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Former President Meets Many Friends of Bill at Union Meeting

June 26, 2004|Erin Ailworth | Times Staff Writer

It was like a rock concert for politically minded groupies.

"We love you, Bill, we love you!" the women screamed Friday afternoon.

Former President Clinton just waved and grinned to the crowd of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees gathered in the Anaheim Convention Center for their 36th biennial union convention.

As Clinton blitzed around the state on his book tour, he stopped by the convention to pay homage to the labor union's 1.4 million members, who have long been supporters of Democratic presidential candidates.

"You guys calm down," Clinton said, walking to the lectern. "You'll have me thinking I'm president again."

As the crowd waved Clinton's new 900-page book, "My Life," above their heads, he joked about its size.

"I've gotten a lot of ribbing about this long book, but I've had a long life," he said. Then he turned to page 400, where he wrote about the union and gave a shout out to the members who he said helped get him elected in 1992 and then re-elected. Then he got down to business: endorsing Sen. John F. Kerry for president.

"I hope you are ready for another tough fight," Clinton said. "As you've seen, 3 1/2 years can make a big difference in ... America."

The crowd cheered and disposable cameras flashed as Clinton said he was embarrassed that children had lost after-school programs to fund President Bush's tax break -- just as soldiers weren't receiving combat pay and police officers were losing their jobs.

Earlier in the day, civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson also spoke about what he considered the perils facing the working class and their families.

Jackson, founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, urged the crowd to get back to its labor roots and support its minority members.

With a standing ovation, the crowd took up his cry.

Three hours later, they were still cheering -- for Clinton.

People standing pressed at least 10 deep against a flimsy rope barricade applauded Clinton's words and quietly debated whether they could jockey into position to shake his hand.

"You'd better stop looking at my man, he's looking at me," Gloria Unterburger, of California Local 3090, joked with fellow union member Sharon Calhoun, in from Toledo, Ohio.

"The next time he looks over here, I'm going to wink my eye," Unterburger said.

As Clinton wrapped up his speech and headed from the lectern to the people waiting for his autograph, Calhoun said Clinton had persuaded her to support Kerry.

But as the former president neared, Calhoun's mind shifted from her political concerns. Next to her, New Yorker Zela Scott, vice president of Local 205, readied her book for an autograph.

"Zela, Z-E-L-A," Scott told Clinton. "Z-E-L-A."

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