ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – Not giving Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton a prominent speaking role at the Democratic National Convention is “a total outrage” and “very stupid,” a top New York Democrat said Wednesday.

“It’s a slap in the face, not personally for Hillary Clinton, but for every woman in the Democratic Party and every woman in America,” said Judith Hope, a former state party chairwoman and a major Democratic fund-raiser.

Hope said she would appeal to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to “correct this omission” and would send e-mail to more than 1,000 New York women – “many of them major donors to the Kerry campaign” – complaining about the slight.

If Kerry falters this year, his running mate, Sen. John Edwards, and Clinton would be seen as the top candidates for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Later Wednesday, Hope said she had been asked by Clinton aides to “cease and desist in the name of party unity and victory in November. So, I will have no more to say on the subject, except for this, I feel very sad.”

“We appreciate the sentiment behind the (Hope) effort, but Senator Clinton is focused on getting John Kerry and John Edwards elected, and this effort is distracting from that,” said Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines.

The Democratic mayor of Albany, Gerald Jennings, said the Kerry campaign was “making a major mistake.”

“She’s our rock star in the Democratic Party right now and they should take full advantage, because they need individuals like Hillary to energize this campaign,” said the mayor of New York’s capital.

The Kerry campaign said the former first lady would have a non-speaking role at the convention, appearing on stage with other women senators on July 26, the opening night of the four-day gathering in Boston.

“We are pleased that Senator Clinton will be part of a very special segment featuring all the women senators on Monday night,” said Kerry campaign spokesman Luis Vizcaino. “Senator Barbara Mikulski will speak on behalf of the group for this segment. The group as a whole decided how they would like to participate in the convention.”

But Mikulski expressed disappointment Wednesday with the way the campaign handled the release of convention speakers, her campaign manager Mike Morrill said. Mikulski told Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill that the strategy of releasing only a few names each day minimizes the importance of some speakers, Morrill said.

“The senator was very clear that the way they did this botched it,” Morrill said. “By doing it as the One-A-Day vitamin strategy, they missed the picture that they have a whole shop of vitamins.”

Clinton told a Binghamton, N.Y., radio station she wasn’t disappointed.

“I’ve had many opportunities in the past,” she told WNBF radio. “I’m not at all deterred from going and being part of this exciting convention.”

On Tuesday, Kerry aides announced a prime-time speaking lineup that included, among others, former Presidents Carter and Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore and Christie Vilsack, wife of Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. The list did not include the former first lady and New York’s junior senator.

Asked about Clinton’s role, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the convention chairman, initially said, “Senator Clinton will speak also. She’s a major star in the party.”

But later, convention officials said Clinton would appear with the women senators and was not expected to speak.

“To include the wife of the governor of Iowa, who I’m sure is a wonderful woman, and to not include Hillary Clinton is just such a glaring injustice,” Hope had said Wednesday morning.

“It is, frankly, very stupid,” she had added.

In May, Kerry campaign officials had said both President Clinton and his wife would play prominent roles at the convention.

“It’s a total outrage,” Hope said. “Women all over New York state and all over America are being asked to carry a very heavy responsibility for winning this election for the Democrats.”

Clinton has been campaigning across the country for Kerry and has become one of the campaign’s major fund-raising attractions.

“Hillary Clinton has been a team player for this ticket from Day One,” Hope said.

Hope declined to speculate on why Clinton had not been offered a prominent speaking role at the convention.

Clinton herself told WNBF “those are decisions that are made based on a whole raft of issues.” She did not elaborate.

Veteran Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf said Kerry simply wanted to “have the spotlight on him.”

“They don’t want to Clintonize the convention,” Sheinkopf said.

Reminded that the former president was speaking, Sheinkopf said, “He’s the former president of the United States. It’s a little bit different.”

Robert Kunst, a Florida-based political activist who had been running a draft-Clinton effort unsuccessfully trying to get the senator into this year’s presidential race, called it a “slap in the face” to not have her speaking at the convention.

“We’re going to encourage people not to vote for Kerry,” Kunst said.

New York state Assemblyman Ryan Karben, a Rockland County Democrat, said that while he would like to see Clinton speak at the convention, “she’s a star who doesn’t need a stage.”

Asked by The New York Times for its Wednesday editions why Clinton was not invited to speak at the convention, Kerry campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said: “She never asked.”

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said Clinton is happy with the lineup of speakers and agreed to appear on stage together with other women senators.

“This is a non-issue,” he told CNN’s “Inside Politics.”

AP-ES-07-14-04 2124EDT



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