The Republican Next Door by Rob Ackerman

Carol and I have an across-the-street neighbor named Nick, a Republican, born and bred, and one of the nicest guys you can imagine: salt of the American earth. Raised in Arizona by Greek immigrant parents, Nick worked the counter at his dad's liquor store during holidays while attending Harvard Business School. He fell in love with a girl from St. Louis, married her and moved to Manhattan where they raised four great kids, one of whom is one of our daughter's closest friends. Singing carols at Nick and Julie's Christmas party is a highlight of our year.

Nick used to despise the Clintons. Truly. Couldn't stand them. But he loved his Greek Orthodox Church and needed to raise funds to renovate the building's back rooms for a preschool and community center. So just after Clinton left the presidency, Nick held his nose and hatched a plan. He called Clinton's Harlem office and determined a date on which the former president would be in town. Then he scheduled his fundraiser on that date and systematically pestered Clinton to attend.

On the night of the event, according to Nick, Bill showed up in a flurry, met members of the congregation, shook hands with a few elders, and gave a brilliant and moving speech tracing church history while citing names and dates. Bill inspired the congregation to donate more than a million dollars, enough to fund a little preschool that brings joy and sweetness to our neighborhood. I've seen this with my own eyes.

But that's not the end of the story.

A couple years later, I took a job as the prop master on a documentary episode of a TV show called The West Wing for which the producer interviewed Bill Clinton in his office. During a break, I asked Clinton's chief of staff if she remembered the night of a fundraiser for a Greek Church. "Oh God, do I ever!" she said, "It was a nightmare. He insisted on going to this thing and we had no idea what i was, no briefing materials, nothing. But he really wanted us to get him there and we just couldn't stop him."

I told her how my friend had watched Clinton that evening and had what he called "a deathbed conversion." In a single searing moment, Nick switched from being Republican to Democrat based on what Clinton had done for his community and the brilliant way he'd achieved it.

I asked the woman if she was aware that the former president had helped raise a million dollars and change a neighborhood for good. She said no. No idea whatsoever. I suggested she might want to pass the word to President Clinton if she had a sec. Not sure if she ever did.

The thing about Bill and Hillary is: they do more good than even they know. They're public servants and they're good at the job. Yes, they make mistakes, but they get most things right. And they listen. Listening is the most important and least appreciated skill a politician can have and nobody is better at it than Hillary and Bill.

A few weeks ago, Nick called and asked if he could count on my support for Hillary.

"Absolutely," I said.

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August 31, 2016

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