in 2016 — is one that would interest any young girl with high aspirations. Hazel, who already envisions herself serving in Congress one day, was no exception.
“I just look up to her so much,” she said. “I think she’s a great role model for young women.”
On the other end of the age spectrum was Joyce Connor of Troy. Now 80, the closest she had previously gotten to a presidential candidate was when former Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson shook hands with her during an unsuccessful bid for the office in the 1950s.
“This is much more memorable,” she said.
Though Clinton is no stranger to Saratoga Springs or the Capital Region, her book signing carried a heightened public interest. While she hasn’t announced plans for a second run at the Democratic presidential nomination, recent polls have her far ahead of the field of potential challengers. A CNN poll conducted last week even showed her handily topping Republican Mitt Romney if he were to carry the torch again for the GOP.
Clinton launched her memoir with a flurry of signings last month. Many of her large-city signings drew large crowds, including a Barnes & Noble in New York City where customers lined up more than eight hours in advance of her appearance.
Since the book’s release June 10, Clinton has done signings from coast to coast. Some media pundits have already likened the events to a trial run for her presidential campaign.
On Tuesday, there was a sense among the crowd of thousands that snaked from Northshire on Broadway down Caroline Street and along Putnam Street that Clinton will soon challenge for — and win — the nation’s highest office. Members of Ready For Hillary 2016, a purportedly grass-roots political action committee, handed out stickers and pins to people waiting in line.
“A lot of people are excited,” said Sean England, a spokesman for the PAC. “In every corner of the country we’re seeing great support.”
That support was clearly evident among those who paid about $30 for the book at Northshire in order to get one of the few tickets to the signing. It was even clearer among those who started gathering by the bookstore more than five hours before Clinton was scheduled to start signing.
“It was an opportunity, even though we only got to talk to her for a few seconds,” said 48-year-old Tamara Johnson of Albany, who arrived at the signing shortly before 7 a.m. “It was an opportunity of a lifetime to meet someone of that caliber.”
“Definitely worth the wait,” said Jake Singer, 20, of Saratoga Springs, who arrived around the same time as Johnson and befriended her during the wait.
At the end of the line was 57-year-old Lisa Caughey of Broadalbin, who brought her 15-year-old son, Eddie, to meet Clinton. She said Clinton’s legacy at the vanguard of national politics is one that can’t be denied.
“She’s setting the standard for women in politics,” she said.
Clinton’s visit brought heightened security to the city, including a formidable police presence and members of the U.S. Secret Service, who stood sentry at the entrances to the bookstore. People entering the bookstore were required to check any bags outside of the building and were subject to search inside.
Clinton’s reputation as a polarizing figure was also evident: About a half-dozen demonstrators circled the crowd in protest. Rene Mertens of Ballston Spa held up a sign referring to Clinton as the “Whitewater Witch” and blasting her for her handling of the Benghazi attacks in 2012.
“Her life and history has been nothing but a house of lies,” she said as a passerby gave her placard a nod. “She’s not qualified to be commander-in-chief.”
But the overall tenor of the event was far more supportive of Clinton’s anticipated run, including several local politicians. Longtime Albany Mayor Gerald Jennings and Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen both greeted her before the signing.
Yepsen praised what Clinton has done for women in politics — a field that has changed dramatically since her youth. Now she sees Clinton as the standard-bearer for women, poised to reach the nation’s highest office.
“It’d be an inspiration to so many to have a woman as president,” she said during the signing. “That will be a game-changer in my mind.”