Idea of woman president: 'This is big-time change'

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To a number of the people packed into Soldiers & Sailors Military Museum and Memorial yesterday evening, this was more than just another politician on the campaign stump.

This was history, unfolding right up there on the stage, right before their eyes.

A woman who might be elected president of the United States.

"To be honest, no, I never thought I'd see the day," said Audrey Johnston, 76, of Scott, who attended Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's speech with her daughter, JoAnn Ferraiuolo, 56, of North Versailles.

"The good ol' boys club always seemed to have their say," said Ms. Johnston, a retired food service manager. "To come this far and see a woman candidate, this is change. This is big-time change."

It wasn't a ladies-only crowd that Mrs. Clinton addressed. It was, however, mostly white, and it was decidedly enthusiastic. And, because of its location in Oakland, there were plenty of young people.

"The last time I was this excited about a candidate, it was probably John Kennedy," Ms. Johnston said.

Those attending the event were given "Hillary" stickers and signs and asked to volunteer to help get out the vote for Pennsylvania's April 22 primary.

Janice Sarich, a retired factory worker and waitress from Penn Hills, brought her own sign, made of two pieces of cardboard held together by a swatch of duct tape. But the message on it was the same as that on the professionally produced placards: "Hillary for President 2008."

"I'm 65 years old, and I probably won't see another woman run," said Ms. Sarich, whose priority is health care. "I want to see a woman in the White House.

"Personally, I'm on my way out. I'm not looking out for me. But young people today are not well taken care of. There's nothing for them."

Carole Ortenzo, 51, of McMurray, attended with her mother, Connie Ortenzo, 76. It was the first time Carole Ortenzo, a retired Army surgeon who now runs her own business in organic health foods, had attended a political event. She said she'd never been this passionate about a candidate.

"I have donated to her campaign. This is the first time I've ever donated to anybody's campaign," she said

"And I'll put a sign in my yard. And I volunteered to help on primary day."

Like many women in the audience, she said she has no ill will toward the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, Mrs. Clinton's opponent for the Democratic nomination. It's just that "Hillary is my candidate," she said.

"If you're asking me if I'd vote for Obama versus [Sen. John] McCain, I'd say I'd vote for Obama, because I certainly don't want to have soldiers in Iraq for the next 50 to 100 years. I was still active duty when we started deploying troops over to Iraq, and I saw what that did."

But not everyone sporting a "Hillary" sticker entered the auditorium sold on the candidate. Tybe Brett, 53, an attorney from Mt. Lebanon, said she had been a supporter of former Sen. John Edwards, who dropped out of the race.

Ms. Brett came to the event with an open mind. She said she saw things to like in both of the remaining Democratic candidates.

"I respect the fact that Obama had opposed the war in Iraq from the outset," Ms. Brett said. "But I'm very concerned about health care," and on that issue Mrs. Clinton seems stronger.

"I will be OK with either of them," Ms. Brett said. "Both are very bright. I can see both of them operating appropriately on the world stage."

Virginia Fragale, 68, a retired social worker and attorney, attended the speech with her friend, Judy Leitch, 70. Ms. Fragale said she would have walked from her home in O'Hara to see Mrs. Clinton.

"Because I think she's the right person to lead our country at this point in time," Ms. Fragale said. "And it's a historic event that we have a woman running for president, when women didn't get the vote until 1920. I didn't think I'd see it. Not in my lifetime."

She said she'd be disappointed if Mrs. Clinton didn't get the party's nomination, but if the nominee is Mr. Obama, so be it.

"Oh, I would support him. But not in the same kind of way," Mrs. Fragale said. "I'd like to see Hillary Clinton be president of the United States. And she happens to be a woman, and that's icing on the cake."


Dan Majors can be reached at dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456.


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