By Jonathan Lemire
The 19-story office building rises unassumingly from downtown Brooklyn, its upper floors offering sweeping views of the bustling streets below, the iconic nearby Manhattan skyline and the famed bridges that span the East River.
Inside is an outpost of Morgan Stanley, a busy pediatrician’s office, an annex of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York’s office — and the new headquarters of what could arguably be the most scrutinized campaign in United States history: Hillary Rodham Clinton’s second bid for the White House.
Her staff has barely moved in — and there has been no sign of the candidate herself — but her presence has already been felt.
TV news trucks have become a common sight, a series of protests have already been staged in front of the lobby, and mysterious black-and-white artwork depicting the candidate’s face with the slogans “Don’t Say Secretive,” ”Don’t Say Ambitious” and “Don’t Say Entitled” were hung on light poles nearby.
The choice to base her campaign in Brooklyn — which, intentional or not, creates an association with its urban grit and liberal cool — has largely been well-received by those who live and work in the borough that has at last emerged from the shadow of its glamorous neighbor, Manhattan.
“There is no better backdrop for Hillary’s historic run than a place like Brooklyn,” said New York Senator Charles Schumer, who once represented Brooklyn in Congress. “It is a melting pot of middle-class families — and those striving to get there — that is bustling with countless striving families, seniors and creative young people who are making and remaking the American Dream every day.”
Brooklyn almost appeared destined to play one role or another in Clinton’s campaign.
The deep blue borough was one of three finalists for the 2016 Democratic national convention and its bid was championed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a close Clinton ally who managed her successful 2000 U.S. Senate bid. But it lost to Philadelphia, a fate that seemed likely as rumors began swirling that Clinton was eyeing Brooklyn for her campaign headquarters.
Other possible locations — including Queens and White Plains, in Westchester County near Clinton’s Chappaqua home — were considered but ruled out and the campaign signed a lease at the beginning of this month to take over two floors totaling 80,000 square feet in One Pierrepont Plaza.
The building — which, amusingly, sits around the corner from Clinton Street — is owned by Forest City Ratner, a major New York development firm run by Bruce Ratner, a minority owner of the Brooklyn Nets who has contributed more than $400,000 to Democrats.
The campaign has not revealed what it paid for the space in the building, which advertises itself as “Modern Offices. Brooklyn Cool.” on its website.
Campaign officials have told The Associated Press that the site was chosen because of its affordable rate and convenience for many members of the staff, who already called New York home.
Located near 12 subway lines, the building is a very short train ride or drive into Manhattan — and the Clinton Foundation’s Midtown base — and its neighborhood, just steps from Brooklyn’s civic center, offers plenty of dining options for a weary campaign staff.
“A lot of my customers come up and say ‘Did you hear? Hillary’s coming!'” said Khamis Elsayed, 53, who parks his coffee cart just outside One Pierrepont Plaza. “People are excited. This is good for the neighborhood, this is good for Brooklyn, this is good A to Z.”
The location will still inevitably be linked to the “Brooklyn brand” that has become synonymous with hipster culture, youthful energy and lefty politics. The benefit for Clinton, like it would have been had the convention been placed in Brooklyn, is an association with the uber-liberal politics — personified by de Blasio, a Brooklyn resident, though he has not yet offered an endorsement— that could offer a defense on the left, where she was vulnerable in 2008.
Conversely, being in New York just mere miles from Wall Street, could raise uncomfortable questions from the left about the Clinton’s at-times cozy relationship with the masters of the financial universe. Or, according to some pundits, beyond perhaps affecting the staff’s morale and some campaign imagery, it won’t matter at all.
“For 99.9 percent of voters, they will have no idea where a candidate has set up an office and even those who do know won’t care,” said Tobe Berkovitz, communications professor at Boston University. “And for some target voter in Missouri, Brooklyn doesn’t mean anything at all.”