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Hillary Clinton eyes the future as Democrats ponder her role

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Gov. Andrew

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and former President Bill Clinton at a Memorial Day parade in Chappaqua, in Westchester County, on Monday, May 29, 2017. Credit: Twitter

Hillary Clinton will return to Manhattan’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Thursday for a speaking engagement under the glass-ceilinged meeting hall where in November she had hoped to deliver an election night victory speech.

Clinton’s scheduled appearance at the center’s BookExpo on June 1, followed by a commencement address a week later before graduates of Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, are the latest in a string of New York City outings that come as the former first lady turned U.S. senator turned secretary of state, shapes her next act in public life after losing last year’s presidential race to Donald Trump.

With a handful of speeches, tweets and the launch this month of a political group named Onward Together, Clinton has slowly re-emerged into the public spotlight after having kept a low postelection profile. She spoke at the commencement ceremony for her alma mater, Wellesley College, on Friday.

“This year hasn’t been what I envisioned, but I know what I’m still fighting for: a kinder, big-hearted, inclusive America,” Clinton wrote on Twitter on May 15 as she announced the formation of Onward Together, an initiative that will raise funds for progressive grass-roots groups challenging Trump’s agenda.

The group, whose name is a play on her campaign slogan “Stronger Together,” will work to “encourage people to get involved, organize and even run for office,” Clinton said on Twitter, noting that she would work on the initiative with former Democratic National Committee chairman and onetime presidential candidate Howard Dean, who currently serves as a senior presidential fellow at Hofstra University in Hempstead.

“More than ever, I believe citizen engagement is vital to our democracy,” Clinton wrote on Twitter. “I’m so inspired by everyone stepping up to organize and lead.”

Clinton’s allies within the Democratic Party have said she will continue to serve as a prominent and powerful voice in the party’s fight against Trump and the GOP, but several left-of-center Democrats, those who largely backed Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont during last year’s presidential primary, have expressed reservations about embracing Clinton’s help, fearing it will reopen the wounds of last year’s divisive Democratic primary.

Lisa Tyson, executive director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, a liberal-leaning group that has organized dozens of anti-Trump rallies since the election, said grass-roots groups would likely want to ensure “there are no strings attached” in accepting money from a Clinton-led group.

“Democrats are coming together, progressives are coming together. . . . Bringing back the Bernie-versus-Hillary battle is not helpful toward building our movement right now,” Tyson said.

Bruce Miroff, a presidential studies professor at the University of Albany, said Clinton’s efforts as an elder stateswoman of the Democratic Party might be overshadowed by the competing voices trying to steer the party in a new direction following the November loss to Republicans.

“I think she’ll be prominent, but my suspicion is that with a lot of the weight of the party, particularly of its grass-roots base, shifting to [Sens.] Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, that those who don’t want to see the party move in that far liberal direction are going to look to new and younger figures as their champions, and Hillary is going to be, to put it harshly, relegated to the past,” Miroff said.

Robert Zimmerman, a Democratic National committeeman from Great Neck and longtime Clinton supporter, criticized any notion that Clinton would not play a prominent role in the future of the Democratic Party.

“She’s a former first lady, former senator, former secretary of state; she won the presidential popular vote by almost three million votes,” Zimmerman said. “She not only has important experiences and insights to share, she has a following in this country that wants to hear from her, that respects her.”

Nassau Democratic Committee chairman Jay Jacobs, a longtime Clinton fundraiser, said Clinton has “certainly been introspective” in the months following the election, “and understands, looking back, that the campaign didn’t run the way she would have liked,” but is now focused on the future.

“She’s got a lot of faith, she relies on her faith, and she relies on the good nature of people in the long term,” Jacobs said. “She believes that, in the end, history will judge her much more fairly than some voters judged her in the past election.”

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