Ask attendees why they were there and the first answer was always the same: "Hillary!" Hillary because they supported her in 2008! Hillary because, the first female president! Hillary because, Democrats! The only pair that had an unexpected answer were the two people in "Stop Hillary" shirts. They were from the Republican National Committee, up from D.C., in case "New York City Republicans" seemed a bit off-brand.
Josefine Cortez, a senior citizen who'd come in from Manhattan, backed Clinton in 2008. "I can't wait to vote for her again," she said with glee. She marveled at the idea of the Clintons, now with grandchild, back in the White House: "I have saved money -- a little money! -- to give to her!"
Nancy Gautier came with three little girls, all under 7. (Anecdotal, but I stand by it: A lot more young girls here than boys.) "It's a momentous event to have a woman presenting herself on policy and not just running because she's a woman," she said.
Mary Blasy from Long Island brought two friends from San Diego to the event, Jennifer Mendoza and 12-year-old Valentina Imes. On the way to the event, Blasy and Mendoza explained -- as objectively as possible, they said -- the difference between Democrats and Republicans to Imes. Imes seemed to have sided with the majority at Roosevelt Island after the discussion, telling me that she was excited for "a different experience" with a female president.
Blasy also mentioned a word that came up from other people: "viable." Ali Ameri and Nellie Afshar came to support Clinton, because, in Ameri's word, she "is the most viable person." He'd voted for Obama in 2008 and articulated why he'd preferred the eventual president then: he opposed the war, he had a better record, he seemed like he was running to make a difference, not to continue his career. Ameri and Afshar back Clinton, but it's clear that at least one isn't super energized about it.
As the time of Hillary's speech neared, people were less interested in talking. Meredith Burger breezed in with two snappily dressed friends, eager to get in. Why'd they come? "Hillary!" Plus, the campaign and Burger share a birthday. She's 27 years older.
The music -- Katy Perry, Taylor Swift -- faded and the crowd cheered. The moment had arrived, and everyone had a good view. Everyone who made it in, anyway.
Afterward, the crowd began to file out for the long wait to get back into Manhattan. But they clearly felt the trip was worth it.
I ran into Blasy and Imes again. They were sitting in the overflow area; they'd ducked out about halfway through. I asked Imes what she thought: "Good," she said. "Inspiring." In the way of 12-year-olds all over, the words conveyed more energy than her appearance did.
Other young people seemed more into it. "I think she's brilliant," Jenny Kutnow told me. "I think she's a strong, powerful leader, and I'm really confident in her abilities to be our next president." Kutnow appreciated Clinton tying what are usually considered "women's issues" into the realm of "family issues." As we spoke, a group of young women passed by. "That was the greatest thing we've ever done," one said.
Su Ya, a student at Columbia University who is a citizen of China was holding a miniature American flag when we spoke. "It's my first time to take part in this kind of event," she said. Asked how she felt about democracy, she seemed impressed. "For our leader, they don't have to fight against each other for the position." She added, "I can feel the freedom!"
Bob Kahn enjoyed the speech, but still hasn't committed to a candidate. For him, it's between Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The former may have made it easier for him today. "She laid out an agenda that I essentially agree with," Kahn said, "and I think Bernie Sanders would agree with what she had to say today." He said he looked forward to hearing Sanders speak, and seeing if Clinton would agree with that.
Judy Wenning, who has volunteered for Clinton since she ran for the Senate, thought the speech was "fantastic." "If she can energize people in the country to have hope and to trust that we can do this if we all work together, we can change the country." Though, she added, it might take a while given Republican opposition.
Monte Brown, an African-American man from New York, said he supported Clinton in part because "he believes her more than he believes the Republicans." He was clearly energized. "She gives you the feeling that we're going to make history and, more importantly, that we're going in the right direction. This event reiterated that. Even more so than Obama."
"This was Obama on steroids," he added.
Within an hour, the last people had made it to the island's sole subway station. Howard Cash was selling Hillary buttons in the Roosevelt Island subway station. Three dollars a piece or two for five. How are sales, I asked. "Not that great," he said. "She's not that inspirational."
But then, he didn't hear the speech.
The rally, from the top: