Sunday, April 08, 2007

April 8, 2007 -- Bryant Park Hotel doorman Gregory Smith campaigned door to door for Bill Clinton in 1992, he voted for Hillary Rodham Clinton in both her Senate elections - but last week he went online and gave $25 to Barack Obama for president.

He says he has dumped the Clintons for the upstart Democratic senator from Illinois, whom he calls "a needed breath of fresh ideas and openness." The doorman told The Post that Hillary Clinton's flip-flop on the war and her earlier coyness about her presidential ambitions have turned him off her - probably forever.

Smith, 43, is one of 100,000 who in their own small way helped Obama almost match the seemingly indomitable fund-raising prowess of the Clintons in the first 2008 reporting period announced last week.

But losing the support of a onetime Bill Clinton campaigner seems a particularly bruising blow to the Clinton campaign.

Riding on the success of last week, Obama is scheduled to hit the city Monday to try to lure more like Smith away from Sen. Clinton.

While Obama trails her by more than 10 percentage points in the latest national polls and by 30 percentage points among New York voters, the Illinois senator has made waves with his stealthy, grass-roots fundraising.

His donor list was double Clinton's - and half of his donations were received through his Web site. And the $25 million that Obama raked in blew away the expectations of political observers, coming in just $1 million shy of Clinton's record haul.

Smith once considered himself a die-hard supporter of the Clintons. He even boasts of shaking hands with the former president last year when he dined at the hotel's chic Japanese restaurant, Koi.

But in the 2008 White House showdown, Smith is all about Obama. He says the reason for the switch is simple: honesty.

"Hillary, in my eyes, is a professional politician. I have issues with professional politicians. The friends that I have are cynical about politics. That's why I like Barack. He's more believable than Hillary. Barack chose politics to better people," Smith said.

"She's been haunted about not clearly answering her stand with the war. It's OK to admit a mistake because we are all human and all fallible. But she won't say that.

"At the end of the day, when somebody is voting inside the polling booth, they will go Mr. Obama's route because Hillary hasn't properly answered the question for the parent who lost a child over there."

Smith's mom moved him and his two sisters to New York from Jamaica when he was 15. He graduated from Erasmus Hall HS in Brooklyn and went on to Kingsborough Community College and the State University College at Buffalo, where he graduated with a degree in political science.

He and his wife, Jackie, a graphic designer, and their two sons, Caleb, 1, and Gabriel, 5, live in the Kensington area of Brooklyn. They bring in just $900 a week.

"I gave to [Obama] on a doorman's salary," he said.

Smith said his allegiance started to switch almost immediately after Sen. Clinton's re-election, when he bought a copy of Obama's second book, "The Audacity of Hope," in November.
After finishing it, he started penning a letter to Obama, which he mailed in January just as the candidate was about to declare his intentions to run.

"I want you to know that I, and many of my friends, stand with you for a better America, a better tomorrow," he wrote.

"Because of you, I am optimistic again, like I was when, in 1993, a younger, less seasoned man heard for the first time a very bright and charismatic candidate running from Arkansas for the presidency of the United States of America. I was compelled to help then, and I find I am more so now, having had children."

"Americans long for a politics that is not about 'us' versus 'them,' 'red state' versus 'blue,' or about winning a political game, but about producing better lives for the citizens of this nation and the world."

"People are hurting, and those who are 'our' designated leaders are so disconnected from those who hired them to lead that they can't even see the great divide they themselves have created."
Although Smith had read Obama's first book, a memoir titled "Dreams from My Father," and felt a connection to another black man who grew up without a father - like Smith had - it was the political philosophy and positions set forth in the second Obama book that swayed him to Obama's campaign.

He said he felt somewhat duped by Sen. Clinton during her last campaign and never got over her voting to authorize war in Iraq.

"If she didn't go about the calculations, I would have liked her more," he said about her dodging questions about her presidential aspirations during her Senate re-election in 2006.
Although Clinton has since advocated a troop withdrawal, Smith finds even her new stance disheartening.

"Mr. Obama, on the flip side, was never for the war to begin with," he said.
Obama was not in the Senate at the time of the 2002 resolution to authorize war, but spoke out against it at the time.

"She definitely isn't as genuine," Smith said.

He believes Obama is the right choice for the working class because he will advocate for universal health care and work to reduce the costs of education.

"You are a man of vision, and you see America in an optimistic way and hopeful way, and I - one of many - believe in your audacity of hope," he wrote.

Smith had never donated to a political campaign before, but just two days before the deadline for the fund-raising push, when the Obama camp made last-minute appeals by e-mails, Smith typed in his debit-card number and gave his $25. The campaign mentions Smith's support on a blog - though Obama has never personally thanked the doorman.

"I plan to give more when I can as often as I can," Smith said of his endorsement of Obama. "Whatever I can do or what little amount I can give, I plan to."

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