As bullets zipped overhead, Adam Parkhomenko grabbed for his gun and radio. He called for backup.
He had been in this situation before; he had even recovered illicit firearms from this very housing complex near the District’s North Capitol Street. But this time, while his partner wrestled a suspect with a gun in his waistband to the ground, a riled-up crowd gathered around.
Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. “Back out of here, back out of here,” another officer shouted. “We just had gunfire.”
Rob Baechtel, a D.C. police reserve officer who watched a video that surfaced online of the two-minute scuffle, said he’d never seen anything like it.
“All this is happening while someone is cranking off rounds,” he said, “and right there, with some other officers, is a Hillary staffer.”
That would be Parkhomenko — a part-time D.C. reserve officer and the director of grass-roots engagement for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.
During the week, Parkhomenko, 30, sits in a small cubicle at the campaign headquarters in Brooklyn, surrounded by standing desks and beanbags, fielding phone calls from volunteers across the country. But on weeknights, when he can, Parkhomenko still drives the streets on patrol in the District.
“He likes to go after the bad guy, the thrill of the hunt,” said Baechtel, a friend and fellow volunteer. “It’s an important job.”
It may seem surprising that the famously risk-averse Clinton campaign allows a top staffer to chase down criminals in his downtime. (Imagine the worst-case headline: “Shooting by Clinton aide probed.”) But this campaign knows it can trust Parkhomenko. They know he has dedicated much of his life, since age 17, to her ascent to the presidency. They know he put off college to work for her, then started the Ready for Hillary super PAC. (Granted, “I didn’t even know he was a reserve police officer,” said Marlon Marshall, Parkhomenko’s campaign boss, “until this interview.”)
There aren’t a lot of Clinton superfans. All the passion goes to the fiery socialist and the theatrical reality-TV star currently in the race. They fill stadiums and call for revolution. Clinton, on the other hand, told Lena Dunham, “If you can’t get excited, vote pragmatic.”
So why then has Parkhomenko spent much of the past 13 years working toward a Clinton presidency? He’s not particularly close with the candidate, nor has he earned inner-circle status. His fanaticism is a very practical kind. You might even call it . . . Clintonian.
Parkhomenko doesn’t have one Rosebud moment that sparked his devotion; he’s got a thicket. As a kid in Arlington, Va., he seethed with jealousy when he learned his best friend’s dad was a convention delegate with a photo of Hillary Clinton on the family piano. By 13, he started writing letters to politicians and asking for a signed head shot.
Then there was the time Hillary came to his elementary school and shook his hand; and the time he washed Bill’s golf cart at the local course. He still has a $5 bill the president signed for him.
But when Parkhomenko decided at age 17 to start a Draft Hillary movement, it wasn’t just because he had met her as a kid. “Adam is an entrepreneur,” said Bert Kaufman, a friend of Parkhomenko’s for the past decade. “He was drawn to her promise, he was drawn to her potential.”
Sure, he thought she would be a good president. But, just as important, he thought she was a good bet.
In November 2003, when Draft Hillary had already collected 42,000 signature, he flew to Des Moines to sell buttons outside the annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner, where she was the keynote speaker. He was 18, not old enough to rent a car without paying a big fee, and too cash-poor to justify taking a cab. So he walked five miles to the Veterans Memorial Auditorium.
“I was too excited to be cold,” he said recently in an interview at Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters. The kid with the petition and the buttons who kept showing up to events eventually got himself noticed — first by the national press, and then by Clinton.
Patti Solis Doyle, who ran Clinton’s PAC at the time, recalls getting a call from the candidate. “She was like, who is this guy, what is he doing?”
Solis Doyle sent someone to make sure he wasn’t a crazy person. A few weeks later, he showed up at her office.
“He didn’t have an appointment, so someone told him he would just have to wait,” she said. (Parkhomenko says he was invited.) The earnest teenager with a comb-over sat there for hours. “When I finally let him in, I said we didn’t have any job openings,” she said. “He said, ‘I’ll work for free — all I want is to help Hillary one day become president.’ I told him she wasn’t running for president, but he didn’t care.”
Solis Doyle liked his chutzpah, and she loved his work ethic — he came in early, left late, didn’t mind grunt work and could tackle organizational tasks. She eventually hired him as her assistant, the youngest paid employee on the Clinton team. When she became Clinton’s campaign manager in 2007, she brought Parkhomenko with her. Clinton was finally running for president, and he had a front-row seat.
But when the campaign floundered, Clinton fired Solis Doyle. Her right-hand man left shortly after. Later, he gave it one last push, starting VoteBoth.com to encourage Clinton supporters to push Barack Obama into picking Clinton as his running mate.
“After the 2008 election,” Parkhomenko said, “I thought I would be done with politics.”
At 22, he decided to go through the police academy. He had long been interested in law enforcement, and he grew an extra appreciation for the work after watching Clinton’s security teams on the trail. After graduating, he got a badge and a gun, and worked 20 to 30 hours a month on patrol as an unpaid volunteer.
“He’s got police instincts, deals really well with people,” said Baechtel, who was later in Parkhomenko’s wedding. “Which is good because, reserves, we are a hard-charging, catch-the-bad-guy group. We’re out locking people up — guns and drugs and the ’hood — not walking Georgetown.”
In 2010 Parkhomenko received the department’s Reserve Officer of the Year award; in 2011 he won an achievement medal for apprehending a violent robbery suspect in Chinatown. His superiors noted that he had assisted in more than 90 arrests, “recovered narcotics on numerous occasions, and has been instrumental in the recovery of several firearms and at least nine stolen vehicles.”
Among his best attributes, colleagues say: His knack for communication, his interpersonal skills, his sense of community. He was the grass-roots cop.
It didn’t take long until Parkhomenko felt the lure of politics again. In 2009, he ran for an open House of Delegates seat from Arlington, and Bill Clinton did a robo-call on his behalf. He came in third. Meanwhile, he finished his college degree and met his future wife, Kirby Hoag.
She wasn’t the only woman in Parkhomenko’s life. There would always be Hillary.
“Part of it is a family component,” Parkhomenko said. “When you’re 17, 18, 19 and getting a call from Hillary Clinton on your birthday, she takes on a role of mom-away-from-home. She was always asking me how things were going with my degree and why I hadn’t finished it. She cares, she really cares.”
In early 2013, he launched Ready for Hillary — a bigger, bolder version of what he did as a kid. He drove a bus around the country, hearing excitement from the ground and skepticism from what he called “the chattering class in D.C.” And then, Ready for Hillary started hauling in some serious cash: $4 million in the first year, $9 million in the second. He believed the massive list they were building could be the foundation for a Clinton campaign if she decided to run.
And in return? Parkhomenko swears that he has never expected anything from Hillary Clinton in exchange for his loyalty. He just thinks she would be a great president.
“This is much larger than one person,” he said. Sure, he was a bit worried when the top positions quickly filled up in the new Clinton campaign. But then they created a position specifically for him. It wasn’t a marquee post — as director of grass-roots engagement, his job was to coordinate volunteers in the later 46 states, while all the excitement was in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — but it wasn’t bad.
In time, he would also have to contend with the fact that grass roots has always been the weak link for Clinton. Bernie Sanders is the grass-roots guy now. It’s hard to fill arenas by appealing to voters’ pragmatic side. There are only so many Parkhomenkos out there.
“I think Adam has done a great job,” Marshall said. “We have a great grass-roots operation that doesn’t necessarily get the shine it deserves.”
When they offered him the job, there was little question that he would take it. But he also had reason to believe that the campaign would hire his wife, a fellow Ready for Hillary veteran. So the whole family moved to New York. The job offer for Kirby never came through, and she recently moved back to Virginia with their young son.
Would he have taken the job had he known its stature would be lessened by the campaign’s early-primary focus? Would he have devoted so many years to the Hillary cause had he known that it would ultimately take such a toll on his family? One of his close friends thinks maybe not, saying that he’s been “underutilized” and is “miserable.”
But you won’t hear anything like that from Parkhomenko. He’s come this far, and Clinton is this close. So as the campaign begins to fret about a race that is now tighter than anyone predicted, he’ll jump on the phone in his little cubicle to rally his volunteers on the ground and try to give his candidate a second wind. He’ll do what he always does when things start to go sideways. He’ll call for backup.