Clinton's hometown is proud but divided

Times Staff Writer

The hottest political souvenir in the childhood hometown of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is a small green "Rodham Corner" sign hanging at Wisner and Elm streets, just a few doors from the two-story brick house where she spent her youth.

The sign has been stolen so many times that last year city workers bolted it 30 feet up a wooden light pole, said Mayor Howard P. Frimark.

"It's been nonstop political talk here ever since Hillary announced her candidacy," Frimark said Tuesday afternoon. "We've had a gigantic voter turnout, about 50% more turnout so far than any other presidential primary in recent history."

But civic pride was no guarantee of support at the ballot box in this upper-middle-class community of 38,000 located about 11 miles northwest of Chicago -- not even at the elementary school the New York senator attended, one of the town's polling places.

As the students at Eugene Field Elementary School pelted one another with snowballs, voters shivered in the morning air and discussed their choices.

"I'm a Republican," said Barton Ravin, 53, who said he had lived here for more than a decade. "I like Romney's stance on social issues, so that's how I'm voting."

A few feet away, a supporter of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama listened and discreetly buttoned her jacket to cover an "Obama for President" T-shirt.

Park Ridge has seen an influx of families from heavily Democratic Chicago over the past few years, so it is no longer the solid GOP stronghold it was in Clinton's youth.

The former farming community is predominantly white, and its close-knit neighborhoods are filled with pre-World War II brick homes and graceful elm-lined streets. Residents boast about its low crime rate and -- given its proximity to Chicago -- lack of factories.

While Obama is considered the Democrat of choice by much of the state, Clinton's fans here have helped raise voter support and reportedly surpassed Obama's backers in fundraising.

And some of them don't appreciate their neighbors supporting her rival from Hyde Park, a neighborhood on Chicago's South Side.

"She's intelligent, she's experienced, I like what she's saying about the economy and I think she deserves more credit from us than just the fact that she's from here," said Kate Boychuck, 27, who grew up in Park Ridge and planned to vote for Clinton.

"I like Obama, but I simply don't think it's his time yet. It's Hillary's time."

p.j.huffstutter@latimes.com

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